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Charles and Destiny Mogumba stand in front of Baier Funeral Home in Paxton April 8, as they’re stranded in the area due to the travel restrictions caused by COVID-19.

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Charles Tucker Magumba and his wife, Destiny Lukia Namukuve Magumba, of Uganda came to Paxton to participate in a prayer conference March 13-15 at the invitation of the First United Methodist Church. They are unable to return home at this time due to travel restrictions due to COVID-19.

They have been in the United States, in Paxton, since March 12. They are part of Freedom Project in Uganda, a non-denominational ministry, though they come from a Pentecostal background. They, however, do ministry cross denominationally and with all Evangelical groups, Magumba said. This was their second visit to the States, having attended a conference in Arizona. They were to leave Paxton March 23, to go to Tennessee to do additional ministry until April 30.

“We were to proceed to visit three pastors in Rockford, where we could sleep in the house of one of the three men for a period of two weeks. At the end of March, we were to travel to Nashville and later Goodslettsvile, all in Tennessee, for a casual visit to the second home of our would be Rockford host and for a ministers and spouse retreat at Aldersgate Renewal Ministries.

“However, one day before our departure for Rockford on March 22, we got sad news. Our would-be host called from Rockford to inform us that his physician had strongly advised him against interaction with people, including sharing his house with others due the COVID-19 pandemic. Apparently, our would be host is elderly and has several underlying health conditions including kidney, heart and respiratory illnesses. He could easily die from COVID-19. At the same time, the federal and state governments had started issuing social distancing guidelines to Americans. We certainly understood wanting to protect the health of our would-be Rockford host.

“But suddenly and unexpectedly, we were one day from being homeless, stuck in Paxton, and that, at a very short notice for us to get alternative board and lodging. We couldn't return to Uganda either because shortly after this, our country's government also shut down its border, barring all incoming commercial flights and placing all recently arrived passengers, initially, into rather expensive mandatory institutionalized quarantine for 14 days at the expense of travelers, some paying around $100 per night/day without meals.” Magumba said. “We later got information that all events, except the one in Paxton, were cancelled. We also found out we couldn't also change our air tickets and return to Uganda because the border had been closed. Most of the people who had planned to meet us stated to excuse themselves as they didn't want to interact with us for fear of contracting the coronavirus in case we had it. Some didn't even pick up our calls any more.”

Now, the border of Uganda is closed. “We cannot return. I called the Ugandan embassy in Washington, D.C. to find out when we could return. They said the decision to close the border could be reviewed on 15th April 2020. If we return to Uganda this month, our troubles with COVID-19 may not be over by simply getting a flight to Uganda. We could be quarantined for 14 days upon arrival in Uganda. That has not been a great experience for those who arrived at the start of the pandemic. A few days ago, The Observer, a Ugandan local newspaper, carried a disturbing report which we worry, and God forbid, could be our story when we return to Uganda.”

The couple is staying in a house next to the Baier Funeral Home in Paxton.

“The funeral home proprietors, Royce and Sheila Baier, had initially welcomed us to stay in this guesthouse at no cost to us for 10 days. The house had been used by Royce's mother before she passed on a few years ago. It was not being used by anyone when we arrived in Paxton. As we couldn't leave Paxton because of the above circumstances brought on by the COVID-19 crisis, the Baiers gladly allowed us to stay longer, still at no cost to us. In any case, they said we needed a home and the COVID-19 related events were simply unprecedented. The couple has continued to cover our water and electricity bills.”

The Baiers, he said, have been very accommodating in getting the couple familiar with their surroundings, Magumba said. The Baiers have given them tours of the funeral home, the mayor’s office, the museum, and the old jail by the courthouse. They also got to see Royce’s collection of antique cars and hear tales of the city clock.

“We were later helped to get accustomed to living here as we trusted God to keep us safe during our visit.”

They are many, many, many miles from home, but they’re making friend.

“We have spent these past few weeks connecting with people and deepening those newly established relationships each new day. For example, we interacted with Ford County Circuit Judge Matt Fitton and his wife, a retired school teacher called Cara Fitton. They have often provided us with groceries and specially cooked meals. Judge Matt Fitton and Cara drove us to Champaign for a tour on our eighth wedding anniversary on 31st March 2020 treating us to the new double Mac hamburger - an anniversary we would otherwise have spent in quarantine in our temporary housing at the funeral home. We also met Paxton Mayor Ingold and his wife Lynn Ingold. A renown Paxton pharmacist called Mr. Carl Hudson together with his wife Janet and son Andy of the Hudson Drug Store have provided us with medicines for ulcers, cough and other simple ailments and often met our other needs. Carl Hudson and his wife have become father and mother to us. Carl regularly drives to our house on his way from work, brings us cooked meals, and he, his wife and daughter gave used clothes, old electronic equipment and similar items which we intend to take back home to Uganda as gifts to our families and the people we minister to. The First United Methodist Church in Paxton also donated 14 dresses their women had handmade initially for children on the mission field in Malawi. We got a new friend in Mr. Craig Riecks, the proprietor of IGA in Paxton, has since been friendly and helpful. He has even given us a gift card so we can get some groceries from his store. Royce and Sheila Baier of Baier Funeral Home have become close friends, providing us with opportunities to serve them and others as cleaners for no pay so we could keep ourselves occupied and maintain some kind of normalcy in this otherwise confusing situation. Ms. Suzie Shell, an employees at Ford County Courthouse, and John Hauck, the Paxton First United Methodist Church pastor, have blessed us immensely and have become our friends. We can say that we now have friends in Paxton.”

But they’re missing their family at home.

“We have four children living in Uganda. Our twin girls, Shammah and Ramah, are seven years old. Our son, Mizpah, is six years old, while our youngest is Abigail, a cute three and a half year old girl who we miss every day. They are staying with my mother Elizabeth, their grandmother, in Kampala, Uganda's capital city.

“We usually talk to my mother through an app called WhatsApp. It’s quite popular in Africa nowadays. We also occasionally talk to our children, although the time difference means we mainly talk to them at night and so cannot do good video calls. In any case, their grandmother doesn't want us to talk much to them as they miss us more when they hear our voices and they become moody.

“We also talk often with our friends mainly through WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger. We also read Ugandan news online everyday so we keep abreast with events there. In fact, we recently found out that returning from the U.S.A. will qualify us for institutionalized quarantine in a hotel or hostel chosen by Uganda government but at our cost. When quarantines had just started in Uganda, some unscrupulous people where reportedly charging as much as US$100 per day, exclusive of meals, for the mandatory 14 days of quarantine. We have read recently that costs have since been reduced but this still worries us.”

While they are here they’re trying to do as much good as they can for the causes which are important to them. He said it didn’t benefit them to worry, rather they wanted to make good use of their time.

“I and my wife are born again Christians,” Magumba said. “For more than nine years, I worked with Pentecostal Churches of Uganda before teaming up with few friends to start an independent ministry in 2010, a ministry which could freely respond to the ministry needs of pastors in all the different Evangelical denominations and not just Pentecostals. I couldn't do this through Pentecostal Churches of Uganda denomination as some groups wouldn't have accepted my team. 

“In Uganda, I and Destiny lead two organizations, i.e. Freedom Project Ltd and Child Celebration Network (CCN). You can read more at childcelebrationnetwork.org and freedomproject-ug.org — the Freedom Project website is not fully developed so excuse us for the pictures which not representative of our work in Uganda. Both organizations respond to the needs of the most vulnerable in our communities in Uganda. CCN focuses on the needs of children and their families, providing poor needy children with clean drinking water from a borehole, health services, good quality primary education through a sponsorship scheme (although some parents pay minimal tuition fees for their children), discipleship, etc.

“Freedom Project Ltd on the other hand combines Gospel preaching and social service delivery. At Freedom Project Ltd, which initially started out as Salem International in 2010, we have helped churches and ministries in Uganda and South Sudan to access mainly used Bibles and Christian literature to establish and strength Christian discipleship through establishment of mini libraries. We organize open air gospel events and plant churches, whilst providing Bible interpretation skills to pastors and other Christians who cannot access formal Biblical training. We would love to start a program for young people who have dropped out of school and cannot find employment so that they can learn skills. We are particularly looking at getting young girls, including single mothers, to become motor vehicle mechanics - getting them to do stuff which in Africa is traditionally considered masculine work. The idea is to build these young women's confidence again and to help them earn a living through self employment.

“Some of our goals for coming to the U.S.A. include learning about church and family/community life here, ideas on prayer, networking with other Christians and connecting with individuals, churches and organizations that can support CCN's water, child education sponsorship, health service, and our nursery and primary school called Acacia Ridge School - Iganga. We are looking for ways we can put food on the table for the almost 100 children on our program, acquire a submersible water pump to pump clean drinking water for our children out of a 150 feet borehole we drilled at Igulusa village in Iganga District, Uganda. We also hope to partner with others here for evangelism, church planting and Biblical teaching activities in Uganda. We are also open to what others would love to do in our communities so we can walk together in partnership. 

“Our host, John Hauck, has also organized a fundraiser on GoFundMe entitled ‘Freedom Project for Needs in Uganda’. The goal of this international fundraiser is to raise US$20,000 or more to support our school feeding program, buy equipment including a submersible water pump, loud speakers, a mixer, amplifiers microphones, and other equipment required for mass evangelism.

“Since we arrived in Paxton, we have shared with many people testimonies of what God is doing in Uganda and Africa. This has been an encouragement to many people. This has been especially relevant in these times of crisis. It is encouraging in such times to know that God is in control of the world and is working for our good. We had planned to do the same in Tennessee this April but as already mentioned, the retreat at Goodslettsville has since been cancelled due to government directives against large gatherings during this COVID-19 crisis. 

“We try to influence in positive ways the people meet each day as Christ would have us. We haven't been able to meet many but have nonetheless had some impact. We also hope that the new friends we've made in Illinois will in future travel on mission to Uganda and bring useful knowledge and skills to our communities which we anticipate will help improve the lives of our people. We are our people's ambassadors in Illinois.

“We are also learning a lot from the American people and hope to take new ideas and skills home to Uganda when we return later this month especially in cleanliness, work work, etc.

“Getting stuck in Paxton has opened a door for us to share our dreams and experiences with people in Illinois in more ways that we had bargained for.

“We are grateful that several people have read about us, our trip experiences in the U.S.A. and ministries in Uganda. If people would like to know more, pray for us or support us in other ways, you can email us at: magumbacharles@outlook.com, magumbact@yahoo or magumbact@gmail.com. Our temporary U.S. phone number is 217-530-5760.

“Our source of joy and strength will be the knowledge that God would have brought us back to our country and that we would only be a couple of miles, and hopefully 14 days, away seeing our little children again.”