If you know the ministry of the Village of Eden in Uganda at all, then you have heard the names of four incredibly special ladies; Dr. Brenda Kowalske, Jessica Matthews, Claudia Acuña, and Heather Oliver. There are many people who serve with the ministry of Helping Hands, but everyone will agree the heart of our ministry is made up of this special group. Who are these ladies? Where did they come from? What keeps them going as they serve full-time in a remote part of Africa? They have access to very few of the comforts of home, and they face overwhelming needs every day, yet the call of God on their lives compels them to love children, make disciples, and advance the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Take a minute to learn a little about these amazing women. Please use this as a prayer guide for the missionaries of the Village of Eden.
Q: Where did you grow up?
A: Nashville, GA
Q: What is your favorite Bible verse?
A: 2 Timothy 4:7-8
Q: What is your favorite book of the Bible?
Q: What is your favorite food?
A: Chick-Fil-A chicken nuggets, waffle fries, and a Coke!
Q: What is your favorite movie or TV show?
A: Old episodes of Columbo.
Q: What book (not the Bible) has most impacted your life?
A: "When Helping Hurts" by Brian Fikkert and Steve Corbett.
Q: What is your favorite hobby?
A: Growing plants!
Q: What is your favorite game?
A: A card game called "3-13".
Q: How long have you served with Helping Hands Foreign Missions?
A: I have served with Helping Hands since 2003, when my husband Richard and I founded the organization.
Q: How were you called to the Village of Eden?
A: That's kind of a funny question for me! But I'll share something – I remember sitting at the same desk that is still at my house today, Richard talking and me writing and typing. We would stop every now and then and discuss some things in depth. I remember taking what seemed like hundreds of pages of notes and trying to condense them into something readable, and I'm still not sure anyone read the entire booklet describing the VOE. But I know it by heart! It's amazing to see how close VOE has mirrored that booklet. It is still a work in progress, but certainly, it is a LIGHTHOUSE. Those days back in 2009, the year before Richard died, were my calling to the VOE, though at the time, I never dreamed I would be living at VOE without Richard.
Q: What do you do at the Village of Eden?
A: Some days, by the end of the day, I can't remember what I did in the morning – that's how busy the days are. They are never the same, and there is always an "opportunity" to solve a problem. I oversee the VOE Medical Clinic, which includes: morning devotional/team meetings; solving problems; evaluating critical patients and helping with decisions about referrals; keeping supplies/inventory stocked; doing Quality checks; teaching; doing patient clinical reviews to improve patient care – lots more but it's usually half my day. I typically do daily "walkabouts" because I enjoy seeing what is happening around VOE, but it also helps me identify problems before they become bigger. I have discipleship with my in-charge clinical officer and teach Bible study to about 50 women of our church/community. I do home visits with Isaac, our ministry assistant, to check on and pray with clients who have come to VOE Clinic for help. I accompany emergency patients to the hospital. I have lots of paperwork relating to government requirements, and I oversee the Finance, Procurement, and Cleaning Departments! A couple of weeks ago, the security supervisor called me to help birth a calf – but I declined, and we called a vet. But I have delivered a baby in the back of our ambulance!
Q: What is so special about the Village of Eden?
A: The VOE is a LIGHT in our community. That sounds very cliché, but it is the best way to describe it. People come here discouraged and hopeless, and they leave with help and hope, and they know what it means to be born again in Christ. When Richard and I began praying about VOE – even before we had a name for it, we wanted it to be a LIGHTHOUSE. I am so thankful that God allowed me to see that dream become a reality. There is nothing more special than that.
Q: What is your favorite memory at the Village of Eden?
A: I will never forget what Majid, a child who now lives with us at the VOE, looked like when I first saw him. He was about two years old at the time and only skin and bones. Watching him heal and gain weight reminded me of how I was when I came to God – broken, starving, stubborn, and dying. Majid is still with us, a precious boy running around, healthy, thriving, and does not remember much of his past life. He has a big smile and loves to hang out with the other kids at VOE. One day, he will understand what God did for him, and I pray he will serve God all his life. I am so thankful that I was part of his physical healing.
Q: What do you love about being a missionary?
A: I became a doctor in 1994 (I was not saved at the time), and I always had a desire to help people and make a difference in their lives. But after many years of discontent and realizing I was not making a lasting difference, I realized I needed Jesus! After I was born again, I understood what it meant to truly help people. Telling someone about Jesus and how to be saved is the only thing that will last for eternity. That's what I love about being a missionary. Helping them today, giving them hope for tomorrow, and showing the way to heaven.
Q: What do you wish people knew about missionaries?
A: I hope people understand that missionaries are not "special" Christians or spiritual giants. I fail every day and probably feel more guilt than most because it seems I have failed not only God but my team of supporters and prayer warriors.
Q: How can we pray for you?
A: Please pray that I will indeed keep the faith and finish my race. I do not want to "slow down" as many encourage me to do (and sometimes what I think of doing). There are still so many lost souls, and I cannot "retire" while people are dying and going to hell. Pray that I will always point people to God as their provider and not try to be their provider. Pray that I will be at peace and content wherever God has me at any particular moment. Pray that I would be a Godly influence on my family, whether I am near or far away. Pray that my faith would increase and that I would abide in Christ.