Lavish in May took place in the beautiful Church in Wales, Christchurch at Roath Park; made even more lovely by flickering candlelight and masses of pink and white flowers, with the delicate scent of lilies floating in the air. Lynda and Sue led our women’s voices in worship, lifted high by the church’s marvellous acoustics.
Our speaker was Helen Lock, Playtime co-ordinator at Care for the Family. “‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’” – Helen has held on to this verse from Jeremiah 29 during her mission to Uganda over the last 15 years, and at Lavish, she shared her story.
It all started in 2002, when members of Helen’s church were invited to a prayer conference in Kampala, the capital of Uganda. Although Helen initially declined the invitation, she felt God prompting her to join the trip, where she fell in love with Uganda and its people, and knew she was there for a reason. There seemed to be so much need there, but Helen had to discern what it was that God was calling her to do. Over the next few years, she returned, bringing a team from her church, wanting to transform lives.
Helen recounted how one night she had a dream. A dream where she stood on a stage with her colleagues, and saw a lake in the distance. Robert, an evangelist friend she had made in Uganda, sent her a photo of the church he wanted to build near Kampala – it was the building of her dream! Feeling led by God, Helen raised £12,000 in just seven weeks and the new church was started.
That year, Helen went out for the launch of the church and then joined a Crusade (or conference) in northern Uganda. This area had been devastated by over 20 years of war, with villages, homes and families torn apart by the abduction of their children who were forced to be soldiers and whose initiation test would be to kill members of their own family. Helen visited a local IDP (internal displaced persons) camp to share her testimony with over 15,000 people.
Back in the UK, Helen and her colleagues supported the church they had planted in Kampala. All was going well, until she received an email to say that Robert was misusing the funds they were sending. Helen and two colleagues decided to fly to Uganda to try to sort things out. But they had not realised how dangerous this was, as Robert became angry and hired hitmen, keeping Helen and her colleagues under arrest in the hotel for two days. Helen knew that God was protecting them in this terrifying situation. She got in touch with people she had met in the North of Uganda – Pastor James and Martin Mapenduzi, the Chairman of the Gulu district – who made the six hour bus ride to the capital to mediate with Robert and help get Helen safely home.
Once back in the UK, Helen had no choice but to close the Ugandan church, amidst feelings of failure and humiliation. However, just four months later, she felt called to return to northern Uganda, where she experienced overwhelming peace. Seeing the pain of war in the eyes of her friends there, she asked, “What can I do?”
Phoebe had built an infant school for war orphans consisting of three classrooms and Helen promised to help her. She set up a UK charity – the Gulu Mission Initiative – and raised the money to add a further two classrooms. The Mission is based on three pillars: education; healthcare; leadership and training of pastors.
Everything went well in Uganda. Many children went to school and local pastors received leadership training. And then Helen received a phone call to say that one of the UK trustees of the charity was being investigated for fraud. Although the HMRC investigation was into his own business and not the charity, Helen dreaded how this would impact negatively on the charity. Would they have to close? She was interviewed by an investigator, who kindly said he could see her heart and he would try to help her. Helen experienced bad panic attacks, sinking to the lowest level and wanting her life to be over, but she was helped by “annoyingly cheerful texts with Bible verses” from friends who offered their support. She had counselling where she received the vision of a minibus with God as the driver, and knew that all would be ok. Finally, the trustee was convicted of fraud, the case was closed and the Gulu Mission Initiative survived.
By 2015, the school was educating 600 children, who all passed their national exams, giving them hope and a future. And Helen is part of this future, her next step being to raise £20,000 to build a high school for those children, which they raised in just four months, and now have 4 classrooms, Phase One of the High school. God is faithful. Teams continue to go from the UK to Uganda every year, and lives are transformed.
Helen concluded by saying that if God has put something on your heart, then believe in yourself. You may go through difficult and challenging times, but don’t let anyone take it from your heart. Keep believing and trusting; hold onto God’s promises to you.
“Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him.” (James 1:12)
Lavish would like to thank Helen for inspiring us with her story, and to thank the women of Christchurch for making everyone so very welcome at Lavish.