By Josh Craner
Josh Craner is 29 years old and resides in Salt Lake City, Utah. He worked as an elementary school teacher for six years prior to his year at New Hope Uganda’s Kasana Children’s Center and will be returning to the classroom this fall. Along with a passion for helping kids he enjoys playing and writing music and has produced two albums that contain songs written and performed by him.
As I sit here at my brother’s house in Denver, reflecting on this past year at New Hope Uganda, my heart is full of emotion and awe. I’m in awe of all that God did in and through me over the course of this year. I can honestly say that I have no regrets; each and every day was incredibly meaningful. If I were to sum up my experience with one word it would be “RELATIONSHIP”. My relationship with God has developed in incredible ways and my love for Him is deeper than it has ever been. I trust Him so much more than I did a year ago. God is so good and His ways are best. He has proved Himself over and over again to me. I went into this year with some expectations but God far surpassed anything I could have dreamed up.
[quote]If I were to sum up my experience with one word it would be “RELATIONSHIP”[/quote]
In addition to that, I am amazed at the many relationships that developed. My heart is so full of love for my Ugandan family. I am thoroughly enjoying being here with my American family and I know this is where God has me right now, but I also miss those I had to say ‘see you later’ to. It’s an amazing feeling knowing that I have family around the world. I don’t use the word “family” lightly. As Christians, we are part of a huge family of believers where God’s love is what connects and unites us.
Now the question remains – How do I summarize my year at NHU’s Kasana Children’s Center? I must give a little history before I answer that question. I first came to Kasana in June 2008 for three weeks. I had the awesome opportunity of helping Constance Dobb’s in her remedial class and becoming a part of the Jonathan Family (20 children who live on-site at Kasana with Family Group parents) . Those three weeks were incredibly full and God started planting the idea of coming back to NHU for one year. When I heard about the New Hope’s Institute of Childcare and Family (a five-month course), I felt God was telling me He wanted me to return to take the class. This is all to say that God had a plan and I’m amazed at how He brought it to reality.
I applied to be short-term staff with NHU and I was accepted as the foreign staff schoolteacher. I also applied to the Institute for the January 2010 class and was accepted. So when I left America to join NHU’s team in June 2009, this is all I really knew I would be involved in, along with being a member of the Jonathan Family. I also knew I would be teaching a few guitar lessons to some of the foreign staff kids and a few of the teens in my family group. As I look back now, it’s amazing what God had in store. The above-mentioned involvements ended up being a small piece of the puzzle.
Before I explain some of the wonderful opportunities God provided, I want to say that all that transpired has everything to do with Him and has nothing to do with my abilities and strength. He showed me time and time again that in my weakness He is strong. I was only able to accomplish that which He planned and purposed and gave me the strength and grace to do. I say none of this out of pride but in humility and awe. I am totally blown away that God blessed me in such incredible ways this past year while also blessing others through me.
My involvement with the Jonathan Family was so incredible. God taught me a lot about parenting through this experience. From the very beginning, I felt like a member of the family. I was able to be involved in multiple ways: teaching devotions weekly, tutoring one of the older boys several evenings a week, encouraging, correcting, laughing, teaching two of the boys guitar, baking cookies with the kids, playing football (soccer) with them, having the kids over to my house for dinner, going to Musana Camps for a family holiday, swimming in Kampala, and so much more. God showed me that I don’t have to have biological children, nor be married, to be able to be a ‘father’. The kids in Jonathan family are and always will be near and dear to my heart.
The foreign staff students I taught were also great. I enjoyed getting to know them and their families. This experience was very different than all my other teaching experiences. I really enjoyed the challenge. During my five months I taught a variety of subjects and ages at various times during the week. I taught all the older kids drama and art. One of the highlights was working with the drama class on a play. We wrote it together and they performed it at our parent night. I also taught math and science to five of the older kids in the afternoon. I taught the younger kids (ages 4-9) math, reading, writing, science, and PE. It was a large age span but I enjoyed the challenge. Most of my teaching time was devoted to four students who ranged from 5 to 7 years of age. One student in particular made huge progress in reading, writing, and math. Another highlight of my teaching experience was working with Julia Dangers, Jay and Vicki Dangers’ youngest daughter. She was such a joy to work with. I praise God for the opportunity to get to know her. She brought so much joy into my life. Because of Julia’s amazing sense of humor, it’s not hard to find yourself laughing with her.
The institute was a life changing experience. I thought I understood God prior to the class, but I came to realize how little I actually knew. His Word has become alive for me and I know that it is TRUTH. Through the course, God healed me of some hurts from my past that I thought were dealt with. I finally accepted, for the first time in my life, that I am made perfect in His image. He showed me His love in so many amazing ways. Like the institute principal Keith McFarland said so many times throughout the class, “We are on a Journey of Transformation and Relationship”. This is exactly what it was. To go into details would take too much space but let me just say that I have such a better understanding of who God is and who I am in Him. With this knowledge, I am better able to love others.
Back in August, God allowed me to go on an outreach to Kobwin, which is NHU’s site for kids who have been impacted by Joseph Kony’s LRA rebel group. We brought 60 teens from Amuria for a five-day retreat. It was an incredible time of healing and freedom. Those who came were either abducted by the rebel group or lost parents during the senseless violence that occurred in 2003 in Amuria. Over the course of the retreat, there was singing, playing, small group activities, prayer times, and teaching times. We saw a lot of healing take place. Kobwin site is currently caring for 21 teens full-time. This has been a dream in the making for a long time and is now a reality.
Now on to all that God did in the area of music during this year. As I said, I knew I would be teaching a few kids guitar but I had no idea that this would blossom and develop into an amazing adventure. When word got out that I played guitar and sang, a few teens came to my house wanting to learn new worship songs and to learn some new guitar techniques. These were not the same boys that I was already teaching guitar to. Soon the numbers grew and God told me to open up my house on Sundays after church. Before I knew it, there were 10+ students at my house every Sunday afternoon. I was teaching guitar, singing, new worship songs, and truths from the Bible on worship. After a few months of meeting, we decided to start a worship team. We started by putting on a worship night once a month and were then asked by the church to lead Sunday service once a month. By the time I left Uganda, the group had grown to nearly 15 members consisting of a keyboardist (who learned to play in about two months), bassist, several guitarists, and quite a few vocalists (some of whom are able to sing beautiful harmonies). These are amazingly talented young people who learn music very quickly. Some of them already knew how to play before I came and others started learning for the first time. It was amazing to watch them grow and develop their talents and abilities and gain a real understanding of what it means to worship God with more than just music. Several of the boys have written songs that Shawn Zimmerman and I were able to record. We are still working on this project. God is raising up a new generation of worship leaders at Kasana. I’m so excited to say that the group is continuing even in my absence. God brought another adult leader to take my place and it has given me so much peace knowing that the group will continue. I know God has great things in store for this team. It’s amazing to be able to say that I was not only their coach but I am their friend. We formed very deep bonds with one another. Their hearts for God are so inspiring and I look forward to hearing all that transpires this next year and in the years to come.
God also allowed me to be a mentor/counselor for several of the boys in the group and some who were not involved. I was able to see amazing growth in their lives and privileged to watch God restore relationships. I had no idea what to do most of the time but God is faithful and He guided me through these wonderful experiences.
These are only some of the highlights of the past year. To tell of everything would take far too much time. I am in awe of all that God did during my year in Uganda. I’ve never felt so connected with a community away from my Utah Home. Like I stated at the beginning, this year could be summed up with one word – RELATIONSHIP. I have been so blessed by the incredible relationships that were formed during my stay. Saying good-bye was very difficult and there were many tears. I have hope that my connection with NHU is far from over but it’s all in His hands. God has created a very special community at New Hope Uganda’s Kasana Children’s Center and I’m so thankful that I am a part of the family.