In 1996 /1997, Kilkeel builder and parish layreader, David Charleton (right), had a burning desire to know what was on God’s heart. He prayed and was prayed with many times to find an answer, all the while meditating on 1 John 3: 16–18.
One day while he was driving, he had a mental image of a black boy with a yellow tee shirt. “He turned and looked me straight on with a very sad face,” says David. “I knew it was Africa and I knew it was a school.”
David shared this with his rector at the time, Revd David McClay, and soon afterwards the rector was on the phone with Trevor Stevenson (who had gone to Uganda in 1995 to start an agricultural project). David asked if Trevor ever had any building work to do.
Trevor shared that the locals had been asking him to build a school for their children but he had declined as he was there to start an agricultural project and knew nothing about building
The locals kept at him and Trevor had approached the Irish government who helped to fund the first “Fields of Life” (FOL) Academy” in a rural area not far from Kampala
This area was known as the ‘Killing Fields’, where during the civil war many people were killed or had their bodies dumped. When Trevor started to work there, some locals said it would never stand, such was the spiritual opposition, but by early 1997 the school was built and soon 185 children attended
God’s timing was amazing as David McClay had rung Trevor on a Saturday afternoon, the day before meeting Fred the headmaster. The school was full to capacity; no more children could be brought in; there was no room and so they determined to earnestly pray for the funds and someone to build more classrooms
The next day Trevor got the call from David asking, “Do you ever need any building work done?”
“We shared the vision with Christ Church,” says David, “and we soon had a task force formed to handle everything. A team of about 26 volunteers prepared to go and God’s hand was upon us.”
Two days before the deadline, the team reached their £12,000 target to pay for the flights and had 60p to spare!
David shares another story:
“One of the bricklayers was busy getting ready to go to Uganda and broke a bone in his hand. He was devastated but that evening we prayed that God would heal him. The next evening was the commissioning service in Christ Church and during the service Martin felt a warm sensation move down through his arm and into his hand
His hand was healed and he went to Uganda and built every day we were there.”
The team built a new 120ft x 30ft classroom block. One night the cook said, “come and see this”. A tilley lamp was sitting on a table in the existing classroom where they were staying while building the new block. It cast a shadow out of the window and onto the new building and right at the apex of the newly built gable it formed the shadow of a cross. They were amazed at how the cross stood perfectly plumb and horizontal right on top of the gable.
“We told Trevor the next day when he arrived on site,” says David, “and asked if we could put a cross on the gable. He agreed and on the last day many of the men wept as black man, a Protestant and a Roman Catholic together plastered a cross and a tablet with 1 John 3:16–18 on the gable.”
The next year Christ Church joined with St Finnian’s and Ballywalter parishes and returned to build another classroom block at Fields of Life Academy. In 2000 Down Battalion Boys Brigade decided to send a team of officers and senior boys to Nakasongola, Uganda to build a primary school. This was a ground–breaking trip, and after it came the birth of Hope Builders and a new way of taking teams to Africa.
At home the men converted two 20ft steel containers into sleeping accommodation for 30 workers. The walls were insulated, lights and fans installed and a window and insect proof door fitted. A cook house container was completed with everything required to cater for a team living in the jungle – from the gas cookers and plates down to the salt cellars and tea towels.
A large marquee was sent, complete with chairs and tables, to act as their living space. Building equipment including scaffolding, generators and a cement mixer went out along with books and other school materials.
Now, 12 years on, the containers are still in great condition. Men can go into them in the middle of the day and lie down and rest in relative comfort, even though could be 50 degrees outside
“Not only did we change the way we lived on site in Uganda, we changed the way we did projects. The first 3 projects were all donor driven – a church or churches or an organisation sponsored the project. This was great but if no donors came forward then there would no continuity
“Hope Builders was formed to bridge the gap so that we could send a team out each year, with the funds to buy all the materials, flights, food, water etc to complete a school. There was no cost to the locals or to Fields of Life.
“This format has continued each year since then and now with much larger teams we are able to build a complete primary school in just over 2 weeks.
“Not every trip is the same but our standard project would be to build two 120ft x30ft classroom blocks and a 60ft x 30ft teachers housing block from sub–floor level to completion including windows glazed, internal walls painted and 100 plus desks made. The cost to each team member is £1800 and they lose over 2 weeks’ salary when they are in Uganda.”
Since 2001, Hope Builders has carried out a project each year. Some have been additions to existing schools and others complete primary schools with teacher housing. They also take a doctor to look after the team and to set up a clinic to treat the local people. Normally the doctor would treat 1000 to 1200 patients on a 2 week trip
Bethel Royal School in Nakasongola is their biggest project to date and has spanned the past three years’ trips. They hope to go back there next January to build boys’ dorms and more teacher housing
“Through Hope Builders we bring men from all walks of life together to go as a team to Uganda to build schools where there are no schools,” says David. “We aim to disciple men in the ways of Jesus, even though not all our men are born again and some have little or no church background. But through the ministry of Hope Builders and the impact of the African people, men’s hearts have been changed and some have come to faith.”
1 John 3:16–18
This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.