‘1 life makes a difference’: Harpswell church embraces Ugandan ministry

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HARPSWELL — When Cindy Baumgartner sends an email to 10-year-old Masudi, she likes to envision the journey it takes across the world to his home village of Mukono, Uganda.

Baumgartner, who co-owns Glen’s Lobsters on Bailey Island, visited Mukono in 2013 on a mission trip with Safe Landings, the American extension of Noah’s Ark Childen’s Ministry Uganda orphanage.

That was when she met Masudi and became his sponsor, meaning for $40 a month, she lends the financial resources to provide Masudi with education, food, and medical care – in her words, “with hope and opportunity.”

It’s also why she can imagine vividly the journey her email takes: I “envision Jonita” – the school liaison – “taking (my note) up the hill to his classroom and hand-delivering the letter.”

Baumgartner is thrilled that her spiritual home, Island’s Community Church on Bailey Island, will host Pete and Pita Buitendijk, founders of Noah’s Ark Childen’s Ministry Uganda, at 9:30 a.m. Sunday, Sept. 11.

“When I made the trip (to Mukono and saw) what they’re doing and the difference they’re making it made me want to be more like them,” Baumgartner said.

Baumgartner is a guest preacher at the Island’s Community Church, and helped organize the Buitendijks’ visit to Harpswell. But Baumgartner wishes she had a mega church so she could take them to a larger audience than can be reached in her small hometown.

Noah’s Ark provides health care, housing and nutrition to children who sometimes arrive at the orphanage on the brink of death. It also organizes sponsorships between neighborhood children in need of financial resources and people like Baumgartner.

When she met Masudi, Baumgartner remembers thinking he was shy and his shorts were too big for him. Most of all, she remembers feeling naive when she offered him a granola bar, only to watch him stare back and forth between the snack and his six or seven brothers and cousins with whom he awkwardly felt obligated to share.

“(Forty dollars) means hopeless to hope, opportunity from nothing,” Baumgartner said. “Here, it would buy a pair of sneakers.”

Since funding his ability to go to the New Horizon school, Baumgartner has noticed a difference in the way Masudi looks from the pictures he sends her. “He has pride,” said said, and stares confidently into the camera in his crisp school uniform.

Their relationship is what makes her service so rewarding. As Baumgartner sees it, Masudi may fall asleep to the sounds of a pangolin screeching in the rural African night, and she to the waves crashing along Harpswell’s never-ending coastline. But through letters, photos and report cards, she has discovered more than just their basic humanity in common.

Most gratifying of all, Baumgartner said she sees the tangible difference she is making in someone else’s life.

“I’m of the thought that one life makes a difference,” she said. “(Sponsorship) is more about relationships and less about throwing money at something.”

Baumgartner hopes this message will resonate with the community in Harpswell when the Buitendijks make their visit; in fact, she has a good feeling it will.

“Growing up on the island, I know that it’s naive to underestimate a small group of people,” she said. “The first thing that comes to mind is Cedar Beach; when people are determined and they have conviction, they make a difference.”

Callie Ferguson can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100 or cferguson@theforecaster.net. Follow Callie on Twitter: @calliecferguson.

Cindy Baumgartner of Harpswell with children at the Noah’s Ark Children’s Ministry Uganda during her mission trip in 2013.

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Reporter on the Brunswick/Harpswell beat. Proud Bowdoin grad that you can find reporting on municipal, school, and community news, or inside the many coffee and sandwich shops around the Midcoast. Callie can be reached at 207-781-3661 ext. 100.