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Teen recounts trip to Uganda

Guest speaker Mary Grace Brown was introduced at a recent meeting of the Valley Lions Club as a young lady who’s mature for her age with a good perspective of what she wants to do with her life.

She gave a good indication of that in her talk about some things she’s already done that few people ever get the chance to do. A 19-year-old student at Southern Union State Community College, Mary Grace has already been on a mission trip to Africa and has competed in the Dr. Pepper Challenge for a chance to win $100,000.

Mary Grace it the daughter of Craig and Beverly Brown of the Sparkling Springs community in the northwest corner of Chambers County. She’s also the niece of Leonard and Debra Riley of Valley.

Her dad is the executive director at Valley Haven School, and Mary Grace’s ambition is to work with special needs children.

She had to overcome numerous obstacles to make the trip to Uganda this past summer. It was a case of something that’s meant to be as a way of working itself out.

“Going to Uganda is something I’ve wanted to do since I was 14 or 15 years old,” she said. “A couple came to our church to talk about the experiences they had there, and it inspired me to want to follow their example.”

At the time, Mary Grace was a freshman at Wadley High School. Sports, cheerleading, club activities and making good grades was the primary focus of her life for the next three years. The idea of going to Africa remained with her, though.

“It was always in the back of my mind,” she said. “I still wanted to go, but I wanted to be able to do it in the summer of 2016, right after I graduated from high school.”

When 2016 rolled around, the opportunity to go on a mission trip became a possibility.

“Through our church, I made a connection with some people in Clay County who were going to Kenya,” she said. “I wanted to go with them, but it didn’t seem right. I had been praying for the opportunity to go to Uganda.”

That trip fell through, but a second opportunity came up and this time is was to Uganda. “The pastor of our church, Jimmy Sprayberry, arranged it,”she said. “That’s where I had wanted to go all along.”

It was a dream come true, but there were some problems connected with it.

“I would have to stay in a room by myself, and there would be no one I knew who was my age who would be on the trip.”

Another obstacle was that she’d have to have some vaccinations before she could go there. The one she’d need to safeguard against yellow fever was in very short supply.

“It was looking like I wouldn’t be able to go,” she said. “I called 12 different places before I found somebody who had it, and it was in Birmingham. For a change, something worked out right, and I wept happy tears.”

When everything was set to go, Mary Grace started to feel unprepared for what she needed to do. “I was feeling unworthy to have this chance,” she said. “I felt unprepared to tell people in a foreign country about Jesus.”

Mary Grace made the trip with Rev. Sprayberry and some deacons from the Grace Fellowship Church. When they arrived in Kampala, a city of close to three million people, they heard lots of loud prayer coming from the many mosques in Uganda’s capital city.

“I was a little afraid but tremendously excited,” Mary Grace said. “I was in the place I had wanted to be. I love children, and I would have the chance to be with a lot of them.”

One of the first tours the group took was to a primary school with lots and lots of children.

“They were so happy to see us,” she said. “We didn’t speak the same language, but they smiled at us and wanted to hug us.”

They distributed bibles at the school.

“You would think they were gold bars the way they reached for them,” Mary Grace said. “The people we saw knew we were making a sacrifice to be there, and they wanted us to know they appreciated it.”

Most people in the capital city get around on bicycles.

“They call them budda buddas, and they are everywhere,” she said. “I prayed for God to work things out and for me to see lots of children. When you pray to God, you’d better expect Him to answer that prayer. I saw lots and lots of kids. All of them want to learn English and to be proficient in it. Those who can speak English are considered very smart. They wanted to thank people back home who made our trip possible.

“Things weren’t going as well as I would have liked,” Mary Grace said. “They need so much, and I felt like I wasn’t doing enough to help them. They day before we left, two girls gave me a bracelet and told me they wanted me to come back. That made me feel so much better.”

On the last day in Uganda, the Wadley group went to a refugee camp.

“There was a large number of people there, and most of them had never seen white people before,” she said. “They were glad to see us. They literally have nothing and are so grateful for you to give them anything. We gave them bibles and talked to them about Jesus,”

They also visited an orphanage and a women’s refugee center.

“It helps them get back on their feet and to be independent,” Mary Grace explained. “The children would tell us, ‘This is not my home. I am just a passerby.’ We ate a type of food they called po-sho and beans. It was okay, but I was so glad to get back home and have some real food for a change.”

“I was grateful to be there but felt like I was giving so little to them when they needed so much,” Mary Grace said. “I can only do what God wants. I felt like He wanted me to love on them, and we did that.”

Though the Uganda experience, Mary Grace acquired a great deal of admiration for what missionaries do. “They make such sacrifices,” she said. “Malaria is very common over there. It’s like getting a cold here. It’s something they have to deal with constantly. I would ask you to join with me in praying for the missionaries and the people there.”

Mary Grace said she’s always remember the sunrises and sunsets in Uganda. “They were so very beautiful,” she said. She also remember a safari they went on. “We saw some really big elephants in the open really bellowing at us as our car went past,” she said. “Life is really different in Uganda. It’s overcrowded in Kampala, and it’s hard to get used to.”

Mary Grace said she’d love to do it again sometime. “I have two friends from Wadley who will be going there this coming summer,” she said. “They are going to be in for an awakening, but I’m sure they will like it.”

The trip to Uganda was a wonderful experience for Mary Grace. “It was definitely the trip of a lifetime for me,” she said. “I am very thankful I had the chance to do it.”

Mary Grace will be transferring from SUSCC to Auburn next fall. Several months back, she entered a contest sponsored by Dr. Pepper where college students could win scholarship money. Four finalists would receive $2,500 each for tuition money, and the chance to compete for $100,000. Thousands of college students enter this contest every year, and the finalists get to complete at the SEC championship game in Atlanta.

Each candidate has to make a video explaining what they want to do with their life. The one made for Mart Grace was shown to the Lions Club members, who all agreed that it was so well done that it had to make a big impact on the judges.

One of Mary Grace’s high school teachers who’s quite skilled in making video presentations helped her with it. The video shows Mary Grace interacting with clients at Valley Haven. Another scene shows her walking near a lake in Wadley and stopping by a log cabin. In a scene the Dr. Pepper people must have really loved, a black lab puppy that was with Mary Grace ran to a large inflated bottle of Dr. Pepper and started licking it.

The video ends with a quote from Mary Grace: “Will you help me change the world?”

“After I’d entered the contest, weeks went by and I heard nothing from them,” Mary Grace said. “I’d all but given up on it till I received a call one day telling me I was one of the four finalists. I was blown away by that.”

Mary Grace didn’t win the grand prize but thoroughly enjoyed the experience. She got to see well-known athletes like Tim Tebow and Jordan Rodgers while there. She also made new friends with her fellow contestants.

She also got some unexpected good news from Dr. Pepper officials.

“I was more than happy to get $2,500,” Mary Grace said. “But they quadrupled it to $10,000. It was amazing.”