Local group plans ‘Fathering the Fatherless’ mission

A “Fathering the Fatherless” mission to build housing for impoverished children in Uganda is receiving a boost from the estate of a Princeton school teacher who designated it for charity before she died.
The teacher was Shirley Johnson, who taught second grade at Princeton’s South Elementary for 31 years and who friends say worked almost up to her death on Feb. 25, 2009. Johnson, who was single and spent much of her time caring for her mother, died about six months after being diagnosed with cancer.
Now a group of 12, consisting of many who attend New Life Church, and Loren Ferch, the pastor the three area campuses of Freshwaters United Methodist Church, are readying for a June 18-29 mission trip to Katosi, Uganda. One purpose of the trip will be to help dedicate The Happy Child House in Katosi in honor of Johnson, as part of her estate was used to build that home for orphans up to age 5. The Happy Child House is the start of what Ugandan pastor Timothy Kakooza  and the group are hoping can be a complex of shelters for mainly children up to age 5.
The Uganda mission group will try to get an idea if more of Johnson’s Happy Child Fund should go toward building the rest of the envisioned complex, which would cost $100,000, said Jolleen Flatland, of Milaca, one of the leaders of the mission group. The name of the complex would be the Marisara Babies Home and could also house impoverished women who need a home to care for very young children.
The Fathering the Fatherless theme is the vision that the mission trip members and others have for Katosi, which is to help children who have been orphaned through various circumstances including AIDS and war, said Flatland. A passage from Psalms sums up the group’s vision, Flatland said, noting that it fits with the spirit of Father’s Day on June 16. The Psalm goes: God’s word commissions us to stand up for the poor and the orphans and advocate for rights of the afflicted and those in need.
The mission group has also arranged fundraisers on its own to help in Katosi. The money raised will pay for 91 twin-size, steel-frame beds with mattresses the group is donating to the orphanage in Katosi.
Exploring a personal mission
Flatland said she is also hoping the trip to Katosi will help her and husband Brian decide if they would want to move to Uganda with their three boys, ages 5, 4 and 2, to be longtime missionaries there.
Flatland said that six years ago Brian, during prayer, had asked what God had in mind for him and that the answer was for Brian to become a “father of many,” to take care of hundreds of children. She said Brian didn’t understand at that time what that meant. Flatland said she later had a similar vision but it also had the added dimension of being cross-cultural and involving women and children. She noted that she and Brian had hoped to have six children, but after having three boys, she had two miscarriages and an emergency hysterectomy in 2012, and so the thoughts of children were on their mind.
She also said they had been talking about doing mission work in Guatemala, but that changed following the visit by Kakooza to the Freshwaters United Methodist Church in Princeton last fall. Kakooza talked about the orphanage already in Katosi for children ages 5-18 and how it is used by 456 children. Of those, 218 reside there, and the rest are in the orphanage during the day, which serves three meals per day, Flatland said.
Flatland said she and Brian asked pastor Kakooza what happens to the orphans under age 5, and that he told them, “bad news,” that 50 percent of those under 5 die. The needs of Ugandan children up to age 5 are so great in the areas of nutrition, housing, diapering and medical, she explained.
Flatland said she and Brian thought about their own little boys and that Kakooza’s comment about the fate of children under age 5 “touched our hearts.”
As result of their conversation with Kakooza, the vision was developed for the Marisara Babies Home, Flatland said.
The Happy Child Fund has not only been helping in far off Uganda. The executor of Johnson’s estate, who wishes to remain anonymous, said last week that some of The Happy Child Fund has been used for charitable causes within the greater Princeton-Cambridge area.
Johnson had attended Salem Lutheran Church in Dalbo, and according to the executor, the fund has been helping Salem Lutheran and Karmel Covenant Church with Bible camps. Other ways the fund has been helping is the Women and Children’s Crisis Center in Cambridge and also the Ruff Start organization based in Princeton that helps find homes for dogs.
Money from the fund has also been used to help families who have fallen on rough times. In one case, some of the money was given to a family where the father had fallen from a ladder and was unable to work for six months. He had been the sole bread winner in the family, according to the fund executor.
Johnson was not very specific about where the money from her estate should go beyond her saying it should be for charitable purposes, Flatland said. So when she and the executor discuss potential uses for the money, Flatland said, the two think about what Johnson, who had dedicated her working years to children, would want. Flatland and the executor both indicated they think Johnson would approve of how The Happy Child Fund money has been spent so far.