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ORGANIZATIONS : Gospel of Hope : African Village Outreach soothes the pain of Uganda, a nation wracked by dictatorship, war and AIDS.

March 12, 1993|R. DANIEL FOSTER | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES; R. Daniel Foster writes regularly for The Times.

After ducking death threats from Ugandan dictator Idi Amin in 1974, Adoniya Kirinda fled his native Africa to the safest place he knew: a North Hollywood garage.

As a pastor with the Pasadena-based International Gospel League, Kirinda's name was high on religious persecution lists. A North Hollywood supporter gave Kirinda, wife Margaret and their five children shelter.

Kirinda used his fateful passage to found a North Hollywood organization that today assists a nation decimated by two dictators, and now, the plight of AIDS.

The nondenominational African Village Outreach, incorporated in 1984, has built 22 churches that dot 2,000 villages scattered throughout the country. A team of 35 pastors recruited from various villages ministers to Ugandans' needs, spreads the Gospel and cares for the sick.

A medical clinic that treats Ugandans for such ailments as parasites, river blindness and malaria was built by the Outreach in 1990. U.S. AID for Africa recently gave the group a $5,000 grant toward building its first orphanage.

Although most of the group's footwork is done 12,000 miles away, the North Hollywood outpost serves as an administrative anchor and generates funds. Three staff members work in a one-room office on Chandler Street furnished with three desks, file cabinets and "lots and lots of paperwork," said administrator Cathy Reeves.

Margaret Kirinda carries on the work in her native country; Adoniya died in a 1988 plane crash over Rome. Her son, Tim, lives in North Hollywood and attends Pierce College. Her daughters Jennifer and Becky live in North Hollywood and Suzanne lives in San Bernardino. Another daughter, Ruth, lives in Washington, D.C., and devotes most of her time to Outreach, of which she is a board member.

Much of the work of African Village Outreach is aimed at the country's sense of loss.

"The mission gives the people of Uganda some hope--because there is so much death," said Reeves. "There's a whole generation now that knows only war, loss and misfortune. The grief over there is so widespread. Some Ugandans are so depressed they don't have the energy to change their habits, which could change their lives in the case of AIDS."

About 600 people donate to African Village Outreach, many belonging to Los Angeles churches that target African relief work, said Reeves, who operates on a slim annual budget of $150,000.

Church on the Way in Van Nuys is one of a dozen San Fernando Valley congregations that has worked with the Outreach through the years. The church is sending a 10-member team on a two-week visit to Uganda this summer.

"We're going to serve alongside the Outreach staff to assist in leadership training of pastors, ministering to children and adults and generally helping a population that's hurting," said Phil Starr, Church on the Way's director of world ministries. "We've been impressed with the Outreach's work in solving the grave social problems that exist in Uganda."

Unlike people in some African countries, Ugandans have rarely wanted for food. Rich, fertile soil, paired with an excellent climate, produces abundant harvests of tea, coffee and cotton.

Ugandans instead suffered at the hands of human oppressors. Prime Minister Milton Obote seized power in 1966, only to be forced out in 1971 by Gen. Idi Amin. By 1979, Amin had slaughtered an estimated 300,000 Ugandans. Obote regained power in 1980 and turned the country's Luwero Triangle, which is the birthplace of the Kirinda family, into a killing field where hundreds of thousands perished.

Obote was overthrown in 1985 after a guerrilla movement led by Yoweri Museveni took control. Museveni, the country's current president, seeks tribal reconciliation. He also presides over the new scourge of acquired immune deficiency syndrome.

According to a World Health Organization report last year, Uganda ranks No. 3 internationally in AIDS cases. Many of the country's 22,000 victims are children under 16, who make up more than half the country's population. Already orphaned by parents killed during two decades of war, the children have borne the brunt of AIDS' impact on the East African nation.

"African Village Outreach is a major link to these orphans," said Tim Kirinda.

Convincing Ugandans to change their sexual habits in the wake of AIDS has proven a difficult task, Reeves said. Many Ugandans believe the disease, called "slim" because of its tendency to emaciate its victims, is a curse. Even the government's numerous "Love Carefully" educational posters that stress condom use have not changed widespread habits, said Reeves, whose organization advocates sex only among married couples. Outreach workers travel from village to village encouraging abstinence outside of marriage.

"Adoniya Kirinda had incredible insight into the deepest issues of his people," Reeves said. "He was well-known as a person who could make a difference. That's what we're still about today."

WHERE TO GO

* Location: African Village Outreach, 12501 Chandler St., Suite 205, North Hollywood, 91607. Mailing address: P.O Box 893, Sun Valley, 91352.

* Call: (818) 509-1651.

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