By Jordan West

CLEVELAND, Ga (TMNews) – Maria Kayondo and Paul Kizito, both TM freshmen, spent their childhoods in villages of Uganda. Neither student believed they would end up attending a college in the mountains of North Georgia, and they marvel when they look back at what God has done in their individual lives to bring them to Truett-McConnell.

Early life in the Ugandan villages

Kayondo remembered, “We were in the Uganda Children’s Choir (now called Ugandan Thunder). I came to the United States with the choir in 2005 to raise money for the orphanage where I grew up.” Kayondo’s mother worked at the orphanage, so she spent most of her childhood there.

She continued, “A lady from the states came to the orphanage for a mission trip, and she was asking my birth mom about me, about my education, and what I wanted to be when I grew up.”

Kayondo’s mom shared her daughter’s dreams: “My birth mom told her I wanted to be a nurse, or doctor, or do something in the medical profession. This lady was the principal of a school, and she told my birth mom that she and her family would take me in and give me an education. I came to the United States to live with the Moody family and started my junior year of high school in September 2013.”

Kizito’s story has different beginnings, but he and Kayondo ended up in Giffin, Ga., living with the same family. Kizito and Kayondo fondly refer to each other as siblings. He said, “I was in the choir, too, but it was all boys, and I did not go to the U.S. for the first time until 2009.”

His upbringing was different than those of his American friends. He explained, “I grew up in a village, where the houses have no power, no running water, none of that stuff. We just got our first TV recently.”

Music had always been a prominent part of his life: “After my primary school, which is like middle school, I had been performing, doing music as long as I can remember. I was performing and a guy came up and said, ‘The boy that sang the last song, I want to give him a scholarship to come to my school.’”

Waiting for the rain to stop

Kizito believed the invitation to this new high school would be his ticket out of the village where he had grown up, but it was not what he expected. He said, “I was bullied. It was terrible. I cried for a week at the school, because I was in this really scary situation. It felt like I was back in the village.”

His father shared some wisdom that has continued to stick in Kizito’s heart. He continued, “When it’s raining, in Uganda, you don’t have anywhere to go. You can go to a house somewhere and wait for the rain to stop. Whatever happens when you’re waiting for the rain to stop, let it happen with hope that the rain is going to stop, and then you will be able to move on.”

Kizito applied this principle to the struggles he faced at school. He said, “Basically, this school situation was the rain, and I just had to wait for the rain to stop. It went on, and I started to get involved in the school. I started doing leadership and music, and it became my home.”

His life changed suddenly. He added, “In the middle of all of that, a friend of a friend of Maria’s mom came to me and said, ‘You’re going to America.’ To me, growing up somewhere, that could never even been a dream. It’s not going to happen, so don’t even come tell me about America.”

Kizito did not take the man seriously at first. He said, “I thought he was messing with me. He came back and took me to take passport photos. I told my dad I thought I was going to America and I thought he would be excited. But he said, “You’re not going anywhere.” And he was very serious. As a dad, he was worried where his child would go.”

The family took time to decide what was best. Kizito said, “After some time praying and fasting, it worked out and I got to come.” He came to live with the Moody family in 2011, and began his freshman year of high school. He added, “Now that I am here, I know why I’m here. None of our lives have been the same since then.”

Finding God’s promises unexpectedly

Kayondo shared the journey of her faith: “I knew Jesus, and I don’t think I was a Christian when I was in Uganda, but I went to church and read my Bible. In my high school, we had chapel three days a week, and every time, the principal would invite anyone who didn’t know Jesus to come up front and get things straight with Him.”

She didn’t think she needed to get anything straight with Jesus. She said, “But I always thought to myself that I didn’t do anything wrong, that I would definitely go to heaven and I didn’t need the relationship with Jesus.”

A tragedy struck that changed everything for Kayondo. She explained, “In our senior year, one of our friends who was a football player, he was called “Big Bear,” got a blood clot and died suddenly. That hit really hard, and at his funeral, the pastor preached and he asked us if we died today, would we go to heaven or hell?”

“I thought about it and thought, ‘I would go to heaven, because I’m not a bad kid. I read my Bible and I worship Jesus.’ But then I kept thinking about it and thought, ‘I would go to hell, because I don’t have a relationship with Jesus.’”

Kayondo continued, “I had accepted Jesus, but I didn’t want everyone to know that I had accepted Jesus. I had been here for three years and they thought I was a Christian, so there was no way I was standing up. Then the pastor shared the verse that says, ‘If you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.’”

Kayondo said, “I realized I had nothing to lose, and that it was not about me, it was about Jesus.”

Kizito’s salvation took place before he moved to the United States. He said, “My dad was a pastor before I was born, and I grew up in church, playing instruments and singing.”

He explained further, “Radio is a big thing in Uganda, and when I was about 5, there was a lady that was talking on the radio about salvation. I was listening and realized I had to make things right. I prayed, and when I told my mom, it was the greatest moment ever. I got baptized here in the United States, and it has been a great ride.”

A miraculous email

Both Kizito and Kayondo would have to return to Uganda within 30 days of graduating, and 15 days away from that date, neither had a plan for college. Kizito had faith God would work it out. He said, “I wasn’t worried.”

Kizito continued, “We did TM online our senior year. We had come here, and loved it – we wanted to come back, but we hadn’t applied or anything. Our mom wrote a background story about us, and sent it to Dr. Caner. He sent back an email and we were blown away. We had been given a presidential scholarship to go to TM.”

He said, “When my mom read the email, we knew that was where we were supposed to be.

Their semester at TM has encouraged growth in their faith. Kayondo said, “My faith has grown a lot since I’ve been at TM. It’s a small school and I love it. I feel like I have grown so much closer to God because the people around you influence you, and your teachers and professors. I’ve learned to trust Him in small things, like soccer and school.”

Kizito agreed, saying, “I met some guys that were very spiritually strong. We have been able to study the Bible, talk, and mentor each other. God just opens up doors every single time, and I’ve been able to help with chapel worship ever since I got here. No one could prove to me that God is not real, or that God is bad. He opens so many doors.”

Post-graduation plans in and beyond U.S. borders

Kayondo explained, “I’m a nursing major, and I feel like the Lord challenged me when I was in Uganda this Christmas break to go back home and use what I’m learning to help people there. Medicine is huge in Africa, because we don’t have the facilities. I feel like I could be more useful there, because sometimes there will be just one doctor for a whole village.”

Kizito also wants to use his passions to serve. He said, “I’m majoring in biology. I want to be a doctor. I’m going one step at a time, but I would like to stay in US in work and send money to help the people in Uganda. But if I felt like God called me to live in Uganda, I would pack up my stuff and go. It’s about being willing.”


Jordan is a senior English major and is an intern for the Communications Department.

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