By Patrick Butler

thumb_Emmy_at_GraceRecounting stories of personal pain, rejection and how one of his 14 stepmothers tried to poison him, Emmanuel Nnyanzi, of Uganda, spoke Sunday at three meetings in Tyler, the largest city  in East Texas. Grace Community Church staff estimated nearly 1,200 people heard “Pastor Emmy” as he is called, a poor, rural citizen of Southwest Uganda and whose schools serve more than 500 orphans.

He visited America — and his strong contingent of Texas supporters — for the first time this week. Supporters in East Texas persisted in bringing Nnyanzi to America despite financial obstacles.

“I was denied a visa to America five times,” said Nnyanzi, 43. “It is costly to be denied because there is a $140 non-refundable fee each time, transportation costs to the city and a hotel for an overnight stay. For a poor man, this is very hard, and the sense of rejection is very strong. But, I persevered, and here I am, to see my friends.”

Perseverance in the face of poverty and even a type of familial persecution has been Nnyanzi's story for most his life, he said Sunday to those gathered.

“When I realized that what I have passed through in my life was for a purpose — so I could share the parental love to children that I had missed as a child — I began to reach out to orphans,” he said. “When a family member tries to poison your food because they want you dead, that is strong rejection.”

After he married, Nnyanzi and his wife, Sara, began to house children with no home, despite having five children of their own, he said.

“First we took in five, then 12, then 36 orphans,” he said with a laugh. “That's 41 children in all, in a three-bedroom house. We started looking for more space.”

In 2004, Nnyanzi and Sara were taking care of 150 orphans. It would be nearly three years later before Nnyanzi met Monica Barret, who was on trip to an orphanage in Mozambique. Nnyanzi was visiting the same orphanage when the two found each other.

“We just clicked when we met,” Mrs. Barret told On Monday. “We knew we were supposed to work together to help the children.”

Tyler pediatrician Mark Barret followed up his wife's visit in 2008 with a trip to Mbarara, Uganda, about a six-hour drive from Kampala over unsurfaced roads.

“I didn't really want to go to Africa,” Mark Barret said. “I usually like to take time off from my (medical) practice in nice places. But I felt compelled to go and meet this man, Emmanuel Nnyanzi. Once I did, and saw the children and what he was doing for them, I was hooked.”

Barret formed and became executive director of a Texas branch of Parental Care Ministries. After many attempts, he finally brought Nnyanzi for his first American visit last week.

“We had to bring him because one can't just talk about Emmy,” Barret said. “There is really no way I can describe him. Because of all he's been through and what he's been able to accomplish. You just have to meet him, and hear him. Once someone does, they can see what this is all about.”

Since Barret  involved his entire family with Nnyanzi's orphanage in Mbarara and began raising Texas support, the school has nearly tripled in size, hundreds of orphan children no longer sleep on dirt floors, and there is a clean water supply for two of the three school locations, said Justin Hayes, director of Parental Care Ministries in Texas.

“The children are happy ... well not completely happy,” Nnyanzi said at Sunday's Grace gathering. “They still have many needs, but what they do have is the joy of the Lord.  When a child is loved — when they are convinced of the parental love — that someone truly loves them, they can do with little. It is when children have no love, that nothing, no matter how much you give them, will make them happy.”

Visit the website for information about Parental Care Ministries.

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