A small Medford church has made its presence felt in a war-torn corner of East Africa.
Water's Edge Community Church has been open for less than a year, but its congregation of some 80 people has raised $30,000 to build an orphanage for 60 children near Kampala, Uganda.
Founded and led by Pastor David Rapp, 56, the church practices what it calls "historic Christian faith" and is a part of what is called the "emerging church" movement.
Proponents say it transcends labels of "conservative" or "liberal" to emphasize a commitment to dialogue and efforts to live their faith in a post-modern world.
Rapp and Eric Dittmer, a member of the congregation, spent a week at the orphanage's 5-acre site in early March to check on the progress of construction, which began in January.
Dittmer is a Southern Oregon University geology professor and water-management specialist. He assisted with a hydro-geology study at the orphanage, searching for potential well sites.
The heavily forested, tropical property for the orphanage was a gift to Caleb Rukundo and his wife, Rhita, for the their work with Ugandan orphans.
Rapp first met Rukundo in 2008 at an Amahoro ("peace") gathering in Kigali, Rwanda. Rukundo lost his home at the age of 7 and like many of the children in Uganda struggled to survive.
Rebels known as the Lord's Resistance Army have been fighting the Ugandan government since 1986 in what has become Africa's longest-running conflict. More than 10,000 children have been abducted by rebels and forced to fight.
"My life has never quite been the same since I met Caleb," Rapp said. "My heart has been broken more times in the last couple years than it ever has before."
During the summer of 2009, shortly after starting Water's Edge, Rapp took 10 youth members of his congregation to visit the Rukundos, who house up to 20 children in their home and rent other dwellings around Kampala to house orphaned children.
"What they are doing is absolutely incredible," Rapp said. "I don't think I've seen anything like it. They take in kids at risk and turn out intelligent young leaders."
When Rapp returned home with the young people, they all knew they wanted to help.
"We were all talking on the plane and the kids were just crazy enough to think we could do anything," Rapp said.
One of the students, his daughter, Megan, 18, decided to raise money for the orphanage as part of her senior project at North Medford High School. She organized an auction at RoxyAnn Winery to get the ball rolling toward their goal of $30,000. She also has spoken at school assemblies to raise awareness about the poverty and challenges that Ugandans face each day.
Donations from the congregation and contributions collected through Rapp's Web site helped meet the goal quickly.
"We just decided that if there was any way under the sun, we would do this," he said. "It has just turned into a beautiful and exciting thing."
Along with the main building, a shower building and cook house will stand on the property. Although funding for the buildings is complete, the church continues to raise money for the orphanage.
The current goal, for drilling a well, is $9,000. The church also wants to raise an additional $1,200 to build a 2,000-gallon rain-catchment system for bathing and washing.
"That home is the kind of legacy that I've always wanted to be a part of," Rapp said. "It's a place of healing and a place of peace for these kids."
Rapp is planning a return to Uganda for the orphanage's opening on May 1. Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni was invited to the opening of what will be known as the Amahoro Children's Home, but Rapp doesn't know whether he will come, and to him it doesn't matter.
"I just know for the rest of my life ... whatever years I got left, I want to spend them helping children."
For more information about the Water's Edge Community Church, visit www.davidrapp.com or www.twecc.com.
Samuel C. Wheeler is a Mail Tribune intern. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.