Article: St. Charles man to spend holidays in Africa

• Originally published in the Kane County Chronicle on Dec. 14, 2008

ST. CHARLES – Tyler Sjostrom is choosing to spend his Christmas with homeless children in Uganda.

The 21-year-old St. Charles resident leaves for the East African country today and will return on Jan. 12. While there, he’ll work at an orphanage and minister to street kids.

“I can’t think of anything better to do than to help those who can’t necessarily help themselves,” Sjostrom said.

This will be Sjostrom’s second trip to Uganda; he spent three months there in the first part of this year. While in Uganda, Sjostrom lived in a house with three other Americans from the Chicago area – Aaron Hoekstra, Jody Schwartz and Lauren Lehman.

Living with the Americans were a 2-year-old orphan, Patrick, who has since been adopted by an American couple that hope he will be able to join them in the States sometime next year, and 2-month-old Grace , whom Schwartz nursed back to health.

Also living with the Americans was Mama Sanyu, whose house had burned down, and her 19-year-old son, Ronnie, who has become a good friend of Sjostrom’s.

While there, Sjostrom worked with the Ugandan Orphanage Relief Fund and Come Let’s Dance, two organizations that help sponsor Mercy House, an orphanage where he volunteered. He helped put information about the 100 or so children at the orphanage on its Web site so people could sponsor the children so they could be sent to school, fed and clothed.

He even met a child that he and his family would end up sponsoring, 4-year-old Patricia Nakawunde.

The family keeps a bottle in the kitchen, which they put money in for her education and welfare.

“She was the first one to come up and hug me right away,” Sjostrom said.

But what touched his heart most was hanging out with the kids who weren’t even in an orphanage, the ones who had to fend for themselves on the street.

“Some kids are literally dying on the streets,” Sjostrom said.

Sjostrom would spend time with them and even stayed with them on the streets one night, which ended up with him meeting with the police who were worried about his safety.

“I never feared for my life,” Sjostrom said.

“We did,” his father, Tim Sjostrom, is quick to interject.

“It scares the heck out of us,” Tim later added, “but he’s doing what his heart tells him to do.”

Since leaving Uganda in May of this year, Sjostrom has been itching to get back and continue the work that he believes God has set out for him.

“Although some people may find this risky, serving others in this way,” Sjostrom wrote on his Web site, “it’s something that I feel the Lord Jesus Christ has laid on the table for me and I would be a pompous fool to deny this gift. I have told friends and family that my heart was left in Africa, and I literally feel it calling me back each day I am away from it.”

And very soon, he’ll be back to the land that has been calling him all this time to spend Christmas with his friends who are forced to call the street home.

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