A Heart Forever Changed

March 30, 2016 • Uganda
Children's Heart Project Hilda

After receiving life-saving heart surgery, a young woman finds hope

Hilda Grace Nalwanga is a 23-year-old woman from central Uganda. When she was 14 years old, her life changed through a program of Samaritan’s Purse called The Children’s Heart Project.

When I was in boarding school, I would get sick often. The school nurses often diagnosed me with malaria, cough, and flu. They would give me medicine for my symptoms, not realizing that I had a bigger problem. During one of my school breaks, while I was washing dishes with my Aunt Prossy, she realized that my breathing was not normal. She monitored me for two days, but there was no change.

Children's Heart Project

Hilda with her three sisters and mother

She then called my mum and expressed her fear that I may have developed asthma. I was taken to a clinic in Kampala. The doctor said that I had a heart murmur. He referred my mother and Aunt Prossy to the Mulago Uganda Heart Institute. Although my dad wasn’t concerned, my Aunt Prossy convinced him to hear the news himself and get involved.

At the hospital, the doctors confirmed the heart defect. When I heard the doctors tell my parents about the options and the unavailability of the service in my country, I became worried about how my heart would get fixed. I had only completed grade seven and was preparing to attend junior school.

I asked myself questions. “Are my dreams being shattered? Am I going to live? How is my heart going to be fixed? Am I the only one with the defect? Why me?” These unanswered questions brought worry, fear, and hopelessness in my life.

Aunt Samantha and Doreka—as I know them now—worked with the Children’s Heart Project and were at the hospital. They told us at length about the opportunity I had for my heart to be fixed through the project. They told us that the opportunity was available because of “the Love of God expressed to His children.” They encouraged us not to worry because God was in control and had a reason and purpose as to why He had brought Children’s Heart Project into our lives.

One day as we prayed with my Aunt Prossy, she told me to read Psalms 118:17: “I shall not die, but live, and declare the works of the Lord” (NKJV). That verse encouraged me a lot; it lifted my soul, and my heart became thankful to God for the opportunity He provided for me.

In October 2006, my mum, an interpreter, another girl with a heart defect, and her mom traveled with me to North America to receive life-saving heart surgery in Washington, D.C. Our host church, host home, and doctors cared so much for us. They melted my heart, and I continued to desire to experience that love that has no boundaries.

Children's Heart Project Hilda

Hilda jumps at Heart Camp

After the surgery, my health improved; I could run, breathe normally, and resume school. I also continued the practice of reading the Bible as I had been introduced to at my host home.

Experiencing Christ’s Love

In May 2012, I attended the first Heart Camp hosted by Children’s Heart Project in Uganda. During the Heart Camp, we were taught about how Jesus Christ loves us and has great plans for us even before we’re born. My facilitator, Mrs. Helen Kalemera, explained to us that it was through the love of Jesus Christ that we received our life-giving heart surgery. I asked her how I could experience the same love.

She told me it was simple; I had to confess my sins and accept Jesus as my personal Lord and Savior. She prayed with us and asked who wanted to receive Jesus Christ as Savior. My heart yearned for the experience, so I lifted my hand up. She led me to salvation, and I felt a great change in my heart. I began to cry as I thought back to all the times in my life that I had experienced the love of Jesus Christ.

The journey hasn’t been easy. It’s sometimes scary, but I know I’m not alone. Jesus Christ is always with me; He strengthens me in the times I feel hopeless. I’m not scared to speak about His love to His people. I’ve come to learn that we’re a family, and all of us have a purpose for our lives.

Pastor Irene Mwanje and Mrs. Helen Kalemera (two of my mentors) helped me understand that we need to help one another find the purpose of our lives. Aunt Helen keeps reminding me that I cannot sustain my relationship with God unless I speak to Him and listen to His voice through His word.

Children's Heart Project Heart Camp, Hilda

Hilda with children at Heart Camp in Uganda

God has led me to different places to spread His love. I had an opportunity to do an internship with Watoto Child Care Ministries, a Christian program that rescues and raises Ugandan orphans. After that internship, I volunteered in children’s church before joining the sponsorship department at Watoto again as a volunteer.

In October 2015, I was blessed to volunteer with the Children’s Heart Project in the screening process in Gulu Hospital, and in November and December, I worked as a temporary staff member. I helped in the coordination of the December Heart Camp and I co-facilitated a group of little ones. On the second day of camp during the lesson time, I saw God work in the lives of the children as they yearned to experience His love. All five children in my group surrendered their lives to Jesus Christ. Glory to His Name!

It’s beautiful to witness the love of Jesus in His beautiful work with Children’s Heart Project families and staff members. Working with Watoto Child Care Ministries and the Children’s Heart Project has been such a blessing to see lives change through the sharing of the love of Jesus Christ. Praise His Name!

At the end of the year 2015, the position of a Children’s Heart Project officer was advertised; I applied but didn’t get the job after the interviews. As I continued to trust God for a job, God gave me a sign that He is faithful. On January 20, 2016, I graduated with an upper second class degree in Bachelor of Arts in Social Development.

Children's Heart Project Hilda

Hilda at her college graduation with her parents

God opened a door for me, and I got a job with Comtel Integrators Africa under Stanbic Bank where I work as a quality assessment officer. I bless the Name of the Lord because He alone has walked with me in this journey!

I’m undergoing discipleship training with other young adult beneficiaries of the Children’s Heart Project. It’s a great opportunity for me to learn more about God and understand His will for my life. At the end of the training, I expect to grow in Christ, be transformed in the Word, and apply it in my life.