On September 26th, Tonny Kasozi went to be with the Lord. He was surrounded by his family and received many words and photos of encouragement. He was maturing into an incredible man of God.
We will never forget how Tonny touched so many lives and his legacy will live on. We are hopeful that God will use the testimony of Tonny, a sponsored child, to further God’s kingdom.
Tonny Kasozi was born in 1998 in the village of Mitiyana, Uganda. His father died of Malaria when he was only two years old, leaving his mother with no source of income. Culturally in Uganda, recently widowed women in this financial state return to live with their childhood family. She left knowing that Tonny and his younger brother Kenneth, would be in good hands with their paternal grandmother and aunt to raise them. When Tonny was old enough to attend school, his grandmother struggled to pay for his school fees as Tonny’s grandfather had recently passed away.
In 2007, Empower a Child was able to find a sponsor for Tonny to help keep him in school. The weight of worrying about where Tonny’s school fees were going to come from was lifted off of his grandmother’s shoulders.
Tonny was a very smart, hardworking student. He was one of the top five students in his primary school and in his last year he scored 90% or above in all subjects of his Primary Leaving Exam. This is the final test every student in Uganda takes upon completion of primary school, equivalent to the last year of middle school in the U.S.
Jennifer Kabeera, Development Coordinator of Empower a Child, recalls "I remember when Tonny was about 10 or 11, I went with one of our sponsorship mentors to do a home visit and see how he was doing in school. His grandmother mentioned how Tonny and his brother were very playful and it was difficult to get them to do their chores and studies after they got back from school. His mentor advised the boys they needed to take their studies seriously if they hoped to finish school and do something with their lives. This behavior didn’t reflect the student he eventually became.”
“When I went back to Uganda for a visit this March, I was amazed at how much Tonny had grown, physically, academically, and spiritually. He had passed his primary final exams with straight A's and had a passion to do well in school with hopes of becoming a doctor. He also loved playing tag with our girls, Makayla and Abbie after he would get back from school.”
Tonny’s best friend, cousin, and classmate, Edgar, has grown up with Tonny. He shared one of his favorite memories of their childhood. “The first memory that comes to mind was from when we were staying in the village over a school holiday. We were out adventuring and came upon a neighbor’s jackfruit tree, so we decided to have a snack.” Edgar continues, “Unfortunately, we got caught taking fruit from the tree and as a punishment the neighbor had us take all the ripe pieces of fruit from the tree and carry them to his home.” (Jackfruit is approximately twice the weight of a large watermelon)
This year, Tonny entered his first year of secondary school (high school) in Kampala, Uganda.
Wilson Kabeera, our Executive Director, remembers a conversation he had with Tonny in February.
“Tonny came to me and said, ‘Uncle, if you let me come to study in Kampala, I promise I will study hard. I want to do something great when I graduate.’ Tonny and Edgar both showed great promise in school so we bought them out of the village setting into a city school.”
Caragh Bennett, a mission volunteer, came to Uganda from April to July 2014 and treasures the simple memories she formed with Tonny. “For the three months I spent with Empower a Child, Tonny and his cousin Edgar were living at the guesthouse in Kampala. He became a younger brother to me. Tonny was so kind, so warm, he had the best smile ever and his laugh was infectious. I remember tickle fights in the lounge, endless card games when the power was out, and trips to buy sodas. He taught me Luganda and I helped him study for his tests at school.”
It was in June earlier this year that Tonny began his second term of secondary school. He came back from school every afternoon feeling ill. He would go to bed right after school and not wake up until morning. His symptoms began to progress rapidly; high fever, loss of appetite, and a swelling abdomen. After having multiple tests at three different local health clinics in Kampala, with no relief in pain, and no clear diagnosis, Tonny was taken to an international hospital. After two more days of testing, a diagnosis from a bone marrow test came back. Cancer. Stage 4 Lymphoma.
“It was July 2nd, when I got the phone call from Felix Kisa, one of our Sponsorship Field Coordinators. My stomach sank when I heard the diagnosis.” Wilson remembers.
Caragh recalls, “I remember so clearly the night Tonny went to hospital. We all sat outside in the dark and prayed together. He was so brave, always so calm, always smiled through the pain.”
Shannen Kennedy, our Communications Intern in Uganda remembers Tonny:
“I did not know Tonny the way others had the opportunity to know him…I arrived in Uganda in late July and met Tonny once his cancer treatment had already begun. The Lord gave me the chance to love him and get to know him more than anyone I have ever known. Many nights I would sit in his hospital room in silence, partly because I had no translator, but mostly because the Lord was using Tonny to teach me how to love with an unconditional love - to sit and be quiet and to wait on the Lord.”
Tonny was an incredible child of God and a huge encouragement to everyone around him. He had a smile that could light up a room and a sense of humor that would make you laugh until you cried. No matter the circumstance, he always found a reason to praise the Lord. The only possession he kept with him in the hospital was his Bible. He was always eager to share what God was revealing in his life.
Not only did he impact those who were around him, but people all over the world knew Tonny and what he stood for too.
Mary Ellen McCandless, Tonny’s sponsor says:
“It was our honor to sponsor Tonny and he truly blessed our lives. In the letters we received, he spoke of how he was going to have a "bright future." I know he wanted to do so much more with his life, but he had no idea how many lives he would impact in his short 16 years. Tonny touched many lives, including ours.”
Shannen remembers visiting Tonny the night before he passed away.
“Edgar and I arrived in Tonny’s room at the hospital, it was not up to Western standards but it was the best possible room for him to be in. Tonny’s grandmother, mother, and aunt warmly greeted us. Tonny was sitting up on the bed, really struggling to breathe. The room was hot. When I locked my eyes on his, he gave me a half smile and put his hand out to greet me. I held his hand for a long time and just said ‘Hi Tonny’ to which he replied ‘Hi Shan’. He spoke between each big breathe of air and just simply said ‘I am weak.’ I just sat there with the family as they spoke in Lugandan. Edgar stood up at one point and I was able to pick out two phrases ‘Go buy with money’ and ‘he wants fresh milk’. When Edgar got back he sat next to Tonny, opened the bag of milk, put a straw in it, and helped him drink whenever he wanted it. I am so encouraged by Edgar, at only 15 years old, how mature and loving he was to his cousin. We sat there for a long time. Sometimes in silence, other times in laughter. At one point Tonny even made fun of the picture I put of myself on his wall… still ganging up on me even at the end of his sweet life. As we got up to say goodbye, I sat on the edge of his bed and held his hand while Edgar sat on the other side and we prayed. We prayed that he would continue to be a light to those around him and that he would always be reminded of the impact he is to all those people whose photos are on the poster hanging on his wall. (Earlier that week we delivered the collage of photos with people from all over the world holding signs saying “I <3 Tonny”) I prayed that God would spare Tonny from this pain and that he would be healed in Jesus’ name.”
Early in the morning on September 26, 2014, God answered many prayers for Tonny. He ultimately healed him and took him home to heaven. The pain he suffered for the past 4 months was gone.
“It's hard to understand why God called such a bright promising student home, but it's my prayer that Tonny's passing will not be in vain and be an inspiration for other students in our program to aspire to be doctors in their country with a passion to see an end to cancer related deaths in Africa." Jennifer states. “We had been praying for Tonny’s healing as a family ever since we heard of his diagnosis. When I told my 3-year old daughter Abbie, that Tonny was in heaven now, she looked at me and asked ‘Tonny feel better now?’. ‘Yes, Abbie. Tonny does feel better now.”
No matter the circumstance, Tonny always chose joy and it was clearly evident that his life reflected Christ.
“The scripture that always came to mind when I was with Tonny is the call of being salt and light to this earth. He often told me that he couldn’t wait to be used by God when he was feeling better. What he didn’t realize was that God was using him right where he was and in a big way. Tonny had a kind heart and was a perfect example of selflessness.”
As we reflect on this young man’s life, let’s ask ourselves: how will people remember us? For you; will it be the things you accomplished, or how God used you in the midst of trials? How you responded?
Let the Lord direct our steps and let us always be willing to be used for His glory.
Tonny was thankful for all of your photos, prayers and words of encouragement. Thank you for your support during this time.