Getting to Africa for a recent Uganda ministry trip took 36 hours… and 45 years. The 36 hours happened last month on various airplanes, cars, and buses. The 45 years took place in my mind and heart. As a child, I watched National Geographic on TV and fell in love with the exotic animals and the beautiful landscapes. Through my teen years of listening to missionaries and reading their stories I began to pray for the souls of Africa. As a young adult, I offered to serve the Lord somewhere on this vast continent with my life, if that was His will. And, when that door closed, I spent the next 30 years crying and praying over the various wars, famines, and natural disasters that have devastated and changed this continent. For some reason, Africa compels me that way.
This June, my husband and I had the opportunity to visit Uganda with a group from our church. We went to learn about, support, and minister to a group of missionaries in the village of Kubamitwe. Kubamitwe is in a beautiful, rural area of Africa a couple of hours north of the large modern city of Kampala. The village has no electricity, and most of its inhabitants are self-sufficient peasant farmers. They build their own homes, and eat what they grow. The land is good for growing coffee and the famous Ugandan tea, as well as bananas, mangoes, yams and pineapples, etc. Cattle, goats, and chickens roam the yards and fields. Wildlife flourishes here.
The missionary campus is more modern. They have generators for lights and internet, water purifiers, indoor kitchens and bathrooms. But, more than that, they have a thriving, growing, Bible teaching church. They have an incredible Christian school for the children of the community. They are building a pastor’s training school.
It’s difficult, after a trip like this, to know what to share. What do others want to hear about the trip? For example, I could tell you that according to online sites like this one, Uganda has 12% of the world’s bird species and half of Africa’s bird population. In fact, a large tree near our guest house was filled with industrious, chirping, weaver birds.
Through binoculars, you could watch them weaving the intricate baskets that they would call home. On the ground, you could find discarded nests that showed the fine craftsmanship up close. Yes, God’s amazing diversity and creativity in creation are on full display in Africa.
But is that what I should tell you? I have trouble processing everything that I observed on the trip. In fact, I have been home over a month, and I am still sifting and stirring my thoughts and impressions into “things I’ve learned.” Sometimes I think I could write a book about everything that spoke to me on this trip, and other times I can’t find a word to say. If you ask me in person how the trip was, you might get one word– maybe, “Awesome!”
But, I need to do better than that. With the privilege of taking this trip comes the responsibility of at least attempting to communicate some insights to others who will not have this chance. Maybe, I can just share a few stories, and then leave you with a taste of the spiritual questions that Uganda has placed in my heart. Questions that I will try to write about in the upcoming weeks.
4 Short Anecdotes:
1. Age is Relative
During the ladies’ Bible study that I attended with the missionaries, women from the church, and women from the village, we each were to tell our name and something about ourselves. Thinking nothing of it, I said “My name is Kathy, I am 55 years old, and I love to travel… ” or something like that. When this was translated, I noticed a collective gasp, and a lot of whispering behind me. I didn’t really understand the cause until the following day.
I had been sitting with the kindergarten class at the school, helping them write the letter “J” (but really just looking for opportunities to praise them and love them and brighten up their day). After I was there about an hour, one of the younger teachers came to me and asked if I was tired. I said “no, not really.” “But don’t you think you should lay down and rest?” She persisted. I guess I looked a little bewildered, so she explained, “Because of your age!”
I don’t think of myself as old. People in the US don’t treat me as if I am old. However, the life expectancy for women in the US is in the low 80’s. In Uganda, the life expectancy is in the low 50’s. Some said even in the 40’s for the area that we were visiting. So, when I shared that I was 55 to the women in Uganda, it was like saying I was 85. I should be home resting. What was I doing traveling the world and spending my days in the classroom with the children?
This has become a bit of a joke in our family… with many references to me taking it easy because of my age. But, while I am not guaranteed even one more day before my divine appointment with the Lord, how should I use the days that I am given? How can I use the one year or 30 that God still has for me here on the earth to best serve him?
(Not too old to ride the boda boda motorcycle taxi!)
2. In it for the Win
One evening during our visit there was a big soccer game involving a neighboring village and our own Kubamitwe. Everyone was out by the field cheering for the team. The children were running around, playing tag, giggling, and genuinely having fun, but paying no attention to the game. I don’t really understand the game of soccer, and I have trouble following it. So, soon, I was also playing with the children: hand clapping, teasing, and peek-a-boo with a blanket. I had no idea how the game was progressing until the final goal. The Kubamitwe team had won! Everyone was cheering and rushing the field! Even the children, who moments before had been oblivious to the game joined in the excitement.
For those of us who are in Christ, we are promised to be on the winning team. Whether we participate actively in the game, or simply hang out on the sidelines until the end, we will all rejoice at the final score.
Five pastors and their families from Kenya were visiting at the ministry in Uganda while we were there. One of the pastors sent a special message to all the Christians from the US– Thank you! Many years ago, a woman missionary from the US came to Kenya and taught the Bible to the children. One of those children was the pastor’s grandfather. He heard the gospel and was saved. Now, three generations of this family have been Christians. This man is a pastor. He was very grateful for all that the church in the US has done for missions in the world, especially Africa. Such an encouragement for all who are laboring in the foreign mission field!
4. Daily Meat
One evening, some of the church families prepared dinner for our group in their homes. My husband and I had the great pleasure of dining with a sweet family. The small room was lit by only a small kerosene lamp. There was a bench for the “Americans” with a table covered by a beautiful cloth embroidered by the women of the home. The Ugandans sat on the floor with their plates on their laps. We were the only ones with silverware and napkins. They ate with their fingers. Of course, we had bottled water. They drank the water that the young grand-daughter carried in the heavy, yellow container from the well earlier. Everything was beautiful and humbling. The evening meal was quite a feast, with at least 8 different dishes including 2 kinds of potatoes, plantains, fruit, and pasta. One plate was beef. In this village, with no electric for refrigeration, all meat must be eaten the same day that it is butchered. This is the first time that I ate beef so fresh.
This way of living, each day gathering then eating the food for that day, reminded me of the travels of the Israelites in the desert. They had no way of preserving food and had to walk through the desert each day. Each day, God provided just what they needed for that day. With the sense of security that my well-stocked freezer gives, am I leaning less on the Lord for my daily bread, and meat?
Uganda Ministry Trip Take-away:
The church at the Missionary site impacted me greatly. This local church, with a Ugandan pastor, is in many ways like the church where we worship here in the US. In common, we both have nice buildings with sound systems, great fellowship, solid Bible teaching, Sunday school classes for adults as well as children. Both congregations support various ministries including Bible studies, outreach to neighbors, hospitality, and help for the poor in the community. But, I sensed something different in the church at Kubamitwe. There seemed to be more focus, more unity, in the church of Kubamitwe. The missionaries, the pastors, the brothers and sisters from the village all were united in their commitment to reach their village for Christ.
Here, in our churches, we often come together to worship, study, fellowship. But then we each leave and go to our own places for the week. Our jobs, our families, our homes. Often, we are alone in our own little mission field for the week. There was something so powerful about the church in Kubamitwe, living in close proximity, and with the same targeted mission for Christ. The picture of that loving spiritual family has captivated my memory since I have returned. I am not sure how that could be implemented here is the US, but it is something worth thinking about.
5 Spiritual Questions:
Without going into any detail, here are some spiritual questions that have been swimming in my brain since my return:
1. Where does my joy and contentment come from?
2. Is the “stuff” that I have helpful or detracting from the gospel work of my life?
3. How much is politics a part my faith?
4. How much of our societal thinking is due to our Christian foundation?
5. How much has social media changed the way we love and serve others?
Thanks for reading about my Uganda ministry trip. As is typically the case, the ones we went to support and minister to succeeded in supporting and ministering to us greatly.
Photo credits: M. Burnett/ K. Burnett