Saturday, July 26, 2014

Mission Team Report

Hello there!

I have been back three weeks now and I can still hardly believe all the experiences I had while in Uganda. Most of our team got together last saturday to catch up and have dinner together. We shared some brief reflections, as well as heard from Alex Wori about his experience on the trip (since his was much different than ours as a Ugandan). Since some of our team have yet to return home, we have yet to discuss in detail next steps.

Our team leader Greg was kind enough to put together a report summarizing our trip. Here is the majority of that letter:

We left Davis the morning of June 17, arriving in Kampala the evening of June 18.  We ate a late dinner at Milly’s Aunt Irene’s guest house, and were ready the next morning to drive the 5 hours to Bukigai.  Unfortunately, a tire on one of our vehicles had other ideas, so we were delayed until noon leaving for Eastern Uganda.  After a couple other stops we found ourselves in Jinga, about half way there, late in the day, so we stopped for the evening.  The next morning we met with a representative of the Amazima Foundation, founded by the young American woman, Katie Davis, whose story is chronicled in the book “Kisses from Katie.”  This was an opportunity to learn more about the Ugandan culture and her approach to addressing the needs of orphaned children.

We continued the trek to Bukigai after our meeting, and gradually made our way allowing for roadside stops for mangoes, bananas, papayas, watermelons, live chickens, and even a couple turkeys.  But once again, a flat tire slowed one of our vehicles.  As the other van continued on, even the spare on the first vehicle went flat.  So after two flat tires another 1 am dinner ensued – but we were in Bukigai at last.

The next day we had time to meet our hosts, including various members of the Revival Mission Church in Bukigai.  Milly’s brother Richard – one of our guides and drivers from Kampala – is actually not only the pastor, but the Bishop overseeing the church in Bukigai along with several other churches in the Mbale region.  We took a tour of the area, got settled into the rhythm of Bukigai and checked-out the construction of the church/community center which was one of the major initiatives of our mission trip.

As it turned out, Alex – who had preceded us by a week – had enlisted the assistance of his brothers and cousins (who are skilled construction workers) and church members in Bukigai, and the walls were already 6 feet tall by the time we arrived.  The hope was to get the walls to the point that a “ring-beam” could be installed to tie all the walls together.  But as a result of your generosity, enough funds were raised to not only get the ring-beam installed, but finish the walls to the height that the roof can now be installed.  This exceeded what we thought was possible.

In the meantime, on Sunday we went to the top of “Prayer Mountain” for our worship service.  Our vehicle got us half- way up, but after getting stuck in the muddy roads once (requiring the assistance of local farmers to help dig us out), the roads simply became too steep and muddy to proceed.  This meant hiking the rest of the way.  Two plus hours later, we arrived, finding several church members from Bukigai who had started hiking up the mountain at 6:00 am, and after a 4 hour hike had been waiting 2 hours for our arrival.  This became known to us as operating on “African Standard Time” – humorously accepted by our African hosts, and contrasted with “North American Standard Time.”  We all had our first taste of providing a “preachimony” – sharing about our faith and what had called us to come to Uganda.  This would be repeated on several occasions.

After our descent back to Bukigai, and a good night’s rest, Monday started a couple of our other activities – working with kids at both the primary and secondary schools on art projects, and doing some positive parenting “training of trainers” with a group of leaders from the community.  At the end of the week, both schools had murals on external walls that can be seen from the main road through Bukigai, and about 8-10 people were trained to help pilot three positive parenting family cooperatives.

Wednesday, Thursday and Friday nights were part of evening outdoor crusades sponsored by the local church.  At each meeting our team shared favorite scriptures, testimony, encouragement, greetings from UCC as part of building a long-term relationship with the Bukigai church, and even some singing.  This pushed most of us out of our “comfort zones,” which occurred continuously and actually was one of the great blessings we received during our trip.  And we cannot forget Richard’s leading of “Morning Glory” every day at 5:00 a.m. during the week, a time of prayer, Bible study and getting ready for each day.  What jet lag?

We left on Saturday to go to Alex’s village, which normally would be about a 3-4 hour journey.  But the day before, a heavy downpour had resulted in a large petrol truck being stuck in the middle of the road.  In essence the road going into and out of Bukigai was blocked for about 36 hours.  But here we learned about “Kingdom Standard Time,” as when we arrived – not knowing if or how long it would take to get through – a tractor showed up and pulled out the truck.  We waited only about 30 minutes and then were the second vehicle through and on our way.

The greeting we received in Alex’s village – Muganja – was unbelievable.  Muganja is a more remote village and much smaller than the Bukigai area, and had last been visited by Mzungus (us white people) 15 years earlier.  Most of us felt like rock stars mobbed just for showing up, not doing anything.   But this reception was real and genuine, and represented their desire to show their appreciation for our coming to visit and provide a message of encouragement from UCC.

After a wonderful dinner with Alex’s brother Geofrey and other family members, we drove back to Mbale where we spent the night.  The next morning we worshiped in Richard’s now “home church.”  We should say something here about worshipping with African Pentecostals.  You have not worshipped until you have experienced the genuineness, joy, enthusiasm and sense of the Spirit found in the African Pentecostal church – at least in the services we attended.  Once again, we were provided an opportunity to share our stories and bring a word of encouragement from UCC.

The next day we returned to Kampala to prepare for our departure on Wednesday, July 2.  We did have the occasion to visit the source of the Nile on our way to Bukigai, and once back in Kampala, finding ourselves with an extra day due to travel conditions, we ventured to the wilds of Murchison Falls National Park north of Kampala to view wildlife and see the Nile squeezed through a ravine 10 feet wide with a 140 foot drop – hence considered the most powerful waterfall in the world.  This was an unexpected adventure which capped our trip.

I think that is enough reading for now!

You are loved,

Friday, July 11, 2014

Dream big.

There was a lot about the Ugandan people that I admired. I mentioned in an early post that their heart and willingness to serve was unlike anything I had encountered. They were also full of hope. God provided them a hope that was far beyond what would be expected. They also looked to heaven more than most Christians I know.

But what struck me the most was their courage to dream big. They saw their papyrus structure and were bold enough to pray for something bigger and better.

Our team and all our supporters were part of God's plan to answer those prayers!! 

To save money, the workers made a lot of the materials by hand!

One of the two offices

This is Pastor Richard. The two offices are on either side of him, and behind him is the main sanctuary area where the old structure will be until their is a roof on the new building.

This is an outside view of the new church, all made of brick. There was more added to the structure throughout the week we were there. The roof in the background is the old papyrus structure. 

The church currently runs a nursery school in the old structure, but they have dreams of a larger building with more kids. Pastor Richard and his congregation see their run-down city of Mbale and dream of a radical transformation. 

They are doing what I desire to do, what God calls us to do. Ask and you shall receive! Dream big and allow God to fulfill those fantasies in ways we never imagined. I am so thankful for their dreams and the courage to proclaim them. It is inspiring to witness their desire to see a little bit more of heaven here on Earth. I pray that they will continue to imagine an earthly realm much better than the one in front of them.

Our trip was just a small part of a much larger picture. And there is still more to be done. As a team, we are praying and thinking about how we can continue to support this village, these churches and the amazing people that we encountered. One of the ways is to continue to give financially to the building of the church in Bukigai. But we cannot do that on our own! While the "how to" is still in the works, it is our hope to see this project to completion! 

My hope is to have dreams as big as the Christians in Eastern Uganda. We so often underestimate our God and what he can do. There is so much need, how can we ever do it all? Luckily, God is bigger than all of it. And He will use us as long as we are open to it. I cannot wait to see what He does with me and the churches in Uganda!

You are loved. 

Monday, July 7, 2014

Abounding joy.

Our team was incredibly blessed by abounding joy. The people, the landscape, our gracious God-- all of it left us reeling with joy.

On Wednesday, mid way through our week in Bukigai, I wrote this in my journal:

"I just can't stop smiling whenever I go out, especially around the kids. I smile the whole time because these people bring me so much joy. I love their bright white smiles against their beautiful black, smooth skin. Their giggles fill my heart. Their fascination with us and our strange ways and appearance is now normal and enjoyable."

Not only were the surrounding hills and expansive skies beautiful, the people were even more stunning. Their bright eyes and warm handshakes welcomed us. Their hearts to serve was unlike anything I have encountered. And when we complimented them on their hospitality, we discovered they didn't know any different. It was the Ugandan way.

The main goal of this trip was to build relationships and start a long-term partnership with the local churches in Eastern Uganda, especially in the town of Bukigai. Normally, something as intangible as "building relationships" would be hard for me because it's not easily measured. However, the relationships we started were so real and authentic and tangible, you could almost touch it.

Each one of my team members set out to love those around them. And that is exactly what we did. We went into the experience with open hearts, expecting our lives and souls to be transformed. Of course, when you are willing, God shows up. We were all forever altered by our short time in Bukigai, mostly because of the people we met, loved and encouraged.

Some of the most memorable people for me was Pastor Fred and his family. Fred was incredibly kind with a compassionate heart. He was constantly serving us behind the scenes without any recognition or complaint. He is one of the lead pastors in Bukigai and has an amazing family. His wife Sarah is a quiet spirit with a loving heart. She helped me and others clean our laundry, gently showing us the way. They also have three, precious daughters who were an unexpected blessing.

The middle daughter was four years old. Her name was joy and boy did she live up to her name. I didn't even know how it started but every time she would see me, she would run up to me with her radiant smile and hug me. All she knew how to say in English was "I'm fine" (which is common), but that didn't stop me from loving her to pieces. My heart aches just thinking about her!

Their youngest daughter was named Faith. Similar to most Ugandan babies, she was unsure of me. She would allow me to hold her, but didn't express any emotion, which was very different from the older giggling, smiling children. She would simply stare at me with her big brown eyes. But every time I saw her, I would hold and cuddle her. By the end of the week, she smiled with me, and I even got her to repeat my name! 

The oldest daughter was Gift, and it was precious to watch her care for her sisters. She was also full of life and joy. It was an honor to love on this family for a week. I miss them dearly!!

This family is just one of the many that we encountered. The people of the village felt privileged that we would come to visit them. But over and over we told them how incredibly blessed we were by them and their faith. I think it is really cool how God created a loving relationship to be symbiotic. All of us, Ugandan and American alike, were fulfilled by our time together. 

More to come soon!

You are loved,

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Servant or Queen?

People keep asking me what it's like to return to America after experiencing a third world country. And I don't know how to respond. Most of the time we were there, we had running water, electricity and toilets. I slept in a bed every night and had plenty of food. Yes, sometimes I had to bucket shower or use dripping cold water, and there were a number of smelly pits I used for the bathroom but life wasn't vastly different. Plus I was only there for two weeks, which is not long enough to really miss the luxuries of the first world.

Part of me thinks that it should have been harder. Aren't you suppose to "rough it" on mission trips? While I went without some of my normal extravagances, I was also treated like a queen. All my food was made for me, my dishes were washed for me, even my hiking boots that were fully covered in mud were scrubbed clean for me. Where is the rough in that?

I guess that isn't what God had for me this time. In fact, it was incredibly humbling. It was hard to be served all the time.

Wait, really?

In a similar way that receiving money was hard for my pride, not being able to do things for myself for 14+ days was hard. I am suppose to be independent right?

But in fact, refusing help or insisting on doing it on my own can be disrespectful. It was a privilege for them to move my luggage, cook my food and help me do my laundry. You see someone carrying something, you offer to help them. This came in handy when we had a lot of paint supplies to carry to and from the secondary school. The kids loved carrying stuff and walking us home. It was just another opportunity to build relationships!

Apparently, roughing it wasn't the lesson that God had for me. He rarely does what I expect Him too! This entire process has been humbling. From the very beginning, God has been breaking down my pride and the idea that I can do it all on my own. Not only do I desperately need Him, I need other people. Without my generous supporters, I would not have been able to go on this trip. Without the large number of people who housed, served and fed us, our trip would have not been successful.

God desires for us to be servants and queens (or kings). He calls us to serve others but also to humbly receive the service of others. And the Ugandan people seem to understand this better than anyone! Their culture is based in community and values putting others before oneself. This is just another beautiful thing about these people and this country that I love!

You are loved.

Saturday, July 5, 2014


Where do I even begin?

I have been trying to think of a short description to encapsulate my experience.

Full of life. 

And love upon love. 

Simply and extravagantly amazing. That is the love and life God desires for us. It is simple yet breathtaking. 

This is just the beginning of the pictures from our adventures. I cannot wait to share more with you, especially the stories of the beautiful people that I was blessed to meet. Over the next few weeks I will be posting about what I experienced in such a short amount of time. I did not spend a lot of time processing while I was there. Instead I focused on the what was in front of me and being present in the moment. Therefore, I have a lot to work through. My goal from here is to share with you all that I learned and how I (and we) can continue to support the people and the churches of Eastern Uganda. I hope you will join me!

As I return to normal life and my "home," I can't help but think of the saying: Home is where your heart is. I left a little bit of my heart in Uganda. And I cannot wait to see how God continues to grow and water that part of me!

Thanks for listening :)

You are loved.