“Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” Hebrews 11:1
The dates were set for the first trip to Uganda. It was about three weeks before leaving. The team was assembled. The first team members on board were a banker (my husband), a pastor, a missions director, youth director, a mental health professional and two college students. Seven brave souls who felt called to go- commissioned to explore a new territory for our church and examine where God was asking us to jump in.
It was the original intent to focus on the Gulu area most impacted from war. In 2007, the war between Joseph Kony’s army and the Ugandan government was basically over, but most people still lived in displacement camps, where villages caught in the war had been moved for safety reasons. These camps were functioning more as villages. Imagine families ripped from their homes placed in camps for twenty years. Over those twenty years other people, refugees, had moved into most of the vacated homes. Families had no place to go, so they stayed right where the Ugandan government had put them. They didn’t have jobs, ways to make money or schools to train their kids and break the cycle of poverty; plus, war and aids had practically killed a generation leaving the elderly “aunties” to care for all of the babies. Children were everywhere. There were many, many struggles.
After months of planning, the church decided Gulu was going to be the place of mission.
Then… God introduced us to Eddie. (Actually, we call him Pastor Edward.)
Three weeks before leaving on the Ugandan adventure, my husband received a message on My Space from a guy named Eddie. It was a simple “Thank you for taking an interest in my country.” message. He had seen my husband’s comments from another organization’s web site, and wanted him to know he was grateful. Simple enough.
I thought it was weird having a complete stranger reach out to us like that, but my husband thought it was nice and wrote back to him asking who he was. He said he was a Ugandan minister outside of Jinja and that “if you are ever in Uganda, please, drop by.” Ha! As if! What are we going to do? Fly to the other side of the globe to meet a guy we met on the internet?
And that is exactly what happened.
One of our contacts we had in Uganda fell through, we discovered the next day at a meeting to finalize the plans for the trip. There were three days of nothing. After praying with Pastor Edward on the phone and my husband and I both learning a lesson on God liking flexibility, Jinja was included in the trip. (By the way, Jinja is a ten hour bus ride from Gulu.) And boy, am I glad it was.
The team left.
I was scared. My husband would be gone for two weeks, come back and then leave for banking school for another two weeks. We had quite a summer ahead of us. My kids were split on their opinions. My oldest, was fearful (probably feeling my fear). Our Senior pastor’s wife, had us over one afternoon to share with my son her adventures in missions. She told us of her travels into areas where Christ’s name was not to be spoken and of some of her journeys with a smile, speaking about how God takes care of those who are bold for Him. It was a comfort to both my son and to me.
My daughter, age six at the time, wanted to go with her dad. She had made gifts for her dad to take and give to the children we would meet. “Jesus loves you” notes and bead strung necklaces on yarn were her way of expressing love. Her heart yearned to go so badly; she cried, not because her dad was going, but because she wasn’t old enough to go, too.
I was told by the mission director’s wife as they boarded the plane, that “no news is good news”. In case, we didn’t hear from them for a few days. Thankfully, we heard quickly. Then there were a few days in the middle, we didn’t hear much.
When they returned, our lives were changed. It was a new beginning. My husband’s heart had been broken for the things that break Christ’s. Most first missionary trips bring back people who have to process the unfairness of our world against the “where does Christ fit in to all this?” questions.
Instead of going through every step of the trip, I want to share part of a wrap up letter that my husband wrote at the end of the third trip. In his words, it shares of things that happened in 2009, while explaining the emotion of mission trips.
“Greetings Friends and Family,
Well we made it home safe and sound. I know all of the team are glad to be back with family again. I have spoken to a few of the team the last couple of days and the jet lag seems to be smacking us all. It does get better!
I want to thank you all for your support of us on this trip. Whether through financial donations, prayers, or sharing the work we are doing with others, your support was felt and needed by the team. We could not have done this without you. Thank you so much.
The trip was amazing. We held five medical clinics and were able to see and assist almost 3,000 people. What a blessing! We handed out over 1,000 mosquito nets to pregnant women and families with small children to help prevent malaria. We also had a couple of hundred people come to faith in Christ through the two showings of the Passion of the Christ movie and the prayer rooms at each clinic. Actually…God did all this through us. It was a tremendous trip.
I will say it is going to be difficult for the team to explain it to you for a bit. I have been three times now and still have trouble describing it. There are times when exhaustion and frustration set in, but honestly I remember the blessings. Seeing a child smile as they play games and sing songs, having a parent thank you for helping them see the doctor, getting word that the two infants rushed to the hospital are doing better and seeing your friends freely giving of themselves in service for others they do not even know. Sharing a time of fellowship with our hosts who thank us for coming and blessing the people they work with daily. Worshiping in a new church building in the middle of a village. These things far outweigh the inconveniences to our normal comfort zone. It is such a blessing to have been a part of what God is doing.
I want you to know that the Uganda mission is not over. We have new projects we will be working on in the future…”
The North was so broken the first year, we didn’t know where to start. In fact, because of the chaos and of groups that had come before, one man in a northern village, said, “You will never be back.” The next time our team was in his village, they found him and gave him a Bible as a symbol of God’s faithfulness.
Since, beginning in the North was difficult, we started with medical clinics. A couple of doctors came on the next trip with nurses. Plus, we raised funds for meds and some medical supplies. A prayer room was staffed with both missionary people and local pastors to offer prayers over people.
Now, several churches in the Gulu area are helping teach children, train adults for careers and giving them opportunities through micro financing loans. What started as chaos has now developed into God flowing opportunities filled with life giving blessings.
Pastor Edward, outside of Jinga has become one of our best friends. I know I’ll write more about him later because he has impacted our lives greatly. God has used our church to build a church and school outside of Jinga, as well as, begin a sponsorship program that now operates through Help One Now.
All of our family has served in Uganda, including my youngest, who is probably the most passionate after her father. Updates from Africa are as part of our lives as hearing from grandparents.
It was the beginning, of, so far, close to a decade of work and relationships. It was the beginning of steps of faith that would lead us through years of heart growth. Steps that are still leading today.