This past February, Kelsey and I got to go on a vision trip to Uganda to see what life would be like there. We had a great experience, and our eyes were opened to what we would be able to expect raising a family in Kampala.
After a pair of 9 hour flights, we spent about an hour going through customs, because our visa application payment had not been processed. We had also been sent alerts that our luggage had been lost, which led to a bit of panic while we waited to be let in. (False alarm, all our luggage was waiting patiently on the carousel.) As we drove past endless roadside marketplaces and pedestrian traffic in the late hours of the night, we began to get the feeling that doing ordinary things would be a little trickier in Uganda.
Our first taste of Uganda was the roads. Traffic can have unpredictable delays any time of day and is constantly bumper to bumper. Roads are unpaved, poorly marked, congested, and dusty. But there is so much commerce and life taking place right next to you, that it is certainly an entertaining ride. So much of life takes place in these public spaces to the sides of the roads. People are selling produce and goods day and night on the side of the roads where just as many walk and bike and ride the taxis (read minibus).
We prayed God would give us a heart for the people of Uganda, but mainly I was just noticing how different things were. Throughout the week, we got to see a variety of ministries that EMI works with and get to know what EMI means to them. We saw construction at an AIDS clinic in a region where there is a significant AIDS epidemic. We walked with the head of the organization through the site as she spoke about her heart for the marginalized of rural Uganda. She told us of the ways EMI has helped to grow that mission and improve their care for these people. It reminded me of the many times Jesus sought to care for the oppressed and marginalized. The stories of the few ministries we met with all started from such humble beginnings. They wanted to help people in Jesus name, so that those people might know Jesus by name. God has blessed their ministries to bring healing and hope to the people they serve. It was so exciting to think that I could be a part of that journey to hope for so many people in east Africa.
We got to see western malls and restaurants, markets and grocery stores, and a beautiful little school. Amidst what seems as chaos to an outsider, there are pockets of deep beauty in Uganda. Lush forests, fertile land, an endless lake, ground mountains and rivers all dot the landscape of Uganda. That’s not typical for life in the city though. It is known as “the city of seven hills” due to the hilly nature of the city, but its not the quaint village life that pervades our American thoughts when we previously thought of traditional Africa. The scars of civil wars, political unrest, and oppression still make their marks on the people there. There is constant construction (mostly half-finished), unpaved roads kick up untold amounts of dust, and there are people everywhere.
The EMI office felt a little bit like an alcove of peace in the midst of the chaos of city life. This is mainly because it’s outside of town and along an MAF (Mission Aviation Fellowship, an international Christian/humanitarian agency) runway at the edge of Lake Victoria. Granted, the intermittent roar of airplane engines took away from the tranquility. We got to meet the staff of the office and some of the expat families who lived there, and we came away very encouraged and inspired by their words. We look forward to getting to know these families more and getting to spend time in that office. EMI East Africa’s office staff is about 20 to 30 people, half of which are Ugandans. This has helped to foster a relationship with the local architecture, construction, and engineering community to offer resources, mentorship, and training for local professionals. It’s an exciting part of what EMI does to be good stewards of our resources and our opportunity to serve the local community. This also helps us to get out of a mindset giving to the community and come with an attitude of partnering with the community. The community needs to take ownership of these projects if real, lasting change is to be done.
We think God really confirmed our call to this work and to this people while we were there. We are so thankful for the people who prayed for us, encouraged us, and cared for our children while we were there. We now know (a little bit) about what we can expect and have so much anticipation towards what life will be like when we are there.
Additional thoughts from Kelsey:
I am so so glad that we both went on the vision trip in February. Of course, Tom had already visited the previous September, so he had a good idea about what the country was like, the city, the office, and the people. From the start of our trip, I quickly learned that my expectations were quite different than reality of what a life or lifestyle in Uganda might look like. The chaco-wearing summer camp counselor in me had idealized an African missionary life in a similar way that I can idealize camp life. I was dreaming about a quaint life, easy and local, with an easy to maintain community. Yes, I knew things would be “harder” than American conveniences, but I’ve been kind of excited about that challenge as well as a slower paced life. Well, back to the vision trip… I truly was blown away by the dense population and in return, the amount of traffic, which affects both work commute and relationship commute as one establishes community. Ironically, this is something with which we’ve navigated here in Houston for a long time. The unpreditability of everything from traffic to stocked shelves in a grocery store to the way corruption still has a role in the country makes my type A personality want to run the other way.
God was gracious to me to allow me to experience the gap between my expectations and the reality in order to best prepare me (and our family) for our future life in Kampala. Just as Houston city life can be hard, isolating and emotionally heavy all from the vast mileage between home and work and friends, my normal self does not stay in those moments of loneliness or isolation. Over the past 6 years, God has taught me how to pursue friendships and a life that can still be my own kind of quaint, even in the midst of a city. And He has also taught me immense appreciation for cities. And as for my structure loving type A tendencies, well I’m confident that God will be teaching me many lessons as He uncovers where I have placed my trust in structure instead of placing it in Him. May we be conformed to His image even more quickly as our dependence on Him strengthens.