So, how was it?
It’s hard to believe it has already been three weeks since I participated in a mission trip to Uganda, Africa with my husband, daughter and several others.
It seemed like such a long preparation for this 12-day trip. We had to prepare for the commitment to go, the money to get us there, and arrangements for the kids too young to accompany us. And the packing—dear Lord, the packing! The preparations started over a year ago.
But now that we’re all safely home and resuming something like a typical schedule, our kind and wonderful friends and families want to know about the trip. Oh, how I want to tell them! I want to share, with each one who asks, how the mission came about, how it affected me and how I want to stay involved.
But I find that I’m still processing it myself.
I really, truly appreciate the genuine interest in the mission trip. In fact, if you haven’t heard about it yet, please ask me! But if I hesitate slightly before answering, it’s not that I don’t want to share about it; it’s that I DO. Sometimes I even find myself searching for the words to say, and it is a rare and highly uncommon thing to find me at a loss for words.
But the truth is that in the seconds following the inevitable question from folks—“So? How was it?”—I feel myself transported to the late-June Ugandan landscape and wondering exactly what and how much to share.
How can I convey the sights, smells and scenery of this east African country, the Pearl of Africa? I’ll bet no one expects to hear how everything smelled vaguely of diesel fuel, body odor and earth for 10 days, and coming home to Tide with Downey wasn’t quite as April-fresh as I’d imagined. I miss Uganda.
Can I create for someone the pleasure of the nearly 50 individuals that took ten days to become friends, and how these Nashvillians (not to mention a few Indianans, Californians and Mississippians) have already scheduled a mid-August get-together, because, frankly, there is an understanding among us now that we value and want to share over and over.
Further, can I relay how an entire team of Americans and Ugandans—a bit timid on that first night after an exhausting 8,000 mile journey, and the hard work that went into preparing it—were clinging to each other that last Friday at Good Samaritan school, not wanting to say goodbye to new and beloved friends?
Do I share about the translators, helpers, leaders, and servants who gave of their time and selves to accommodate we “mzungus”?
How do I express the freedom in worship I witnessed as my Ugandan brothers and sisters stood, hands raised in devotion, thanking and praising God?
Surely they should know how grateful we were for Ms. Rebecca, who fed us so well—two meals a day, in addition to feeding over a thousand children and adults. Her meals were produced from a “kitchen” without water and electricity, her giant pots simmering over a wood fire and her small army of helpers smiling our way, bringing our daily bread and constant lessons in gratitude and appreciation.
Is there a way to explain the feelings of excitement, joy and even guilt at the unprecedented welcome we received when we reached a point along the rural dirt road and had to walk the rest of the way into to village while throngs of children sang us into their lives? Maybe they want to know about the wide smiles and warm hugs of the thousands who touched me that day—literally, physically touched me— saying, “Welcome! You are welcome!”
How do I tell them that I’m still processing the moment I heard that my friend Sarah had saved the life a 10-day old baby whose mother died delivering him?
What about a day or two later when the severely malnourished boy was brought to the clinic, 8-years old and weighing only 18 pounds, and our medical team sought long-term, permanent help for him, continuing even now to monitor his progress?
How about the 11-year old epileptic that came to Raise the Roof Academy telling of how no other school would take him because of his health issues, but left, not only as a Raise the Roof student, but as the sponsored child of one our own medical workers?
How do I explain the 87 sixth grade children that filed into my VBS craft class one hot Tuesday morning, every single one of them without shoes, feet shuffling among tiny cloud-puffs of red African dirt?
How do I convey that, at least three times a day, a new batch of Ugandan children came into that room, eager and happy about what we were doing, and from then on, as I walked among the children outside, they ran up to me, palms raised, shouting, “High five! High five!”
Do I tell them of the morning I sat among the children at breakfast and held out my hand for my usual “high five” and a kindergarten-aged child placed his only slice of bread in my hand without hesitation or thought, and how I choked up so badly that I couldn’t speak for several minutes, instead pulling the child onto my lap and watching that generous little heart laugh with his classmates?
I want to give details of how we met our precious sponsored child, Bankiya Madda, and how her family received us with a moving and graceful hospitality. They fed us a veritable feast, giving us a place of honor in their home and gifting us with a kindness we could barely process.
Will I think to tell them that Madda’s favorite color is orange, that she is bright and beautiful and quite shy? Should I include how cute it is when she answers in the affirmative with a slight raise of her eyebrows when she gives a soft, “Yes”?
Can I talk about my daughter? Is it okay to tell them how she jumped off that bus immediately and threw herself into those children with all she had? I want to tell them how, when Madda had a fever, my Julia scooped her up and marched her to the clinic announcing, “This child needs to be seen!”
I want share with them the fear and concern I had about Madda getting home that afternoon with a fever, because she walks miles to school every day.
And what of the mothers? Do I tell people of the lump that forms in my throat every time I think of those dark-skinned, beautiful, hard-scrabble mothers going to any length—even in the most difficult of circumstances—to see that their children have a better life? The chance at an education? Enough to eat?
I think they will want to hear about the old African man that stopped my husband on the first day and with a leathery, aged hand, pulled him close and said, “Thank you for loving Africa.”
What about how my husband was as fulfilled and content with his work as I’ve seen him in over a year?
Then, what about the funny stuff? We could tell endless, hilarious tales about drowned lizards, the chicken dance, the chicken GIFTS, mzungus taking care of babies and the great balloon stampede of 2013.
Surely everyone will enjoy the story of how, on July the 4th in a tiny, little village, hours down a dusty African road, nearly 50 Americans stood among a group of loving Ugandans, hands over hearts, and belted out our national anthem.
Uganda was all these things and many more.
Mostly what I’ve been saying when someone asks me about the mission is, “Oh, wow. It was awesome.” But now you all know what I’m really thinking. You know that in the split second before I respond, a thousand meaningful, heart-breaking, uplifting stories flash in my mind.
So if you ask me about Uganda, and I pause ever so slightly, please know that I’m searching for the right words to tell you about my trip. Maybe I’ll try to be brief. Maybe I’ll pull you into an hour-long synopsis and show you pictures. More than likely, I’ll continue with a series of other blog posts about it in the coming weeks.
But maybe, just maybe, I’ll come up with just the right words, and you’ll understand what I mean when I give you a faraway look and say, “Oh, wow. It was awesome."
And y’all, it really was.
If you aren’t familiar with Raise the Roof, the organization we went to support, please read about them here and consider getting involved: www.raisetheroofinc.org.