Growing up, the word missions to me was the exciting concept of a month long adventure to a foreign country, something to check off my bucket list, the picture for my Facebook profile, or a story to share so I felt less guilty about my self-absorbed life in America.
In college, I went on a few month-long mission trips to Spain, Haiti and rural Alaska, which left me with heart-warming feelings that I was changing the world and being a beacon of hope to a population of people, who were in dire need of basic necessities.
However, I was just a passer through. I went. I saw. I served. But, I didn’t stay long enough to allow my heart to feel the raw, desperate circumstances of the local people.
It was just another mass of land on a globe, but from a very early age the mere though of the African continent excited me. I use to envision it as what everyone sees in the National Geographic Magazine with wild animals roaming around…the friendly faces of African families waving…or hungry children reaching out their hands for food…
Its been a wild wake-up call, but Uganda is not completely compiled of what we see in the media. Yes, wild animals roam free on the Sub-Saharan plains of Africa, their are countless, adorable little children running around chanting “Muzungu, Muzungu (i.e. white person, white person) and many Ugandans will venture up to you and ask you for money for food.
But, to a typical Ugandan, what is life really like?
Many Ugandans live in constant survival mode. Their daily plight is to satisfy their own basic needs of gathering water, cooking food and having adequate shelter.
Having spent these past couple of months deep within rural Ugandan villages, I have felt the deep fear, powerlessness, suffering and discouragement that live in the hearts of the people here. I have personally witnessed how these people cling to their traditions, cultural values, and routine way of life because any change remotely ruffles their customs that they cling to for security.
One mother fearfully looked me in the eyes and told me she would not allow her 14-year old daughter to go to the Hospital to get Spinal surgery because for her whole life every person she saw go to the hospital died there…
Another mother, drew me aside and said that her husband did not want her daughter with disabilities to go through therapy because they believed they had to sacrifice their daughter and keep her suffering and isolated, so their families business would prosper…
I’ve seen how mothers and fathers drop their child with a disability on the side of the road and walk the other way because they were discouraged and had no idea on how to provide for them…
I have caught myself at many moments thinking that the true definition of the word “missions” germinates in these hard places.
Its your own heart being willing to follow others into the trenches and feel their pain. To allow yourself to feel the raw nature of their challenges and say, “I know a glimmer of how your heart feels now.”
Missions is this loyal and faithful heart. Its the courage to stay when your gut reaction is telling you to walk away. Its the perseverance to allow your heart to be broken open in serving. To feel anothers pain and be present to them in the midst of their struggle.
For adversity is not the absence of goodness, but perhaps its the place where true beauty can be found.