Five Days in Uganda: Waking Up in Africa

 

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If you can imagine what footsteps on gravel sound like, mixed with the morning serenade of birds and crickets and the whispers of early risers….this was my alarm for Monday morning, 17 October, 2016. I’m not certain if I slept, or if anyone else in our bunkhouse did. But we all, every one of us, could not make it to a window fast enough at first light.

What does Africa look like?!

To our surprise, the jungle is not enveloping us. And the tropical sun hasn’t greeted us. But instead, our little abode is situated in a clearing, in a cul-de-sac of red dirt showered with crystalline rocks of the type you’d find in a souvenir shop in the wild west of America. The sky is pale with unhappy clouds. Out the back door we see the parking area for vehicles, which appear practical, boxy and mostly all white (at least originally).

Trees beyond the edge of grassy, tall weeds. A few cinder-block style buildings here and there, sterile in contrast to the wild green backdrop nature provided.

The air is fresh, pure, but heavy in spite of the cloud cover. And it’s only 8am.

At the front of our living quarters is a cement porch and step down to the single-file worn path that connects each home – 4 in total, for the missionary families who have braved this adventure. The porch soon becomes a favorite morning spot for quiet reflection, a quick sip of instant coffee and readiness for the unrelenting equatorial heat. A blooming hibiscus bush greets us at the edge of the porch and large, carefully spaced trees grace the landscape beyond, no shortage of natural beauty here.

After a quick shower, all sleepy eyes assemble and shuffle down the path a few hundred feet to our neighbor’s home, the Hurley family. Just like ours, theirs is all cement floors, a constant gathering place for the red dirt and debris that is stowawayed on our shoes. The large, open floor plan is welcoming, enhanced by simple pleasures like candles, fall-themed decor and reminders of God’s Word painted, framed and chalked throughout.

Danielle, Shannon’s wife, introduced herself much like he did – embracing each one of us in arms full of love. She invites us into her small talk, expressing often her gratefulness for our team, until Shannon comes back from his morning bible study. One by one, members of his SOS staff trickle in for introductions and insights, explaining how each of them has a vital role in the success of the ministry here in Kubamitwe.

We learned quickly that these saints among us enjoy long, sincere hugs. Greetings and goodbyes aren’t complete without these sweet exchanges, in Uganda. I make a mental note to bring some of that home with me.

I also learned that Shannon Hurley is a visionary. He’s been gifted and blessed and obedient to use that for God’s glory and expanding His kingdom. Standing in the shell of the future Pastor Training Center,  Shannon spoke to us with was contagious passion and excitement for what he believed God would do on this property.

Yet, he wasn’t the only one with endless energy and an obvious love for the children and families that SOS serves. Cue Solomon Kavuma. As Headmaster of Legacy Academy, Solomon spends his days surrounded by young students from the village. He proudly led us around the school grounds, sharing and showing us the quality of education these children are receiving at Legacy. The program consists of a well-rounded curriculum, modeled from the original Legacy Academy in CA. Academics are rigorous but the foundation is laid with biblical instruction. Contrary to the way Ugandan children typically are taught – simply to hear and repeat – Legacy students are encouraged to think more critically, to study, question and assert their own answers as teachers ask provoking questions about the material and scripture.

There is a time and place for everything…even recitation. What a blessing to hear a kindergarten-first grade class quote multiple lengthy passages of scripture, including the reference. How many of us, or our children can do that?! They are smiling unashamedly, some of them, noticing the curious visitors in their classrooms, yet continuing on with their work at the direction of their skillful teachers. They brush their teeth, only here at the school, outside at porcelain sinks lined up on the sidewalk and leave their shoes, setting upright to avoid being filled with ants, also outside the classrooms. There is order and yet time made for playing. Lunch is served under a tent in the courtyard and spontaneous soccer matches become recess.

Many of these children would have no future beyond farming with their families and caring for elderly parents, if they lived that long, if it weren’t for this education. Beginning with learning the alphabet, how to write their names and much like kindergarten in America, the exciting prospect of learning to read. These bright, young children are the epitome of the true value of an education, taught with love and discipline that extends beyond just them, but also to their parents and families. This education will make a notable difference for them, not only now but in the future, Lord willing. It could mean for them, a home that withstands the rainy season with more than a thatched roof. It could mean the desire to marry one partner and raise a stable family. It could mean a goal set, a dream realized, a hope filled – for the 250 children currently enrolled at Legacy, in a remote village in Africa.

God is good.

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Five Days in Uganda: Part One

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Eleven people. Father with daughter. Mother with son. Two families, an eye-doctor and a nurse. God united us as a team to venture outside of comfort zones and time zones, to a village more than 7600 miles from home.

All from diverse backgrounds. Each with a unique, God-given life purpose. Sharing one aim: to love as Christ.

Uganda Mission Trip – 15 October, 2016

We arrived at the famous but indescript Entebbe International Airport at approximately 10pm local time. Fellow passengers, mission teams, aid workers and rogue adventure seekers, mixed with a few locals to form a haphazard line for yellow fever card inspection, followed by a series of security measures for customs approval.

Next, the monumental task of baggage claim. All 33 pieces.

As if sent by God to rescue our waning enthusiasm for this never-ending leg of travel, appeared a wide-eyed man smiling from ear to ear. He greeted each of us with a mammoth-sized hug that screamed “Welcome!” – a comforting familiarity in a sea of mysterious foreigners.

Shannon Hurley, founder of SOS Ministries in Uganda, was the face that connected the dots between Westfield, Indiana in the U.S. and here…Africa.

Though it was a relief to finally see the end of two back-to-back eight hour long flights, our journey to the slightly remote village of Kubamitwe was hardly over. We stepped outside amidst a few purposefully placed tropical plants, into the balmy air at what was now 11:30pm on a Sunday night. No parking garage. No bus shuttles. Simply a short walk across a parking area, struggling to push multiple carts loaded with a mish-mash of suitcases threatening to topple.

Shannon announced that he had driven a small vehicle that could hold four passengers and the rest of the group would board the mini-bus that several young African men had begun piling our suitcases into, through a side window. I wondered if it were indicative of a sketchy ride that loomed, when we formed a circle right there and prayed. Rather, praise for safe travels thus far was given – indeed, we were thankful.

Like a scene from an independent film, Caribbean-style music blared on the radio in the front where the driver and his friend held our fate, and the right-side steering wheel. Exhausted as we were, there would be no dozing, for me. With luggage piled high at the rear, we bounced along and away from the airport, wind in our faces through the open windows.

Into the night. Introducing a conglomeration of sights, smells and sounds one would imagine as part of a once-in-a-lifetime experience. An adventure. The interlude to our destination, to our mission. Godspeed.

Traffic lights and caution went out the window along with my peace. Our driver and his “assistant” talked without pause, hands gesturing wildly, while my ears strained to adjust to the accent and fluxation of their native tongue. Wishing the young man at the wheel would pay more attention to the way ahead, and through.

Through the crowded streets riddled with people walking, selling, risking life on motorbikes, dodging cargo and the occasional farm animal.

Back home in America, this night would look more like a deserted city, sidewalks rolled up as families would be snugly sleeping ahead of a busy Monday morning workday – only a handful of stragglers with business attire undone, returning from corporate seminars. But on the contrary, here, people were hustling and bustling as if unaware of the late hour. Music and neon lights in stark contrast to the rickety vendor stands lit with a small fire or hanging light bulb.

Familiar but not, the street food so eloquently depicted by Anthony Bourdain and Andrew Zimmern on the Travel Channel, cooking and displayed amidst open flames and mothers with babies strapped to their backs, so surreal (a word I would later use to bridge a gap with a new friend).

Surreal.

Quite shocking. Exhilarating, truth be told. Careening wildly into the unknown. Losing sight of Sir Shannon, who started out leading this train, carrying one family and leaving the rest of us to wonder if, and when, we would reach the village. We were at the mercy of this man whom lived a world away from Pleasantville and paved roads with stop signs and roundabouts.

And speed limits.

I wished he would slow down. And keep his eyes on the road littered with opposing cars and swaying trucks that whizzed by us so close we could’ve touched them with our fingers that tightly gripped the seat backs in front of us, void of seat belts that might save us from the impending head-on collision I imagined. Distinctive looking Isuzu trucks, whipping past on the wrong side, a sensation I found startling. And just as I thought we were traveling too fast, he pushed the pedal further, dirt flying, my heart racing.

An hour or so after passing through Kampala, we took a sudden turn off the main road, onto an even more rugged, loose red-dirt path lined with vegetation only visible by the lights of our two-vehicle caravan. Is this what “the jungle” looks like? Still motoring at a speed that seemed too dangerous without a clear view of where the road was leading, no view of what lies around the next curve. It was like a safari ride, dust billowing and following behind our vehicle. But at night. In the pitch dark.

And then a sign. Literally. SOS Ministries. Legacy Academy.

The wild growth cut back and tamed to reveal a gravel driveway. A concrete dwelling. Where’s the porch light? I can’t see anything beyond the interior lights of the van. Standing at the front porch, in the grass and something bites my leg. And her leg. And his leg. Ants. (In the daylight tomorrow, we discover their size – which explains the discomfort.)

We’ve arrived in Africa. There’s nothing more to see tonight. There are bunk beds in each of the four bedrooms, windows open to the sound of a million crickets and a slight breeze.

Is it even possible to sleep? Where am I?

Morning will tell.

…to be continued