Uganda: closer than you think

There are times in life—perhaps when you’re bumping down a dusty eastern Ugandan road, or peering into a schoolroom made out of mud and sticks—when you feel quite far from home. But in order for these feelings to carry any weight, there must be a definition of “home.” If home is categorized as everything that is familiar—not necessarily only what one has grown up with—then perhaps, despite your initial inklings, Uganda really isn’t so far from home. You get to a point where you have bumped down more than a few dusty East African roads, and peered into more than a few mud-and-stick schoolrooms, and though they are so different from what you knew as a child, they are no longer completely foreign. When home is everything familiar, then suddenly the world world is at your feet, because there is familiarity to be found everywhere.

To a westerner arriving in a place such as Uganda, initial culture shock can be blinding, causing one to see only the foreign and strange. But if you are able to stay in a culture long enough for the shock to ebb, you can begin to adopt a different perspective. Where culture shock (or, let's face it, ignorance) may lead one to think that “poor” defines a person in a third-world country, taking the time to invest in building relationships will show you that these people do not exist simply to be pitied by westerners. No, they are, just like you may be, a teacher, a pastor, a small-business owner, an agriculturalist, and first and foremost, a child of God. And here, there is incredible familiarity, a sense of home even though it may initially seem foreign.  

In Uganda, we attended a church that meets, for the time being, in a primary school classroom (class Primary Two Blue, according to the chalkboard lettering). Sitting at a wooden school desk on a sweltering Sunday morning, thousands of miles from where I grew up, the pastor began to chant the same liturgy that I grew up with in a small Oklahoma church. The pastor chanted The Lord be with you and we responded and also with you, and cultural differences ebbed as I found myself subconsciously slipping into the familiar lilt of the liturgy. I thought, here I am at home.

 Children peering into a building that serves as a church as American missionaries talk with local church leaders.

Children peering into a building that serves as a church as American missionaries talk with local church leaders.

 Eating a mango on a hot afternoon

Eating a mango on a hot afternoon

 Rev. Shauen Trump showing his boys the local flora and fauna.

Rev. Shauen Trump showing his boys the local flora and fauna.

 Missionary kid life

Missionary kid life

 Ugandan pastor Rev. Raymond Kaija showing Rev. Jonathan Clausing a cassava field. 

Ugandan pastor Rev. Raymond Kaija showing Rev. Jonathan Clausing a cassava field. 

 A worker on the construction site of the new Lutheran seminary near Jinja.

A worker on the construction site of the new Lutheran seminary near Jinja.

 Holy Communion in a primary school classroom.

Holy Communion in a primary school classroom.

 Rev. Raymond Kaija photographs the construction site of the seminary.

Rev. Raymond Kaija photographs the construction site of the seminary.

 Sunset in Busia

Sunset in Busia