At the end of May, Kent Price (father of team member Stefanie Nsubuga), Becky Ownby (mother of team member Stephen Ownby), and Jared and Hollie Benoit joined us for an introductory trip to East Africa. After a day of cross-cultural training, language basics, Bible studies and a historical overview of how the work of G.O.D. Int’l began in East Africa, the team traveled to Uganda.
With no former international travel experience aside from vacations, the team delved into life in Africa without much cushion. We practice incarnational ministry, meaning we experience life with the people as it is, in hopes of understanding them and expressing some solidarity. Even for those visiting with us for a short time are expected to go to the bathroom in a choo (pit latrine), take a bucket shower, wash clothes by hand, travel as the locals do (on “bodas” — motorcycles) and eat the local fare—not just once, but for the duration of their visit. Our visitors did each of these things without complaint, impressing our African friends who know it is not typical for Americans.
John Nyago, Uganda native, middle manager for the EA team and cultural liaison extraordinaire, helped facilitate our training day at the G.O.D. headquarters. He encouraged the team: “Not many people are visiting widows in the village. Not many people are considering their food ‘good enough’ to eat. When you visit them and dine with them, you are restoring dignity and reminding them that God cares.”
In a few short days we visited two local widows, one that lives directly next door to our campus and another that we’ve known for years who has only recently lost her husband. Most Americans value “doing” over “listening,” or task over relationship. Knowing that God (who knows all cultures) tests our work, we have to make sure we pay enough attention to the context of the people we serve to know if the solutions we are so eager to give will even work. Conversations and home visits helped visitors get a glimpse of how complicated development and empowerment work can be, particularly as we sat in homes with no running water, spotty electricity (at best), unsafe cooking environments and of course, many children. Even during brief visits, topics included polygamy, child marriage, hunger, governmental corruption, illiteracy — all topics immediately felt by the individuals we visited. We were able to build a rocket stove for one of the women we visited, giving her a safer cooking area that requires less fire wood and less smoke.
While there, our guests also helped facilitate a youth conference for the children of our cooperatives. The event focused on the passing on of a legacy and welcoming the kids into the work that God is doing. With worship, Bible study, games, a skit about our history in Uganda, both friends and family and the youth were encouraged about a primary way that the ministry is being passed on to the next generation! Some of our visitors have long supported our work in East Africa and were able to hear firsthand testimony of how their financial support has benefitted the lives of these kids.
Laurie Kagay, trip facilitator, developed a skit about our organizational history in Uganda that those in attendance were able to act out, many of them picking up the name tags of their parents.
Our Sunday fellowship was definitely a party. Our core group has developed quite the worship band! Many testimonies followed, from Kenyans, Ugandans and Americans, and a powerful sermon was given by team leader Cameron Kagay about following Jesus’ imperative to prioritize the children in their midst — for theirs is the kingdom of heaven!
Our visitors were able to work in Faithwells Gardens, harvesting vegetables for the lunch program at St. Johns. Then we were able to prepare the lunch and finally serve it. Our visitors were able to tour St. Johns and the garden, witnessing the powerful work God is doing to provide food sustainably to an area of great need.
One recent challenge is the drought that East Africa has been facing. Rains were expected in March and by May they had only received a few days of rain. Thankfully it rained when we were there, but our participants also helped build a water cistern to help farmers utilize rainwater for their crops.
The team toured St. John’s, hearing powerful testimonies of the way God has helped the teaching staff and students. Each classroom was very happy to receive our visitors, particularly the parents of team participants (Stefanie Nsubuga and Stephen Ownby) who have made a memorable impression on students at the school. At St. John’s, trip participant Holly Benoit helped facilitate a seminar for the teachers on incentivizing positive behavior. The teachers were thrilled that our education team had kept their context in mind and thought through ways in which they could benefit their students without spending any money.
The team served lunch at St. John’s school, witnessing the program G.O.D. initiated and God has helped to answer. The school children and local onlookers were very shocked to see men helping with cooking and serving as it is not cultural for men to be involved in such activities. This was one cultural norm we were happy to break, demonstrating that every gender can get behind children getting the food they need. The program truly is a community effort that requires parents and volunteers to see it through.
These precious friends and family went for it on this trip, without cushion! Life in Africa can be overwhelming, there is a lot of need, so few resources, and what feels like ten steps back for every one step forward. Yet, at every turn they also saw the amazing potential that exists and heard powerful testimonies about the way God is transforming lives. One day we drove past a major slum in Kampala and Andrew Nsubuga voiced “that’s where I lived as a kid.” You could feel everyone’s heart sink at the sight and then soberly the work God has done to save, develop and use Andrew for his kingdom. Further down the road we passed the school where Andrew, Moses Ssekabira and John Nyago attended primary and I made mention of it, and the hush fell over the matatu in the same way.
I asked the group to consider Jesus who was born into similar circumstances: the child of a carpenter and a young girl, without enough money to marry, born among animals because there wasn’t a place for them—a sign to us all to pay attention to those born into “nothing,” and a sign of the work God can do, no matter how bad things appear. As John said, not many people visit these places, not many people eat their food or walk their streets. As we did, whether for the first time or the twentieth, it changed our lives.