There and Back Again

At the end of March, I went on a trip to the border of South Sudan, the region of Uganda known as Karamoja. I traveled with one of the AFLC missionary families through the entire country to visit and encourage fellow missionaries there.

On the journey up, we spent a day with the Sam family and learned about their ministry for children with Nodding Disease (or syndrome). They are the only people I know of working to end this mysterious disease, literally loving those that are cast off as “hopeless.”

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The best views on safari are from the top of the van.

We also spent a day on Safari in Kidepo Valley National Park. We stayed overnight at the park to see the animals at prime viewing times (sunset and sunrise.) Sitting on the top of a van, I got some great shots of animals including lions, water buffalo, warthogs, and elephants. Kidepo is the most remote of the national parks and is the most reasonably priced. I highly suggest going there if you are ever in Uganda.

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Baby warthogs are quite possibly the cutest things ever.

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Kidepo is home to over 470 of the most diverse species of birds in the world.

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The majestic water buffalo are not pretty, but they are so stinkin’ photogenic. They would always pose for my camera shots.

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I love this example of a symbiotic relationship.

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This picture does not give the zebras’ stripes credit. In person, their markings really do confuse your eyes so can’t quite tell one from the other. They all blend in.

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No joke, this picture is not zoomed in. We were really that close to this lioness and her friend. Staring into the eyes of a big cat is eerie.

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The beauty of Kidepo Valley National Park is overwhelming.

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There are so many African elephants at Kidepo!

Most of our time was spent in fellowship with the Berger family. We toured neighboring villages, had a Maunday Thursday service, and walked by their side through daily life. While the ministry opportunities abound, we experienced firsthand just how hard life is in Karamoja.

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Villagers walking into town.

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A community of homes in Karamoja.

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Homes under construction.

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These herders are wearing the traditional wear of the Karamojong people, a staff, a shepherd’s blanket, and a colorful top hat embellished with a singular feather.

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The landscape of Karamoja.

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The mountains are so unusually formed and so magnificent.

Among no electricity, running water, or food, Karenga (the specific village we were in) is very remote. The roads are worse than the usual dirt roads of Uganda and because of this, Karenga is many hours from any medical attention or help of any kind. While not for the faint of heart, this harsh landscape has a beauty comparable to none and the opportunities to share God’s Word is vast.

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This woman is carrying a load of grass to thatch the roof of her home.

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These kiddos got extremely excited to have their picture taken.

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Walking is the main mode of transportation in Uganda.

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Staying cool in the heat of the day is of the utmost importance.

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In Karamoja, fuel pumps are a luxury. This one is a hand crank pump.

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This Karamojong man is shopping in the village center.

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The main work of the children is to fetch water every day.

On our return trip, we spent the night in Gulu, a large town in Uganda populated as a refugee camp for those affected by the Lord’s Resistance Army. Because of this, many ex-patriots and non-government organization (NGO) workers live in Gulu. However, these people are there for physical relief for war-torn refugees, not spiritual.

Before leaving Gulu, we stopped at a fabulous cafe called The Iron Donkey to order lunch to-go. As I stood in line, I couldn’t help but overhear a conversation at a nearby table. An NGO worker was sitting with two Ugandans.

“You see that’s the miracle of God’s Word. Jesus died to save us all from our sins! He’s ready to save you too!” The Ugandan lady said to the young, caucasian NGO worker. She was preaching the gospel to a woman who had come to help her.

I couldn’t contain my little smile when I witnessed this paradox. In the United States and even as an American working in a third-world country, we seem to have this idea. The idea is that because we live in what seems like a more prosperous country, we are the only ones called to be missional and spread the gospel to needy countries and people groups.

Yet, there are more missionaries in the United States than elsewhere. Even as we speak there are missionaries from China, South Korea and Nigeria preaching in the United States. And it isn’t without reason. We’ve lost our faith. We’ve lost our hope. Amongst so much prosperity, we are struggling with identity, injustice, depression, and destruction.

I see the need for help not only in Uganda but also in the United States and Europe and Asia and all over the world. It doesn’t matter if it’s a third-world country or a first-world country. There is a need for healing. There is a need for political change. There is a need for understanding. And there is a need for God.

As I have returned to the United States, my heart aches for the work and the dear friends I’ve left in Uganda. But as my wise friend Emily Raan once told me, “That’s the price we pay for putting our heart in so many places.”

Right now, I know that my place is to aid the work in the United States and to receive training to better facilitate the kind of change I’m imagining. I do see a partnership in Uganda and I know that my work there is not finished either. God has placed a desire for both in my heart and I assure you that I’ll work my very hardest to fulfill this mission.

I want to thank my prayer supporters and financial supporters and invite you to continue to follow me and support me in the next chapter of my life. I’m honored to announce that I will be attending graduate school at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill for Clinical Rehabilitation and Mental Health Counseling. My hope is to become a clinical psychologist and start a social enterprise that can sustainably provide Christian rehabilitation and development specifically to those affected by trauma, anxiety and depression.

God has taught me so much through this past year and He has grown me exponentially.

I clearly remember a conversation I had with my father before I left for Uganda. He looked at me with concern in his eyes and said, “You know when you come back, you won’t be the same person.”

I matched his gaze and said, “That’s what I’m hoping for.”

And that’s what happened.

I invite you to continue to follow my journey, the adventure has only just begun.

 

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