by Laura Dowds, Grace OPC, Springfield, IL (August 2015)
Being a member of Team Uganda 2015 was an experience that changed my life. Actually, it didn’t just change my life. It changed me. Short-term mission trips do that to people. We go in thinking that we have all of this knowledge and wisdom to share, but in the end, we are the ones who learn so much. This is what happened to me in Karamoja. It was me, the Christian girl who was going to teach the catechism to children in Africa, who was swept off my feet by the Lord’s grace and the strength of the bond of the church.
I learned many life lessons on this trip (like how to use teamwork and tennis shoes to kill a giant spider tangled up in a mosquito net – but that’s another story). I learned that the unity of the church is stronger than the boundaries of language, race, and culture. I also learned that when all of the teaching methods that I am learning in my university’s teacher education program fail to work in a different culture, the best thing to do is to love on those kids and sing with them. But one of the biggest lessons I learned is the importance of community in our lives as Christians.
The Orthodox Presbyterian Uganda Mission is unique in that there are so many missionaries living on the compound. The mission is a community in and of itself and I, for one, would not have it any other way. Yes, things can get a little crowded. It’s extremely difficult to have time alone or a private conversation. But there are friendships formed in this kind of closeness – this doing life together – that are so, so special. I saw this in the missionaries. They aren’t just neighbors that all work for the OPC. They are a family. They truly care about each other and enjoy being together. This is not to say that they always get along and everything always goes perfectly – missionaries are human and relationships can be messy. That’s just how things work in a sin-filled world. But I saw that the missionaries had an overwhelming amount of support of and love for one another.
I even got to experience this community myself. I stayed right across the courtyard from Christopher and Chloe Verdick, missionary associates. Chloe became a close friend during those four weeks. I went to her for anything and everything, from cooking questions to serious life questions. She welcomed me into her life and home. For this I am thankful. She is someone that I will always look up to.
Being able to experience this kind of community at the mission got me thinking. What if I were to foster this doing life together in my church or in my campus ministry? “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:35). Being intentional in my relationships with other believers is just one way to be a witness for my Lord at home. Now that I am back in the beautiful Midwest, I plan to do just that.
This is just a taste – a teeny tiny taste – of what I experienced and learned in Uganda. I could go on for hours about the work the team did, the friendships we built, and the beautiful Karamojong people that we were able to get to know. This trip was an experience that stretched me, but it also made me grow in my faith. I wouldn’t trade my month in Karamoja for anything and I can’t wait to go back.