Some of my thoughts about mission teams and their impact. Julie Stroder
And so another mission trip to Uganda is in the books. Trip number twenty; it doesn’t seem possible. I treasure every single journey to Uganda. People ask how my trip was when I return and I typically answer, “amazing” or “incredible”. And I mean it – every single time.
God puts these mission teams together. Sometimes the personalities all seem to jive from the beginning. Other times I look at the make-up of the team and wonder if they will get along. Will they work well together? Will they become that cohesive unit that I’ve seen come together so many times before? Will they “get it”? And they always do. Because His hand is on the team and those that go have answered His call.
I’m reminded time after time that there is a mission within the mission team. A group of people who go to Uganda to serve and find themselves being served – by our friends in Uganda and by each other. What a blessing to witness this happen over the course of a 12-day trip!
Five members of this team travelled to Uganda two years ago. Two people had never been before; some had been three or more times. That’s a lot of different perspectives and it’s something I’ve learned to be grateful for.
I love watching the faces of “rookie” team members as we pull into Kainagoga for our first village visit. The ear-to-ear smiles; the hesitancy to be the first one off the bus and walk into all those little hands reaching up to touch you. The thirst for attention by the kids doesn’t discriminate. They don’t care if you’ve been there before or if they are the first to indoctrinate you into the ways of welcome in Uganda. You are most welcome!
And then there are those who have seen it at least once before. They come, hoping to not feel so overwhelmed this time. Hoping to soak it all up just a bit more than the last time they were here. And they do. There are kids they look to find. There are women they remember. There are babies that have grown. There are kids who were sick that are now healthy. There are children they saw before who are now students at a Hearts and Hope school.
I love talking to these repeat-goers in the evening. Listening to their excitement of finding a child they held two years before. Or hearing them tell about seeing their sponsored child, who recognized them and was looking for them before they even got off the bus. Or listening to them recount talking to the woman who remembered them by name.
The entire team witnesses the disparity between the villages who have a partnership with a congregation in the US and those that don’t. There are Hearts and Hope schools that are moving rapidly towards being self-sustaining and there are those that just started meeting under a mango tree on land loaned to them by a local Ugandan. They can see what a partnership means. One hundred ten children in a sponsorship program and the operating expenses of the school are covered so that hundreds can attend. Healthier kids who are being fed lunch every day and have a mosquito net to cover them and their siblings at night. Shoes to wear for the long walk to school.
And it’s good for me to be reminded that progress is being made. I am fortunate to be in Uganda up to three times per year and it can be unsettling sometimes to not be able to see progress fast enough. Children are still standing outside the school because there are no school fees available and no sponsors to help them out. Coughing, feverish kids who need medication to fight the malaria that attacks their little bodies more often than we want to know. Strong, resilient, exhausted women who struggle to work in someone else’s garden during the day so that they can be given something to feed their children that night.
It is easy to always get caught up in what is still to be done, so I rely on the team, without their knowledge, to encourage me. Reminding me that progress is being made. Talking about kids who are going to school who, without a sponsor, would not be. Discovering that there are healthy kids who, during my last visit, were not.
People will always question why we go to the trouble of taking teams to Uganda. Why not just send the money it costs to get there and directly support the kids? Because being there is more important than the cost of plane fare. Our friends in Uganda know what it requires in time and resources to make the trip. They know it is expensive. They know we leave our families and our jobs behind. They know we aren’t use to being in the heat all day. And that knowledge lets them know that they matter. That it is important to us to visit them . Important for us to try to encourage them. To make plans with them.
And in turn, we are encouraged. Yes, we cry at times and feel overwhelmed with all of the work to be done. But at the end of the day (to quote Violet), we are encouraged by them. We see their love for God and their commitment to sharing that with others. And we are all encouraged to try harder, be part of a solution.
“Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” James 1:27
Thank you to this team for all you did to be a part of the encouragers and for allowing yourself to be encouraged. You rocked the mission field. Lives are changed because of your willingness to go. You are awesome and I love you!
Hearts & Hope is a nonprofit organization focused on unlocking the potential of people in Uganda through relationships with people in the US.