BY LAUREN GULLY
When five other Americans and I arrived at the Entebbe airport in Uganda after more than a day of traveling, I was struck by a sudden anxiety. We would be traveling throughout Uganda for a little less than five weeks, and I was hopeful that God would use that time to communicate something profound through me, despite my imperfections and my unimportance. I knew that there was a natural reciprocity to expect on the mission and that I would get so much more out of the experience than I put in. Still, I hoped there would be something I could show for all the time and money to be spent on the recognition of God’s vast power, grace, and community. With apprehension and legs sore from sitting so long, I walked into the airport. I was met by twenty Ugandans eager for fellowship and an exponential number of mosquitoes equally eager for my peanut-M&M-sweetened blood.
At first, the tangibility of what I was doing in Uganda, helping to construct a youth center, was most important to me. But it is hard to argue that I added valuable labor to this process, for which I cannot blame the large servings of steamed banana, matoke, that weighed me down as I worked. Though I shoveled dirt like a girl and like someone who doesn’t know that shoveling requires endurance, I shoveled with passion and a great heart for the people I met. The Ugandans did not await my arrival because of my great physical labor skills, yet I still felt the work that God called me across the world to do was with my hands. In the end, I met God in the hands that I shook, in the faces of the people that I met, and in the stories that I heard.
I felt that I had come to Uganda with all my (perhaps useless) Westernness to understand a different kind of Jesus. I was no longer dealing with the Jesus of academics, fast food, and broken family holidays; I was now in the midst of the Jesus of cultural breakdown, matoke, and displacement camps. I sat at the front of a church where we were to preach, and I felt that I’d come face to face with God for the first time. The humble building was so beautiful in all of its brokenness – it feels wrong to describe the people and the experience as “beautiful,” but seeing God’s heart was truly a beautiful thing that awakened my heart with overpowering emotion.
My time in Uganda proved to be a time of dealing with the broken parts of myself and learning about the broken parts of the church and the world. I started the trip trying to be extroverted, energetic, and excessively nice. After only a few days of trying to be what I thought the experience demanded of me, however, I was exhausted. I am so glad I realized that God called me to Uganda to be myself.
Once I had started to embrace who I was and how my personality would fit the dynamic of the people and what we were to face each day, I started to experience God on a level I had never known before. By surrendering to who I was, I became more the person God had created me to be. Through this transformation, God’s presence grew in my heart I felt so in tune with how I felt and the love God had for the people I met. Love for them swallowed me and poured out of me in a way far beyond my own doing. Because of my experience within myself, I know I fulfilled the purpose that God desired for me in Uganda. I left a part of my heart in Uganda, and the heart I brought back overflows with matoke.