My Mum was a great story teller. She would sit us down and tell us stories of missionaries, read us missionary biographies, and tell us about orphans. I should mention that I grew up in Saudi Arabia. We didn’t have Kids church and my Mum was our Sunday school teacher, so her ‘Kids church’ curriculum included a lot of stories. As a child I was always so captivated that people would give up so much to live in a country that was not their own, and serve or help transform lives or even a community. She was passionate about missions, and till I became a missionary I never realized the impact she left on me.
Life in the mission field has many colors to it: many highlights and often lowlights; many things to laugh about or things to reflect on, as they break you from the inside out. I often get asked the question, “What is a day in Kampala like?” Well, it’s crazy, slightly-to-moderately chaotic, with a high chance of adventure—never a dull moment, but a lot of God moments.
One of the most common quality-time moments Calvin and I seem to have in Kampala, Uganda, is sitting in traffic for long periods of time.
There is a small window to beat this traffic, commonly called ‘the jam’. The panic can start as early as 4 pm on a weekday. You rarely leave work at 4 pm, but sometimes it’s the build-up that actually makes it quite funny. We work at the main church campus office block, in the heart of Kampala city, so as we are leaving church to get home we meet everyone: the mums rushing home to beat the traffic to feed their little ones, the parents rushing to pick the kids from school, the other colleague who is rushing to just get to his side of town—he has something on, but while sitting in two hours of traffic he will figure it out.
While in ‘the jam’, as you watch the food vendors go by, it all becomes part of your evening ritual. You look at the lady with the basket of bananas and wonder if there is another banana bread recipe you can try out—it becomes a shopping spree of a different kind. (Oh, don’t worry, bananas are relatively cheap in Uganda, and they have been in the sun all day so you might even get a further discount!) Those sun-kissed bananas would be perfect for any bread, slice or even smoothie. It’s your new normal: you were once really annoyed by the hours you spent in ‘the jam’, but now you leave at a good time to get home early, or work with the time you have left. As human beings we were created to adapt in life, and as Christians we know that we can rely on the Lord to help that process of adaptation happen with grace and patience—it’s an art to be mastered.
There is always activity along Ugandan roads that can bring a bit of humor into your day. One day we were driving along and the truck in front of us had one of the guys cleaning a chicken as we cruised along the newly built bypass road to the city—that is an art only a few can master.
Being faced with heart wrenching situations that would have been easily preventable with simple medical intervention soon becomes a normal part of life. You fight the tears as the lady shares how she buried her adult son who died of malaria. Malaria medication is meant to be supplied free of charge at most health centres, but often due to lawlessness it doesn’t get to the people who need it most or who are at higher risk. It’s the same story when it comes to life-saving mosquito nets, which are often sold rather than freely distributed to those living in high risk areas.
When I first went to Uganda in 2008, I was involved in medical ministry. I loved it, it was so fulfilling to serve people in need: identify their medical needs and help them—how beautiful is that? Within a few short months I learned about the greater need and the expectation: “help me more”—send my children to school, build my house... People are not being ungrateful for the help offered, but there seems to always be a bigger need.
We visited a family like that when the grandmum said, “Please come visit my home, I need help.” Some members of the team visited her as the rest of us cleared up the medical camp. They found the family living on a mud floor with much of the roof of the house rusted away. We were able to help them with some of their needs.
In 2012, when Calvin and I got married our mission changed: it was still to care, but this time to raise young leaders. We were still newly-weds—how were we going to be Mama and Papa to young adults (18-25 years old)? We took things a day at a time and relied on the Lord. In many ways it was often so much easier helping someone with a medical illness or a specific need. Matters of the heart take time; it is about walking a journey with the Lord to help
others. The young people in the discipleship program are always inquisitive about what we do, what our home looks like. They want to know what it is like to set up a family home, as most of them have never grown up in a home with a functional family, so they don’t know what it’s like to experience caring family life. They grew up in a house not a home: family meal at the dining table at 6 PM, or family bonding time on Sunday night was something you watched on the Hallmark channel. Their parents never spoke kind words to each other. These are the moments placed in front of you to make you realise “Your mission field is often not a task or an assignment, but to show unconditional love to those who have had none and encourage them in Christ.”
I will never forget the day one of the young guys came to Calvin and said, “I have never called anyone Papa in my life…How will I be a father? I’ve never grown up with one—how will I know what to do as a Father?” Calvin didn’t grow up with his father either, so he sat down with the young man and had a heart-to-heart. That is a conversation you can’t put a price tag on, it doesn’t come with a job description—it is a God moment.
As you continue to serve, the unexpected might come literally knocking at your door. Our home was broken into and it was a shock to my system. We had just been through a season of personal losses in my family and had come back from my Mum’s funeral. We were robbed by someone we knew and even helped. It was so hard when we worked out the truth of the situation. Calvin had to report the incident at the police station—you don’t simply call the police station and report the crime. This is the actual process: go into the station and lodge the report and you will be asked for a gift, for transport costs to be covered so they can visit the crime scene, and in the end you will just tidy up the house and move on. It is not right, that is a real reminder, a very real reminder to pray for the nation, and not post a horrible “feel sorry for me message” on social media. Whatever you do, you must ensure that you are still finding it within you to love, with the Lord’s help, and serve the people the Lord has set before you. Social media is not your mission field detox pill. Changing a culture of lawlessness takes time—sometimes many generations.
When you leave you tell your friends we will call and talk regularly, but that is a bit hard to sustain because of many reasons: sometimes your phone or internet network might choose to die as you prepare to make a phone call. Other times you probably have not had electricity for a few days, which might mean you bought the internet package but, hey, your phone has no battery charge—and the reasons can get stranger and more bizarre. The main point is that you miss out on life as lived back in your home country and church. It’s important to take time to make memories in your mission field as well; you never know when your mission might end.
Guard your heart; ensure the trials you face do not let your heart set into a concrete block that is virtually unbreakable. Often we forget the Lord takes us on journeys to help us grow, mature and become who He wants us to be, because He is preparing us for something bigger and better. Make time to seek the Lord and learn from the season you are in.
By Shirley Oule