Often missionaries are categorized as adventurers, brave, daring, bold, sacrificial. At least that’s always how I’ve believed them to be. I will be the first one to admit that I’m not really any of those, I strive to be, but they did not bring me to Uganda.
I am not in Uganda because I thought it would be adventurous, in fact, last time I was here I woke up jet-lagged in the middle of the night and heard Luganda being spoken outside my hotel door, for a moment I had no idea where I was so I burst into tears. True story.
The months leading up to Uganda were dull, don’t hear me wrong, it was a good life. I was working 30-40 hours per week and taking full-time classes but it was a weekly cycle of predictability and I yearned for more. When you have learned what living really feels like, you know when life has gotten mundane. Dull and mundane aren’t always bad, sometimes they are the waiting places that grow you until you are able to fully chase the passions Jesus has given to you. However, sometimes the waiting places become more like hiding spots.
I have known that moving back to Uganda would eventually arise and as much as I wanted more, I also didn’t want this either. Uganda is hard, it’s hard in ways that you wouldn’t understand until you’ve walked these roads. The hard is in the cultural difference and the language barriers and the power outages. It’s in the decision making that goes into sponsorships and deciding who is more desperate. It’s in the stories of tragedy and sorrow and wondering why God lets bad things happen to good people. I’ve found the hard in the long nights of missing home and in the walking up thinking about places so far away. It’s facing the spiritual attacks that wait around every corner. I didn’t want Uganda because I’m not brave or equipped or even ready. So here I am, and the mundane would be easier but it wouldn’t be worth it.
I walked past him gardening out in front of his tiny home. I waved, asked how he was and walked a couple paces before I froze. I had met 11 year old Karoli over a year earlier, he was bright with a vibrant personality and had been attending school. I turned back and yelled “Why are you not at school today?” He shyly smiled, I didn’t know if he had not understood what I said or was unsure how to answer it. My friend translated. Karoli fidgeted with the shovel he was holding and answered, “my mother hasn’t gotten the fees yet.”. I nodded, gave him a reassuring smile and we were off to a meeting with a different school. A few moments later I turned and Karoli had followed us with an old tire and stick that he was rolling. He helped us find plates for some of the children in school, assisted at managing some of the children while I took sponsored photos, then told us his mother wanted to speak with us.
His mother welcomed us to her home and told us the story of Karoli; a couple months earlier he had been hit by a car and the driver had just driven off. Karoli school fees were suddenly hospital fees. Now he was going to physical therapy with the little extra funds she made at her produce stand. Neither of them asked for the fees, they simply shared their stories.
I couldn’t forget the image of him standing in the garden. His ripped shorts, tattered shirt and bare feet. In a moment I had seen his entire future and his extraordinary potential. This sweet boy would be standing in that garden in a few years without education and it would be there that he would be consumed by the monster that poverty is. But in the same moment I saw that smile, that sassy hand on his hip, that hardworking boy and knew he could become whatever he wanted. I saw hope staring me in the face and I could not turn away.
This was the hard Jesus called us into when He told us to go into all nations, He beckons us into the places where it overwhelms to the point that we surrender all that we are to all the He is. This place is hard, this place is broken, this place is holy.
The next day we took Karoli to school, he sat nervously with his new backpack while we paid fees. He was bewildered when we waved goodbye and whispered “I get to stay now?” my friend answered, “yes, but go get your lunch first”. Even more bewildered because he had never eaten lunch at school- he had run to his mother’s produce stall to eat lunch from there- he now slowly walked to get lunch from the school kitchen. The look on his face was one that reminded me of who I was meant to be, it isn’t a hero or warrior or adventurer, it’s present in the here and now, because that’s where Jesus likes to meet us.
The stories, like Karoli’s, remind me why I never want to go back to easy. The mundane whispers all that I could be in materialist terms, while hope shouts all that we can be in the hard. And a million times over I would choose hope, I would choose hard, I would choose holy.