Saturday, August 30, 2008

Falteringly figuring out the next step

Students have asked me, “Did you have fun?”
The answer is “No.”

Fun doesn’t describe life in Uganda. There is too much pain, too much fear, too much inconvenience. However, I DID like life in Africa and I would return again- often, if I could.

First, I miss the simplicity. How many of your hassles would disappear if you didn’t own a car or a house? How much easier would grocery shopping be with three choices of cereal, one kind of butter, and an unpredictable stove/oven which discourages the making of desserts or gourmet cooking? There’s no need to spend much time shopping for clothes because tailors in the outdoor market sew clothes made just to size and shape and preference. The lack of things takes a lot of complications and time-distractions away.

Second, the weather is balmy, temperate, pleasant: perfect for sitting down with friends. Without technology, there is little left to do except hang out with others. People are valuable, and relationships can be built because there is time (lots of it!) for conversation.

Third. After a long night of frightening nightmares, there’s nothing better than watching the horizon and seeing the growing light. That’s what Gulu feels like—people are still recovering from horror, and just beginning to let themselves have hope. Perhaps a better metaphor is of the next day after the flu; you feel better but you still feel like you’ve been hit by a truck. There’s something raw within the people of Gulu: deep feelings, raw hearts. Literally everyone witnessed or experienced brutality and atrocity; this gives these people a depth of spirit and of character that marks them. I am not proud of this, but I’ve always had little patience for small talk and shallow people… I found little of this in Gulu, and though the stories made me heartbroken, I loved being a part of their healing that came in the telling of those stories.

So, I liked Uganda. But here’s the hard part: how do I live here knowing what I know, having seen what I did? Yes, I’d love to go back. But I’m not back. I also like life here. I have a family that belongs here. I have a job that I love with great kids to teach. I like my house with comfortable couches and hot water showers and an oven to bake pies. I never want to leave my husband again for six weeks.

What do I with this Uganda experience? How do I make it mean something in my future, and more importantly, mean something for people other than me? The biggest tragedy would be if this trip were only a trip for me.

Well, I can help raise more money for Invisible Children, and I do want my words and pictures to do just that. It’s a great organization and I’ve seen with my own eyes that the money is being spent wisely and well.

And, I can continue to encourage each one of my students to a deeper level of faith. The calls of Jesus on our lives are surrender and service, and I want to do everything I can to teach them that loving Jesus is worth every sacrifice, and that when we love him, it rarely feels like sacrifice… I want to pass on my deeply held belief that the task of his people is to restore what is broken. This means going to the broken people and the broken places and the broken world systems and the broken hearted and doing our very small part to offer healing. I want to weave those messages into every day of my class, but doing just that is the hard part. Teaching how to write five-paragraph essays and where to put quotation marks and reading Greek plays fills my hours and leaves little room for Uganda.

And even if I did feel like I was doing this well, ( which I'm not) it still wouldn't feel like enough.

So, months from my trip, I have more questions than answers and more unresolved issues than ever. Thankfully, I don’t (and you don’t either) have to have all the right answers in order for God to love us. For today, I’ll rest in that. Ann