Four consecutive months of my life were spent in another country, Uganda, in the spring semester of 2006. Four months is all. Yet four months seems like a century when my emotions, frustrations, misconceptions, and realities were being heightened by a hundred times more than I was comfortable with. It is unlike any experience I have ever had, and I even hate using the word “experience” because I once again seem like another ignorant American “in for the ride.” However, it did change me; it changed my deeply ingrained perceptions of the world, of community, of America, of church, of God. Every single one of those perceptions intertwined magnificently into realizing who I was in relation to those: an ugly, helpless soul, in dire need of a gracious Savior.
I went to Uganda during the spring semester of my Junior year. Uganda is a small country located in Eastern Africa by Lake Victoria. I spent my time taking classes at a Christian University there. Some of the classes I took included African politics, literature, and religions. I stayed with two different host families which was one of the highlights of my trip. I was able to integrate much more into the culture by participating in the activities of family life. Another aspect of my stay involved doing a service project in which we witnessed to and discipled the boys who lived on the streets. This was a humbling, yet incredible experience to get to know these awesome boys and be a part of their growth in the Lord. Lastly, we often traveled as a group, doing various activities including rafting the Nile River and going on a safari. The landscape and the wild animals were incredible, and I would not trade it for anything. At the end of our trip, we visited Rwanda, learning immensely about the genocide from several survivors who shared with us. We also learned about the reconciliation efforts and what is being done in that process to change the country. Although it was difficult to see some of the tough situations in Uganda and Rwanda, the Lord used it to open my eyes and give me a passion for things I never expected.
I wanted to take the risk to go to Uganda because I realized the opportunity may not ever present itself again. I heard from friends who had studied abroad, and I knew it would also be good for me to step out of my comfort zone and stretch my mind in new ways. I did not go into this naively, because I realized this would shake me and alter my perspective. Knowing beforehand, however, did not make it any less difficult to go through and learn.
I was very much alone after being dropped off to meet my new African Family, and the images and feelings I felt then are still so vivid today. I was placed with two parents and six brothers and sisters, yet I felt completely alone. Entirely out of my comfort zone, I attempted to understand African family life. That first weekend, I learned how to bathe out of a bucket. I learned how to go to the restroom with absolutely no conveniences available to me. I was taught to prepare food in banana leaves and respectfully eat the goat intestines that were given to me. I wore the traditional African dress. In that, I quickly learned that the top of a woman’s body is not a private thing. I learned to greet anyone in authority to me by humbly bowing to my knees. I was laughed at, teased, and misunderstood so many times. I cried often, but I laughed just as often. I did not know what to feel except that I had to do my best to accommodate myself to their culture, and many times it felt like my efforts were failing. As a “mzungu” (white person), I felt there was no way I could ever become them. However, as the semester went on, I learned to love this new family of mine. I became so comfortable with their lifestyle, their community, and their humor. I had to go through the frustration in order to truly appreciate this new family culture. This was just one example of how I needed to endure the things I did not like in order to reach the things I learned to love. In more areas than just my African family, I let God take me through tough times in order to see His goodness and grace in the places I arrived.
One of the verses that was central to my understanding of this experience was Proverbs 20:30. It states, “Blows that hurt cleanse away evil, as do stripes the inner depths of the heart.” God brought many joys to me through this different culture, but realistically, this one of the hardest experiences I have ever encountered. I was faced with issues I had never fully wrestled with before. I was challenged to the core of my being, facing myself in a light I did not want to admit. However, without such a blatant realization of my sinfulness and a better understanding of what obedience to Christ looks like, I believe I would have come out of this thinking it was just another “cool experience.” Although at times during my stay in Uganda I would have rather had that kind of fun experience, I am truly grateful for the way I am changed and can never go back. I have learned to look at the world differently. I have learned to look at myself differently. I have absolutely learned to look at God and my Christianity in a more truthful light.
One way I have changed is in my realization that I am more American than I am Christian. I automatically view my Christianity in an individualistic sense, whether it be in the avenues of how I relate to others, how I give my time or my money, or how I think I am getting ahead by my own ability. Most of these presuppositions are embedded in the way I relate to God and others, and I am amazed by how blinded I was and how blinded I still am. I have changed in how I view my relationship with God, and it has made me question those things I thought I was sure about. If ever I get to a point where I think I have arrived, I know I have truly been deceived.
Most importantly, my overall outlook of the world has changed, and therefore, I hope that the way I relate to friends, acquaintances, and even strangers has changed as well. I have seen what community looks like up close from my African family, and I will strive toward a community outlook in how I relate to people throughout my life. I want to be in tune with their needs above my own, not allowing myself to lean on my individualistic American mindset like I previously did. I hope the way I have changed in my thoughts affects my actions with mankind throughout the rest of my life.
Geneva students have the opportunity each summer to attend Au Sable Institute of Environmental Studies to develop practical methods of caring for the environment.