A woman with no legs raises 10 children in a tiny hut.
Children with HIV live in a hospital that limits the number of patients to 30.
Flames rip through the homes of 14 families, incinerating their grass-covered roofs and flooding the inside of their huts with ash and soot.
People who cope with absolute poverty welcome us with warmth and hospitality.
This is who I met and what I saw in Uganda, East Africa when I joined other Movement employees for a 10-day mission trip on the African continent in January. We toured villages, visited a community sports ministry and healing center and observed the dedication of Elhanan, the commercial farm Movement Foundation is starting in the northern Uganda city of Gulu.
The farm, which is managed by former soccer player-turned-pastor Aloysius Kyazze, will function as a catalyst for employment and spiritual development in a region struggling to recover from war.
Being there was an eye-opening experience for a novice stepping onto the mission field for the first time. But now, on the other side of this adventure, I can say this trip did more for me personally than it did for any single person I met there.
The people we met, the things we saw
Traveling to Uganda was eventful in and of itself. Somewhere along our 27-hour flight, one of the airlines lost my luggage. That left me with little choice but to wear National Sales Director Deran Pennington’s shorts. Between you and me, they were a little big on me.
Overall, Uganda inspired me.
On Sunday, we visited two churches and stayed in praise and worship for most of the day. Children sang and danced, and adults praised God with an exuberance I’ve seldom seen in the U.S.
During one evening gathering, we played soccer with village youth and watched a community boxing match between young men training to compete in the Junior Olympics. I met one guy so strong that he could lift another man by the belt with his teeth.
I also met Richard, an interpreter and leader at Aloysius’ church who quizzed me on leadership, the mortgage business and the 2008 U.S. financial crisis. For about an hour, we discussed Movement Mortgage, its mission and business, identifying strong leaders and the financial crisis. We shared plenty of stories, and I know that we will be friends for life.
I was also inspired by a woman who told her life story to the team and congregation about how she battled weight gain and depression throughout much of her adult life — the result of years of making alcohol day in and day out. After seeing many doctors and hospitals with no signs of improvement, she gave her life to God. Since then, she’s experienced newfound health and zeal for life. It really was a miracle to learn about where she had been and to see the woman who testified to us that day.
In Africa, I continually heard similar testimonies of God’s saving, healing, delivering and working miracles. I even got to witness one.
Prayer kept the flames away
It’s pretty normal to find controlled burns in villages throughout Uganda — it’s how the locals clear land for farming. But one particular day, flames in a Gulu village grew out of control and consumed 14 houses.
One woman refused to leave her hut. Instead, she prayed to God that the flames would spare her home. And they did.
The next morning, we arrived in the village to offer our help. We split into two teams: one group stayed behind to help the men clean debris and put out any remaining embers. The other — my group — accompanied the women and children to collect water from the wells.
We helped buy supplies — mattresses, clothing, pillows — for the villagers who lost all their valuables to the flames.
It’s difficult to encapsulate all this trip meant to me. But what continues to impress me about my time in Africa is the joy expressed by the people who live there.
They welcomed us. They smiled. They were willing to spend as much time with us as we were willing to stop and talk with them.
Here they are in the midst of total destitution and yet they seem happier and more content than those of us blessed with amenities and luxuries we often take for granted.
They don’t have much but they do have happiness.
Case in point: Early in the trip, we walked through the slums of Kampala, Uganda’s capital. While there, a little boy ran up beside me and grabbed my hand.
He held onto it for 15 minutes as we continued walking. He just wanted to sit and listen and look into my eyes. He had a smile on his face the entire time.
These are the moments I hope my daughters and wife can experience when there’s another opportunity to go on the mission field. These are the moments I’ll keep embedded in my memory for a very long time.