Welcome to Uganda

Dates: May 24 - May 26, 2014
Location: Entebbe, Uganda; Nkozi, Uganda

“But maybe you’ve noticed the same thing I have. When people return from their (mission) trip, they don’t talk about what they did, but what they saw and how it changed them…they don’t often talk about the importance of what they did, but about how much they learned about themselves.”***

That’s the American way – isn’t it? The human way, perhaps. Ourselves first, others second. We consistently place ourselves – and only ourselves – at the center of our own universe. It is true that “North Americans spend millions of dollars each year on mission-related trips to developing nations.”*** But it is also true that “many of these efforts do more harm than good.” Why? Because we are far too enthralled with ourselves to make any sort of lasting impact.

I want to make it clear that I am not claiming Americans are selfish individuals incapable of making any sort of difference in the world. Instead, I am simply encouraging everyone who reads this to realize that mission trips, or any sort of service for that matter, are not about you but about the people you are supposed to be serving. To put it in more general terms, this life in general is not about you in the slightest…but about what you can do for others for the glory of God.

“The only way to experience true joy,” a friend of mine once told me, “is to put Jesus first, Others second, and Yourself last.” And who doesn’t want joy?

Many people find happiness in giving of their time for others, but few experience real, lasting joy in doing so. You see, there is a stark difference between helping someone for your sake and helping someone for the sake of God. The difference between experiencing happiness vs. joy and experiencing only a taste of love vs. real, lasting love lies purely in one’s intentions. When you love and serve others, is your intention to give yourself the credit or God the credit? Is it all about you or all about Jesus and His people you are serving? Your answer to these questions will determine whether you experience a fading happiness or a permanent joy.

This summer, I am living, working, and serving in Nkozi, Uganda, for two months (Nkozi is an hour or so outside the capital of Uganda called Kampala). As I write these words, I am sitting on my third flight in the past 24 hours – 9 or 10 hours from Dallas to Amsterdam, 7 or 8 hours from Amsterdam to Rwanda, and now just an hour left from Rwanda to Uganda (no clue why we went to Amsterdam first). This time last year, I flew from Dallas to Chicago to spend two months living and working in a homeless shelter. I was more uncomfortable, nervous, and just downright terrified than I had ever been in my entire life…because I was making the experience all about myself.

This summer is entirely different. This summer I am again uncomfortable, nervous and terrified…but this time around it’s all about Jesus. Last year, I did it all for me. I gave myself all the credit. Now, it’s all about Jesus. Now I know that the more I step outside my comfort zone for Jesus, the more I will experience to comfort of His great love.

My first few days here have been all about discomfort, to say the least. We arrived in the Entebbe airport around midnight on Saturday. The minute we stepped off the plane, I soon realized there is a 100% chance I am the palest person in this country. With that being said, I get a lot of strange stares wherever I go. A bit uncomfortable.

Yet the discomfort I experience here is, in a way, beautiful. Discomfort is being one of two white people in a dining hall of at least 50 people. Discomfort is not being able to talk to your family or friends whenever you want to…and being desperate for their faces, their voices, their hugs. Discomfort is sleeping under a mosquito net for the very first time, and listening to mosquitoes flying all around you as you attempt to sleep, wondering if the mosquitoes you hear are inside or outside your net. (Sidenote, I swear one flew directly into my ear. Malaria of the ear? Is that a thing?) Discomfort is realizing Ugandans don’t exactly believe in toilet paper, napkins, hand soap, or trashcans (at least not where I am). Discomfort is not being able to take a shower for days and when you finally do, you remember that there’s no such thing as hot water. Discomfort is waking up every two or three hours in a panic wondering when you last felt well-rested.

But my rest I have found in Him. Sometimes that means praying the “Our Father” over and over and over again until I fall asleep. Other times that means running straight to His open arms whenever I feel lost, scared, or alone. So yes, all this discomfort is quite beautiful because I am closer to Him now than I’ve been in months. What more could I want?

Today, I want you to ask yourself these questions:

How am I serving the people in my life?
Do I serve with love?
What are my intentions?
Is my goal to help myself or to actually help others?
Do I give myself all the credit or God all the credit?
Is it about me? Or about God and His people?

Above all, reflect on and remember the following quote: “Many people are willing to serve as long as it’s not too uncomfortable.”

Now replace the word serve with forgive, love, encourage, pray, etc. etc. Many people are willing to do many things…as long as it’s not too uncomfortable.

But you know what, it’s just like I learned in finance – more risk, more return. The more you practice selflessness, the more lasting joy you are bound to experience. Because you see, it has never really been about you; it never will be. It’s all about Him. Always has been, always will be, about Him.

SULA BULUNGI! (‘Good night’ in Luganda, the local language here…see, I’m learning!)

This is my new friend here. Whenever we see each other we say, tulibalongo ("we are twins").
***Source: Jo Ann Van Engen, "The Cost of Short Term Missions," The Other Side


  1. Wonderful meditation, Haley!!! And what a beautiful picture! I envy you! I really do! I know it must be rough going, but the joy on your face makes me envious of you!

    God bless you! PLEASE KEEP POSTING! With much love and admiration, Fr. Alfonse

  2. Wonderful piece, enjoyed it all thru esp the part of "...Malaria of the ear..."
    I pray you have a nice lovely experience in Uganda!!

  3. In my opinion, putting yourself first would be focusing on what YOU did rather than what other people did for you. I encourage you to let yourself be changed by these people. The most selfish, "American" (as you would say) thing is believing that you can do more for these people than they could possibly do for you. They have just as much (if not more) to offer you than you have to offer them. I hope that your intention is to go on a mission trip to serve these people but I also hope that you come back realizing that you were impacted as much (if not more) than you could have impacted anyone. The trip should not be about you, but it is pointless if you aren't affected. If you don't see something, feel a call to action, and decide to do something different with your life because of it, then that mission trip was a failure. It was more harm than help. Nothing you do in a short amount of time can really drastically change the realities of day-to-day life for these people. However, if you allow these people to change you, you will keep these people in mind, continually working for justice for these people. I am glad that you did not go to Uganda to change your life, but please do not let that stop you from being changed by these people.

    1. I really like what anon said "Nothing you do in a short amount of time can really drastically change the realities of day-to-day life for these people. However, if you allow these people to change you, you will keep these people in mind, continually working for justice for these people." I think that's true, and I'm sure you'll come to see that. I don't think it's selfish to realize what an impact those you meet have on you, IF you use that impact to ensure that the world becomes a better place. In Ephesians 2:9, we're reminded that our works, no matter how service-oriented or holy, are God's, NOT ours. So unlike what the quote says, I don't think it's too wise to focus on the importance of what you do bc it could easily blur the lines between your works and God's. Just sharing my thoughts :), but good luck to you in Uganda and I will pray for you!


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