There are a number of things that come to mind when one starts talking about a mission trip to a place like Africa. Heat...mosquitoes...malaria...bad water...time differences...pit toilets...sickness...the list goes on...Each of those variables can be difficult enough to handle on its own, let alone mixed in with all of the others. And then we add the personality factor on top of all of that to shape the team dynamics! Sometimes it's good. Sometimes it's not. And sometimes it deteriorates about midway through, even with well-intentioned team members.
We were fortunate enough to have a team that meshed pretty well for the majority of the trip. Each particular group worked well together on the various projects we were scheduled to do. There was a grace or anointing to flow in the task at hand. What a blessing to watch each team member "come into his or her own" on the team.
That grace or anointing started before the team even left Roanoke. One of our team leaders, Debbie - who was with us on our first trip to Uganda, was coordinating our medical projects. What a tremendous blessing she was! I never had to worry that something was going to be missed or be half-done. Debbie oversaw each of the various projects, making sure they met the goals that had been communicated to us by Pastor Doreen. She did a great job!
Debbie was the one who resuscitated the stillborn baby that I delivered the first day were were at Life Link Medical Centre. She was incredible to watch as she overcame insurmountable odds without the benefit of even basic equipment and supplies that we take for granted here in the States.
About a week in to the trip, during a particularly terrible van ride down a REALLY rough dirt road, Debbie suffered a concussion. Her head had bounced off the inside of the van several times as it lurched down the terrible roads. Later that day she started getting headaches and nausea. For the next several days tasks like just bending over to tie her shoes or to wash a few items of clothing by hand turned into painful challenges. Still, Debbie managed to maintain a good attitude and a desire to serve.
Tracy, a first-time missionary, was in charge of the Diabetic Teaching module. Through her contacts we were blessed to have supplies donated and teaching materials available for the program. Tracy also brought a couple thousand Dum Dum lollipops to hand out to the kids. Everywhere she went she brought a comical sense of chaos as children flocked to her. It reminded me of times when I've fed pigeons or seagulls...You start out and there are only a couple, but before long you're literally swarmed with them! Kids would look at her and say, "Sweet, sweet!"
While a mission trip requires every participant to stretch outside of his or her comfort zone, this was particularly the case for Tracy, who'd never even been camping before, let alone thrust into some of the situations you encounter out in the field. What an amazing transformation we observed over the weeks we were there! I'm so proud of Tracy's persistence in overcoming things like wild warthogs grazing outside her tent, learning to squat over pit toilets that require a good aim (or you have the tell-tale splatters on your pantlegs to show your lack of skill), and wild van rides that would cause many grown men to cringe in terror (and which caused Debbie to get a concussion!)
After we'd completed all of our projects we did a game reserve trip to Murchison Falls National Park. By the end of the game reserve trip Tracy was actually dangling from the van by one hand while perched with her butt hanging outside the open window, shooting her camera at lions and elephants a dozen or so yards away. We've affectionately nicknamed her "Rambo".
Hah! I've known Natalie for quite a while at church, and I have always pictured her as a quiet-spoken mommy. Boy, did she blossom. Natalie worked with the Vision Clinic that we held. She was soooo good with that. She just slipped into the anointing and ran with it! And each night at the guesthouse she would sift through boxes of eyeglasses, sorting them, fixing them, preparing for the next days patients.
I did learn that Natalie isn't quite so quiet-spoken once you get her out of her shell. She's fun to be around and has a great personality. And her comfort-zone was stretched as well. Like Tracy, this was her first mission trip. She'd left kids and husband at home to reach out with the love of God in a way that is completely foreign to most people back home. She met each challenge head-on and overcame. I'm proud of her and her willingness to step out into the unknown for the sake of the Gospel.
This was Suzanne's second trip to Uganda, and she seemed very relaxed. She even brought her seventeen-year-old daughter with her on this trip. And, oh my goodness, what an anointing to teach! Suzanne ran the Low Vision Clinic, which targeted people who had vision problems such as glaucoma, cataracts, etc where glasses don't neccesarily help. Listening to her teach was a treat. Then she organized an entire Low Vision Classroom and testing center with various different stations that helped the people to learn techniques that would improve their quality of life.
Pastor Solomon asked Suzanne to teach the school staff the various signs to look for in the children to determine vision disorders, and then what to do to help correct those problems, such as a pupil's distance from the blackboard, etc. On the Sunday that Pastor Eddie ministered, Suzanne was asked to teach the people in the congregation things like body mechanics, diet and nutrition, etc. It was obvious that Suzanne was "in her element" every time a teaching opportunity presented itself. what a blessing she was to the people of Uganda!
At seventeen-years-old, this was Soyini's first mission trip to Africa. It was a sacrifice for her to be able to be with the team, because she learned prior to traveling that she was being kicked off of the Girl's Volleyball team - Soyi's passion and the source of future scholarships - because she was scheduled to be gone during the pre-season scrimmage game and pre-season practices. That was really tough for her.
I'm proud of Soyini and how she hadled many of the situations on the trip. She actually helped me deliver the baby the first day at the Medical Centre. She also helped Tracy with the patients she treated. Now, Soyini's a beautiful young lady, and it was just a given that the young men would be attracted to her. And, of course, they were. And being the red-blooded American girl that she is (despite African and Trinidadian roots) she was attracted right back to them! Lol! One fine young man, Vincent (a.k.a. Vine), captured her heart, and they continue to text back and forth every day.
I first met Martha earlier this year when her husband was running for Attorney General in Virginia. You know how it is when you meet someone in a particular setting, and that's the way you picture them. I'd run into Martha again back at the end of June and learned that she had previous mission trip experience. I asked her if she wanted to go to Uganda with us and she's relpied with a "Don't ask me unless you're serious" answer. I told her that I was serious, and she said she'd check her schedule. I'm so glad she did! What a blessing she's been.
Martha is a seasoned traveler, and nothing seemed to phase her. I never heard her complain about anything, and she was willing to do whatever was needed to help the team. She worked with Natalie in the Vision Clinic to help screen people and fit them with eyeglasses. Again, like Natalie, she just flowed in the anointing for what she was doing.
We're sorry that Martha was unable to take the time for the game reserve trip that we finished our trip with, but she had to head home after the projects were completed. Her presence graced all of us...and I'd still like to read her journal! (She told us that she had a page - or pages - on each team member, from first-impressions on...I'll bet it's an interesting read!)
Rocky is a mission trip "pro". This was his fourth trip to Uganda, and I'm surprised he didn't stay. He did look into property while we were there this time. Rocky was one of our two construction team members. He was in charge of designing and building the solar food dehydrator based upon locally available materials, so that it would be completely duplicatable. He'd built a prototype in his back yard before leaving home, and managed to come up with an inexpensive and easy-to-build model.
It was interesting to watch Rocky in Uganda. While back home his conversations are limited - he doesn't even have a cellphone at home, in Uganda he was a totally different person! The cellphone he bought shortly after arriving was in use constantly. He has more friends in Africa than in the United States, and many of them came to visit him on this trip, coming from as far away as Kenya. Pastor Anthony (from Kenya) rode 8 hours one-way in a 14-passenger taxi van from Kenya to come visit Rocky, and stayed in the Red Chilli dorm so he could actually spend time visiting. I think one of the high points for Rocky was the purchase of a large snake skin to take home for his wall.
The other construction team member, Tim is a second-time missionary to Uganda. He was available to help Rocky with the solar dehydrator, provide security for the ladies, and a blessing to King Solomon's Academy as he used his construction talents on things like hanging doors, fixing desks, and more.
Because of his heavy southern drawl or accent, it has been a standing joke since our first mission trip that Tim needs a translator to translate from "Southern" to English and then to Luganda (the official language of that area). This time was no different, and I'm glad that he has a sense of humor about it. I appreciated his willingness to be used in whatever project he was needed without complaint. He did however liken his role in this trip to that of trying to herd a pack of cats...were we that bad, Tim? Lol!
Joshua is a professor at Roanoke College and a native of Uganda. He went with us on our first mission trip, and we adopted him after that. He was already in Uganda when we got there this time, supposedly on vacation/family time...BUT World Bank found out that he was there and put him to work almost every day. He allowed Debbie, Rocky, and I us to use his driver and car one day before the main team arrived. That was a blessing, as Julius, his driver, took us several places we needed to go to purchase supplies and phones.
Joshua met those of us who were in the lead team at the airport when we arrived in Entebbe and even arranged with his brother to act as "tour guide" in Entebbe one day while we were there. He's been a great friend and team member. While in-country this time, Joshua came down with Malaria. After a few days of medicine he felt much better and was able to fly back in time to get ready for the start of the fall semester.
All in all we had a great group and a great trip. I appreciate each and every team member and am honored to have served alongside them!