The Love Your Neighbor team has been back from our trip to Uganda for a little over a month now. Normally, I feel like I can start processing these types of trips after a week or two – even the really great trips that are packed full of amazing moments don’t take as long to process as this last trip has.
I think I was trying to only process the good parts of this trip and trying to omit the stress. This trip was bookended by missed flights, overnight layovers and sickness. And, even though I have tried to leave those experiences behind, they are forever part of this trip.
When planning a trip to Uganda, there is a fair amount of mental preparation that happens so you feel ready for the time spent cramped in an airplane, walking through the airports and interacting with strangers. Even with all the extra mental prep, we were not ready for everything we had to deal with on this trip. I won’t bore you with all the details, but here is a quick snapshot of our travel days; both to and from Uganda.
We missed a connecting flight in Amsterdam and after spending 6 hours in the airport rebooking our flight, had to spend the night in a hotel just outside the airport. The next morning, it took about 4 hours going back through security and we nearly missed our rebooked flight.
We finally get to Uganda (a full day late) and our bags aren’t there. 3 more hours at the baggage counter to fill out paperwork so we could come back the next night around midnight to pick up our bags.
Total travel time to Uganda: 60 hours
I started the day out in a Ugandan hospital. I think I got some type of parasite from the sugar cane I ate, but can’t be sure. I received fluids, electrolytes and antibiotics through an IV and was sent home with several days worth of oral antibiotics and other medications (including a de-wormer). We boarded our flight out of Uganda that evening.
This time we made it to Amsterdam on time, but the flight leaving Amsterdam was delayed. So, that made us miss our connecting flight in Salt Lake City. We considered renting a van and driving to Denver from Salt Lake City, but I was still feeling sick and everyone was feeling pretty run down from the travel. So, we stayed the night in another hotel and made it back to Denver the next day (a day late, again).
Total travel time back home: 52 hours
In the few days after getting home, several people on our team tested positive for COVID. It was nice to be home, but more sickness definitely added to the travel stress.
You can see why I was having trouble processing this trip while trying to omit all the travel – so much stress surrounding the beginning and end of the trip can’t be overlooked. While it was not a fun part of the trip, the travel is still part of the story.
Now on to the good stuff…
I wish I could share everything that happened on this trip, but I can’t. Some of our team (Laura and Leah Shorey) spent time loving and serving the young moms and their children in the Princess Shelter at The Remnant Generation (TRG) and others (Caitlin Garrett and Cindy Limbrick) helped create healing through art workshops for TRG staff, local social workers and the young girls at the rural Princess Shelter in Lyantonde. Unfortunately, I was busy at the woodshop, so I will let those ladies tell you the stories when they are ready.
There were so many amazing moments I experienced that it is hard for me to narrow it down and just focus on a few. I’ll start off by telling you that I had very high expectations for this trip. Those expectations were based on our trip to Uganda last year when we set up the woodshop at the teen boys and girls shelter – here’s the blog post about last year’s trip: (https://pulpitrock.com/watching-the-sawdust-fly).
I will forever measure mission trips against that trip to Uganda in 2021. So many great things happened; meaningful relationships were built, we taught woodworking skills, we were able to speak truth into hurting young men and women and we all left a piece of our heart in Uganda.
Spoiler alert – all of those same things happened on this trip!
I loved reconnecting with the staff at The Remnant Generation (TRG) (www.theremnantgeneration.org). It is so encouraging to come together with people around the world that are following where God is leading them. They are doing some amazing things and making a big impact in the lives of young girls in the name of Jesus.
And, while I loved my time spent at TRG, my heart lives at the Fathers Arise boys and girls shelter where we set up our woodshop last year. When we arrived at the shelter we were greeted by some familiar faces and also many new ones. If you’ve ever been reunited with a family member after being apart for a long time, you know what it feels like to finally see them again. That’s what it feels like every time I went to Fathers Arise – an overwhelming amount of love, care and joy for the boys and girls.
This year we were able to bring some more tools with us and teach some complex woodworking skills. And, just like last year, the kids were excited to learn and began building right away. We taught them how to use a jig saw, router and also how to make some intricate cutting boards and Bluetooth speaker kits.
By the second day, their creativity was overflowing. There were so many times the kids would draw up some plans and come over to me and say, “This is what I want to make, but I don’t know how to start. Can you show me?” After some basic explanation, they got started on their project and many of them finished their projects by the end of the week.
They are learning some woodworking skills that will help them get jobs in the future. And, while they are at the shelter, they are selling their projects to help fund the ministry. For many of the kids, this will change their life. Along with their new faith in God, this gives them hope for the future.
While time in the woodshop was great, I think the most meaningful connections were made when a few teenagers on the trip (Grant Cleveland and Madison Wrobleski) spent time sitting outside, just talking with their Ugandan brothers and sisters. There were many times I would look over and see them deep in conversation. Not talking about woodworking at all – they were simply talking about life. They talked about their families, mental health struggles, the love of the staff at Fathers Arise and about how God is in control.
On our last day at the woodshop we all came together to complete a project I had them start the first day. On the first day, I cut several small rectangular blocks and I gave one to each kid. I told them to keep them and to write some truths about themselves on the blocks throughout the week. I told them to write things about themselves that they are proud of and also to write things that can’t ever change.
On our last afternoon in the woodshop, we all gathered in their main living area and I asked them to get their blocks. I brought out a cross I had cut out – it measured about 18” across by 30” tall. As I brought the cross out, we all talked about what the cross meant to them. We talked about the story the cross told – a story of heartache and beatings as a blood covered Jesus carried his cross down the road – a story of redemption and a love we can’t fully comprehend as Jesus died for us.
After talking about the story of the cross, we talked about everyone’s individual story; we talked about the parts of their story they chose to write on their blocks. Then, I had them all write the phrase, “I am great” on their blocks. I explained that they are all great young men and women simply because they were created in the image of the great I Am. I let them know that there is nothing they can do to change that – it doesn’t matter what they have done or what has been done to them – they simply cannot change the fact the God created them to be exactly who they are.
Then I had them come up one by one and we glued their blocks onto the cross. I let them know that the cross connects all of us. Each and every kid at Fathers Arise is important enough to be so deeply loved by God that their story is also part of Jesus’ story.
Before we finished for the day, I told them that they are all officially part of the Love Your Neighbor team. I told them that their job is to share the same story with every young man and young woman that walks through the gates at the Fathers Arise shelter. They are to explain how each person’s story is also part of Jesus’ story and keep adding new blocks to the cross. I can’t wait to see what the cross looks like once it’s full of the stories of our Ugandan family.
It is always sad to leave after such a great trip and meaningful connections are made. But, we are fortunate enough to live in a world connected by technology. So, in the month since we’ve been back home, the kids that have access to technology have been sending pictures of their new projects and messages telling us of their future plans and how they are doing.
As always, I want to say a huge thank you to everyone that supported this trip through donations and prayer. Without your generous, caring hearts trips like this wouldn’t be possible. And, just a reminder…what I told the young men and women at Fathers Arise also applies to all of you. You are great. You are great simply because you were created in the image of the great I Am – never forget that.
Yagala Mulilwanawo -Love Your Neighbor
Team members on this trip: Grant and Jonathan Cleveland, Caitlin Garrett, Cindy Limbrick, Laura and Leah Shorey, Luke and Madison Wrobleski