Missionary in Uganda

Life and love in Uganda

Shem and Catherine in 2005

I don’t know what it takes to be a good missionary, but I’m pretty sure I don’t have it.  Not in my own strength at least.  When I first came to Uganda, umpteen years ago, I thought I was going to save the world.  Wow, what a mistake that was.  Contrary to the photo above, Uganda life is not always photogenic and neither am I.  Two problems that made me dig deeper.

Maybe the problem was, I never really loved Uganda.  I loved the idea of Uganda.  Slashing through the jungle in a pith helmet, conversing with the natives in their “more difficult than Navajo” language, sharing the Gospel as they sat around the campfire in wide eyed wonder.  It was so not like that.

Uganda and God’s Anvil

Uganda hammered me over the head with my own inadequacies, then squeezed me with such longing to be a better person that I thought my heart would burst.  Then Uganda broke my heart and ground it to dust with all the things I just couldn’t change about this country and about myself.  I helplessly watched people die when I had spent so much time studying medicine.  Not bad people.  Not old people.  But real people that I knew and loved.  I watched them bleed to death, or suffocate, or writhe in agony or just plain stop breathing.

I couldn’t stand it any more.  People were dying like flies.  My super hero ego died as well.  I realized I had nothing left to give.

But I didn’t leave Uganda, I couldn’t. By now I was married here and my children’s faces looked like those I was ministering to.  I stayed, but I walled myself off and slowly became very, very angry.  The offense at this country left me with a wound that wouldn’t heal.  And because I couldn’t help it, I began to bleed on those around me.

I would love to tell you that after many tears, the day finally came when I received a moment of clarity and shed all the pain instantly.  I’m sure we could all use a lightening strike of revelation.  But that only happens in movies.  What I can tell you is, there is a God bigger than I am.  It’s not about trying harder, it’s about surrender.  I also learned that it’s not all about me.  What a relief that was.

I’ve had to forgive Uganda, forgive myself.  Of course all this began with the forgiveness only made possible through our Lord Jesus Christ.  It was like an onion that just kept peeling off sorrow, anger, self pity and regret.  But unlike an onion, as I finally draw close to the center, there really IS something there – someone.  A heavenly father who loves me unconditionally.  His idea of success is faithfulness.  When I stand before Him, I want Him to say, “Well done my good and faithful servant.”  That’s true success in any definition of the word.

Joy in the Journey

And now something surprising is happening.  Joy!  I never thought it was possible, but there you have it.  It’s not all the time and it’s still, all too often, a conscious decision.  But joy is there, in me, alive and growing.  And I am grateful.

So that’s what this blog is about.  It’s about the joy I find in everyday life here as a missionary in Uganda.  Notice I didn’t say a missionary to Uganda.  That’s because I think Uganda has taught me much more about God than I would have ever learned staying at home in Alaska.  God’s grace is in giving me a life worth living, whether its here – or anywhere.  That’s a gift my friend.  And that’s the gift I hope to share with you here in this blog.  So let’s relax and stop taking ourselves so seriously.  Laugh a little, its allowed.

Nambuya Efulasi and Catherine Mabongor

Nambuya Efulasi and Catherine Mabongor

The woman next to me in the photo is Efulasi and she loves me.  She is a woman of courage and is absolutely beautiful.  But I can also tell you that Efulasi is very stubborn.  She pestered me about replacing her broken reading glasses until I couldn’t take it any more.  I don’t know how old she is, I don’t think she does either.  But she has seen Uganda pass from colonial days under British rule through the turbulent times of Idi Amin’s reign of terror and now she sits with me under a tree near the church and allows her photo to be taken.


Have a great day and let me know what or who brings you joy.