"There is war in Congo?"
The road to Gulu was full of potholes, a very hot sun and no air conditioning. It was a long and uncomfortable journey. We were hosting a visitor from Canada and wanted to share with him the beauty of northern Uganda. Getting out of Kampala and heading north was refreshing despite the long and very hot 8 hour journey.
On our way, we heard a loud "pop" and felt something was wrong with the vehicle. We pulled over to the side of the road, got out of the vehicle and assessed the damage. One of the rear tires had popped. We would need to change the tire. We opened the back door of the car and got the car jack out. As we were about to begin the work of changing the tire another vehicle pulled over to the side of the road just in front of ours. A man got out of the car, walked towards us and offered his help to change the tire. Before we knew what was happening this stranger was jacking up the car, taking off the old tire and and putting on the spare tire! He was moving so quickly. We wondered how this stranger could be so kind to us. We quietly whispered at how we should give him some finances to appreciate his assistance. He was literally doing everything. It was extremely hot and he was sweating quite a bit as he finished changing the tire. He stood up. We offered to give him some finances to appreciate his heroic support. He refused our offer. But he did accept a small bottle of water as it was quite hot and he had worked hard. After repeatedly thanking him for his help, we asked him where he was from and where he was heading. He shared with us that he was coming from Kampala and heading to back to his home country of DRC (Democratic Republic of Congo). We asked him what he had been doing in Uganda. He told us that he had fled his country for safety.
"They killed all my family. I have no one left back home. The rebels have killed everyone." My heart broke and I was in shock at his words... his pain. We didn't even know his name and he shared his pain so openly. We could see he was getting emotional and he wanted to hide his pain. He quickly thanked us for the water and got in his car and drove away.
I was speechless. My Ugandan friend that I work with was speechless. We stood there in shock for a few minutes before entering our car. When we did get back into the car, I sat in my seat and tears came to my eyes as I considered what this stranger has been through. He had lost all of his family and was clearly in so much pain. In the midst of all that he was experiencing he stopped and changed our car tire. He gave, was so kind and blessed us despite his pain. I quietly started crying in shock of his words and overwhelmed at his kindness. My Ugandan friend was also overwhelmed with emotion. The visitor we had looked at us blankly and said,
"There is war in Congo?" I felt frustrated and honestly angry at his question. Our brother's and sister's in DRC have been at war for many, many years. His ignorance frustrated me. I looked at him and said shortly,
"Yes. There has been war in DRC for many years."
Many times I have witnessed individuals and groups come to Uganda with little to no knowledge of the country's challenges or achievements. (This incident I've shared above is from a neighboring nation of Uganda so I should give him some grace right?) Some come with the perception that everyone in Uganda must be poor and live in grass thatch huts (myself included), gather water from a well, orphaned, sick or be facing other "devastating" challenges. One question that I hear often is, "Where will we stay? Are there hotels in Uganda???" Yes, there are hotels. There are big, beautiful expensive hotels like you may find in the west. There are also smaller, cheaper hotels that you would also find in the west. Others come with no clue of the war in northern Uganda. There are others that cannot comprehend that our Ugandan partners simply want the opportunity to stand in dignity and share their skills, knowledge and gifting with their own nation and beyond.
Here it is.... are you ready for it? Another way that we can serve in dignity.... are you ready?
Do Your Research.
I know, a shocker right? But you would be amazed at how many individuals, churches and groups that I've met along the way that have no clue of the country or people they are serving or partnering with. That ignorance causes so much pain for both parties involved.
How can we expect to be effective servants without understanding or trying to understand the history of the people we are engaging? How can can we expect long lasting positive impact without connecting and developing the incredible things that our brother's and sister's in Africa are ALREADY doing? How can we build relationships with each other if we have not taken time to learn, hear or open our eyes to see our flaws and perfections?
Get to know the nation and the people that you are going to serve. See the good not just the one sided negative narrative about the continent that you have heard or seen on television and media over and over again. Read a few books. Look up current news in the nation you are going to serve in to know what is happening. Find out who the current leader of the nation is and how they got there. Go on Google search and type in, "great things in _______" and see the GOOD in the nation you are going to.
I guarantee you that good things are happening in and through the people you are going to serve and partner with. This stranger that we met along the way that changed our tire was experiencing a lot of pain. That is true. But his story is not just a story of war. His story also has kindness and generosity. Try to see the whole picture not just a painful negative one. I also guarantee you that if you will allow your heart to be open you will actually learn from the people the you are suppose to be serving.