I can say about twenty-five words in Lubwisi. I can say hello, goodbye, thank you. I can say chicken, cow, and goat. I’m a far cry from any sort of real conversation.
I think this is one of the biggest things I’ve realized, in these first few weeks in Uganda: the amount of time it would really take to become a part of this community. You can’t simply pop over the Rwenzoris from Fort Portal and start enchanting all the locals with your enthusiasm, your willingness to help, or your care for children or elderly people or pregnant women. No, it takes more than that. Because even if you’ve got the Lubwisi down, you’ve got an accent too; and do you really know this culture yet? Do you know why Bundibugyo is the way it is? Do you appreciate all the nuances of life here? And let’s not forget you’re a mzungu, a white person from a place very far away. Sit, sit and watch for a bit. Listen, listen a long time before you speak.
I watch my team walk this line, of learning this culture and valuing this culture and understanding that we bring all our own things to the table too, every day. They do it with grace. Because, Lord willing, we’ll be here for years. Maybe not these specific people, maybe not me—but this team. The good work that was started long before anyone from Serge showed up here in western Uganda, the work picked up by those first Serge missionaries more than twenty years ago and continued today, it will go on. For myself, it is my joy to watch and join in the work for this short summer. I learn my words and buy beans at the market and take walks down dirt roads on afternoons and greet the children who giggle at me. I stumble through all the greetings, and no one gives me anything less than a kind smile, even when I forget that “tulio” follows “mulumutia?” or somehow say “olayo” (good morning) at 6 p.m.
And I do get to dive right in. Yesterday afternoon, I sat in the Books4Bundi library, a lovely room with green shutters on the windows and shelves full of children’s books. Every afternoon, this room fills with children. They look through the stacks on the table and marvel at the pictures. And yesterday I got to sit in front of them and read one aloud, with the help of an amazing translator: “How to Make an Apple Pie and See the World.” It’s a story about a girl who goes all over the world to find ingredients for an apple pie: France for eggs, Sri Lanka for cinnamon, Italy for wheat, Vermont for apples. My mom read that book to me when I was little, and I smiled to share it with fifteen-ish Ugandan children and five missionary kids.
I’m pretty sure “pie” doesn’t translate into Lubwisi, so really, who knows what those lovely kiddos thought I was talking about. But they showed kindness to anything that may have appeared silly to them, and they sat and listened and looked at the pictures with big eyes and rapt attention. I’m an outsider, by way more than just the color of my skin, and there are many, many things I don’t know or understand about where they come from. But we can sit for an hour on a Tuesday afternoon, together, and get lost in a story.
After we finished the book, Alanna, a teammate and one of the teachers on the mission, took over to tell the Bible story for the day. (I get to do this next week!) The past few weeks of stories have taken us through creation, the fall, Cain and Abel, and Noah; this week we came to Abraham. My Bible calls this part of the story “the call of Abraham”—it’s when the Lord tells him to go, to leave his country and his kindred and his father’s house, to take his wife and his servants and all his animals to “the land that [the Lord] will show” him. So Abraham does it: he picks up and he goes, and then we get many chapters of Abraham and his household wandering. They come to a place, he builds an altar to God, they move on. Repeat.
I felt very little and very quiet, sitting there surrounded by children, on the floor of the library. It’s been a long time since I’ve heard this story. Abraham must have felt like a chicken with his head cut off sometimes. It must have felt just the most crazy to wander around building altars, wife and servants and bleating animals in tow, no matter who told him to. He must have wondered, sometimes, what in the world he’d got himself into. Was he really prepared for this? To be a stranger in a strange land, and not know anything, and perhaps appear perpetually silly to his household and anyone he met along the way? To not even know where he was going?
I’ve had no loudspeaker moment from God, and I don’t have animals or servants or family in tow. I’ve just got a borrowed trunk and a journal and dusty feet. But I take comfort in Abraham’s story as I walk through these days. God was with him, even when the directions given made no sense, even when he felt crazy, even when there were no directions. I walk forward in a similar fashion. Webale, thank you to the many Ugandans who smile at me and laugh with me when I stumble. Endless blessings on the teammates who show me around and talk me through the hard stuff. Praise God from whom all blessings flow.
No distrust made him [Abraham] waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised. // Romans 4:20-21