Wow…what a day.
Craziest story: my home church in Lubbock, TX has had missionaries over in Eastern Uganda ever since before I was born. I have known about all of the work they’ve been doing in Mbale and I have had close friends who have lived over there (including my best friend who lived there for a year). In fact, I would say that my heart for Uganda began when I was a little girl because of the work that my home church has been doing there for so many years.
Before this trip, I had looked to see where we would be living in comparison to Mbale and it was basically on the other side of the country. So I was a little bummed that there was probably no way that I would be able to make it over there to see any of them.
At dinner last night, I heard Lonnie and Bobby talking about wanting to go visit some people in the Mbale district, which got me kinda excited because I knew how close that was to where so many of my friends had lived (and were currently living!). As the conversation progressed throughout the night, I heard them talking about how the people they were wanting to meet are some people who have a training school for church planters from a Church of Christ, which got me even more interested, because I knew that’s what my Texas church was involved in. And when Lonnie said the guy’s name was Shawn, I was like, “uhhh…you’re not talking about Shawn Tyler, are you?!”…and yes, you guessed it…it was the exact same group of people that my home church from Texas has been supporting for almost 30 years…my FAMILY from childhood.
So long story short: we headed to Mbale today to meet with people I have known since I was born. It was an insane 8-hour trip to get there, but we had no idea how worth it that trip would be.
We arrived in Mbale at around 5:00 PM and went straight to Shawn and Linda Tyler’s house to meet with them. It was just so great to see them again. I got caught up on all of the happenings with the missionaries from my home church, and also just got to catch up on life with them. But pretty much as soon as we sat down in their living room, Bobby started grilling Shawn with questions. J It was unbelievable how much helpful information, advice, and questions Shawn was able to shoot back at us. Soon many other members of their team arrived (including Philip Sharo, who is another guy that I’ve heard about for years but never had a chance to meet) and we had an amaaaaazing Texas barbecue meal! They totally spoiled us with barbecue beef, cole slaw, and potato salad…and don’t forget the sweet tea! It’s like we had been temporarily transported back home…so great. And then chocolate cake and coffee for dessert. We tried to soak in every morsel of food, because we sure aren’t typically eating like that!
The rest of the night was spent in their living room and we were soaking up LOADS of information from their team. They had so much helpful advice and wisdom to share with us. Shawn and Linda have been doing ministry in East Africa for 28 years, so it is crazy how much they have learned in their time here. They are a super well-oiled machine. They have 3 permanent families along with about 4 singles here working with them along with interns and other short-term visitors. They have 3 major ministries along with lots of other small side ministries. They have been part of planting hundreds of churches in Uganda, Kenya, and Sudan. It’s amazing how much God has done through them…and it’s interesting because I’ve heard about all of these different ministries since I was a little girl, but it’s not until I’m here and seeing it in this culture that I can really understand how awesome they are. We have so, so much to learn from them. A few specific things I will take from tonight (among hundreds…):
- We’ve heard about (and seen) the high population of children here, but we were told that 75% of Ugandans are under the age of 20! That’s crazy…but it means that the need for people to reach the children and youth of this country is absolutely vital.
- Islam has targeted Uganda as one of its main focuses. And it is systematically taking over villages and towns by building all sorts of infrastructure (schools, stores, restaurants, etc) in order to bring people in. There is a major need for people to come and fight the infiltration of Islam in this country.
- Don’t limit God by your plans. This was said by someone on the Mbale team tonight. We come in to mission work – or ANY work for that matter – with all of these plans on how long and what we’ll do and what it will look like when it’s done and then God will do all kinds of things that take us away from our “plans”. We have to be so open to that. And we have to stop planning in a way that doesn’t allow for flexibility. You will often end up doing things you didn’t think you’d be doing and the end “product” ends up looking totally different than what you’d imagined. But God’s ways are so much higher and greater than our own.
I was starting to go down a certain way of thought in my own personal philosophy of missions before this trip, and I would say that my way of thinking was absolutely challenged tonight. It’s hard to argue with people who have been doing this for 30 years. And it’s even harder to not get FIRED UP after listening to them for 4 hours share their vision for this country. We were so encouraged and challenged by our time with them. In fact, Bobby and Lonnie want Matt, Amy, and I to come back at some point and spend more time with them, just soaking up everything we possibly can. I think it’s safe to say that if Uganda is where Harpeth decides to plant itself, we will be closely working with the missionaries in Mbale, no matter what region we may be planted. They know what they are doing and as Elias (our driver) said after our time with them: “They know Africa”.
It’s just SO CRAZY to see my worlds colliding in this way. My church in Lubbock, TX meeting up with my church in Franklin, TN and now talking about potential partnership in a little country in East Africa…it’s just totally crazy to me.
We stayed up talking to them until after midnight…there’s SO much to digest and to think about after tonight’s discussion. I’m hoping that sleep won’t be TOO hard to come by tonight…