[Guest Post] My Journey to Uganda with Just Hope International
July 26, 2017
We welcome the Rev. Dr. Harold L. Martin, retired Elder and former District Superintendent in the United Methodist Church, to share about his experience traveling to Uganda with the Just Hope International team. He has served churches in the Nashville area, including Brentwood UMC as Pastor of Missions and Outreach. He resides in Hermitage, Tennessee.
In April 2017, I was given an opportunity to combine two developing interests that have consumed my time and passion for the past two years — photography and writing — through an invitation to join a 10-day Just Hope International project team traveling to Uganda, Africa.
We were at a refugee camp in the region of Adjumani in northern Uganda to conduct a one-day, Bible-based instructional workshop on agricultural techniques, followed by two days of field demonstration. Our Just Hope team, partnering with Peace International, witnessed a display of God’s wisdom and truth.
Building on the foundation of other organizations in the area, Just Hope seeks economic empowerment of individuals and families. Unlike others, its mission goes beyond just rescue and recovery of displaced people. On this particular trip, our goal was to restore to participants food security and income opportunity, by demonstrating a deliberate methodology which, if implemented, would offer maximum agricultural yields and could be easily learned as well as easily taught to others.
We worked closely with Peace International, an established nonprofit organization with a strong track record for successfully helping children and families experience peace and reconciliation after traumatic situations, in addition to facilitating community development through education and agricultural projects. We were joined in our activities by Sarah, a representative from the Ugandan Office of the Prime Minister, and John, a representative from the Ugandan Ministry of Agriculture.
At the refugee camp, we worked with both the Dinka and Nuer communities, the last of five communities we conducted trainings with in north central Uganda.
With both communities, I was reminded of how beautifully God takes what little we have and bring as our offering, and then turns it into plenty and uses it as part of God’s creative work in the world.
At the Nuer community site, some of our time went into preparing the necessary materials and gathering supplies for the work to be done. Stakes for marking boundaries with string had to be cut from branches, tools had to be repaired and water needed to be carried in five-gallon jerry cans from almost a quarter-mile away before our work could be completed. One of the Nuer teammates named Peter, who had a full-time job outside the camp, was instrumental in making things come together. Whatever we needed, Peter found a way to make it happen.
At the Dinka site, teammates consisted mostly of women, two men, and Pastor Simon. When we arrived the team had all the necessary tools and materials in place and were ready to start. The women pitched in from the very beginning and sang spiritual songs as they swung their hoes, digging into the ground, readying the soil for planting.
We worked with laughter, joy and a sense of God’s presence. And like God’s ever-faithful presence, even in the midst of our most dire circumstances, Just Hope’s vision is to be present with God’s people in a way that is hopeful, practical, and helpful.
In this way, we become witnesses of God’s provision by sharing a means for families and communities to provide sustenance for themselves. Is not this, then, part of what gives all of us a sense of self-worth and dignity? And at the end of the day, once our program is complete, Just Hope expects nothing in return.
At other times on our journey, I was again inspired by how God works in the lives of people in Uganda; my life will never be the same because of what I saw.
On our visit to the Nile River at the location of a river crossing dock, there we witnessed individuals and families fleeing into Uganda from South Sudan with only the possessions they carried in their hands, on their backs or balanced on top of their heads. They wore the blue bracelets on their wrists identifying them as new arrivals waiting for processing and were being ferry boated across the Nile to a newly opened refugee camp since existing ones were already overcrowded. They were experiencing the hospitality of the host country after having barely escaped famine and the violence of rebel armies and now they sought to rebuild their lives among others in similar circumstances.
In Adjumani, we felt the grace and love of God through the warm embrace we received. In turn, our team leader was very intentional about starting and ending our time with prayer at each village. The beginning prayer asked for the grace that all might be open to learning new truths, open to each other, open to God’s leading during our time together. God not only heard our prayers, but God honored them and granted our request beyond our greatest expectations.
The closing prayer prior to our departure was a prayer of thanksgiving for what God did do during our time together, thanksgiving for the new relationships among our brothers and sisters in Christ in Africa, and a request that God would continue to bless and multiply what was begun during our time together.
Perhaps one of my strongest takeaways was my observation that we left our new-found friends with a continued focus and hope in God’s future provision for them, and not with a sense of dependence on Just Hope.
It was evident that the participants appreciated the work of Just Hope International. It is also clear that Just Hope was able to achieve a successful outcome because of the efforts of our partner agency, the presence of government representatives, and a willingness of participant-refugees to continue to open themselves to the peace of God. Surely, the signs of God’s grace were present once more—a testament to God’s goodness. May the way of hope and peace allow future efforts to continue!