I have previously been on several short term mission trips to Mongolia, but in November last year I went somewhere very different – Uganda – and once again, learned so much from my time away. I spent two weeks there working with James Gibson, who has been in Kampala for over 3 years now, with his wife, Claire, and three gorgeous girls, Ruby, Jessica and Florence. You will no doubt have read about the Gibsons in previous newsletters but, briefly, James is working at the Vet School in Kampala, based at Makrere University, and Claire is a head teacher at an international school.
I had never actually met them when, early in 2015, I sent James what must have seemed a fairly random email saying that I felt that God was telling me to offer to go and help him for a couple of weeks if that would be useful. He said yes, and so in November 2015 I found myself landing at Entebbe airport, just to the south of Kampala. Although by this point I had met the Gibsons at the VCF conference at the Hayes, I still had very little idea what I would be doing. For me, this was very much out of my comfort zone. Like many vets, I’m quite organised, task driven, and like to have things structured, and planned out. I was very aware when planning my trip that God was asking me to trust Him with the details, and to simply make myself available to do His will.
I learned very quickly that in Uganda, as in many African countries, structure and planning just don’t really work! Even when we thought we had plans, they invariably changed, but God’s timing was always perfect. Uganda is a beautiful country, with some amazing countryside, lovely warm weather, and great people. There are however huge needs there, and many problems with corruption, and unfortunately this is very evident at the vet school which has very poorly equipped facilities. The students I met were all so keen to learn, and very appreciative of James’s input with the teaching, especially on the practical side.
I spent the first few days in Kampala, getting to know the Gibsons, helping with some practical teaching at the University, and preparing for the trip James had organised for the next week. We took six final year students away for 5 days, and were hugely blessed to have an American Vet Nurse, Emily, come along with us. As all vets know, it is the nurses who keep us organised, know where things are when we can’t find them, and make sure we are well supplied with food and caffeine at regular intervals! We spent a couple of days in Jinja, a small town a couple of hours from Kampala, where we stayed with a lady who rescues stray dogs, then rehomes them once they are neutered and vaccinated. The students get very little practical experience, and so this trip was a fantastic opportunity for them to learn. We went through basic clinical examinations, anaesthetic preparation and monitoring, as well as the castrations and spays. It was a real eye opener to realise just how little experience they had, especially compared to students at an equivalent stage over here. After Jinja, we moved on to Soroti, several hours further north, where we stayed with an American vet and his wife. There we did several more bitch spays, as well as a few pig castrations, and then goat castrations, by which time it was pretty much dark! I have to admit that my input with the pigs and goats was pretty minimal and it did nothing to tempt me into farm animal practice ☺ It was hugely rewarding to see how much the students learned, how hard they worked, and how much they supported each other and worked together as a team.
As well as the clinical aspects of the trip, it was a great opportunity to get to know the students, and to witness to them. Some of them were committed Christians, some just seeking, and one had a Muslim background. James always makes it clear to the students who go on these trips that there will be bible study and discussion, and he sees it as a key aspect of the time away. The hours spent in the car travelling were a chance to chat about Ugandan culture, their experience of church, and to share some of the differences between being a vet student in the UK, and Uganda. I really loved these chats, and getting to know the students better. In the evenings, we watched a Christian film, had bible studies and discussions, and whilst in Soroti, went to a church service where the Vet we were staying with was preaching. The students were all really struck by how faithfully the bible was taught, and we had a really good discussion the next evening about the need to study Scripture for ourselves, and to know it well. There is a big problem with false teaching in Uganda, especially Kampala, and many University students are easily swayed by the seemingly attractive teachings of a big city church which unfortunately is not biblical. It was a privilege to be able to talk to the students about the bible, the truth of the gospel, and to help them think about what to look for when finding a church. I was very challenged by my attitude to the bible, and also by what a responsibility I have, as a youth leader in my church, to equip the young people I teach to handle scripture for themselves.
So what did I learn? As with my trips to Mongolia, I was reminded of the unity we have with Christians around the world, and how special it is to worship, and pray, with people of other nationalities. I had my eyes opened to the dangers of false teaching, and as I have already said, was very challenged about how much of a priority God’s Word is in my life. I learned (not for the first time!) that God is totally trustworthy, and even when we don’t know what’s going to happen, He has it under perfect control. I was challenged about how task driven I am, and how easy it is to measure our worth by how much we do, and what we achieve. In Uganda I had days when I wasn’t that busy, and it was good to slow down, to spend time with God, to read and to think about the fact that my identity is totally secure in Christ.
I can’t end this without saying how grateful I am to the Gibsons, for their hospitality, and how welcome they made me. I was made to feel like one of the family, and felt very at home there. I had lots of fun with the girls, and with their incredibly cute (and quite naughty!) puppy, ‘Captain’. It was good to get to know the family better, and to understand more of some of the day to day difficulties and challenges they face. I came home feeling far better informed about how I can be praying for them.
So, why not think about short term mission? There are so many opportunities available. The important thing to think and pray about is why you want to go. For me, short term mission is all about serving – serving God, serving the local people, and serving the long term missionaries. It is so easy to go with ideas about what might happen, what we might learn, what we are going to do, what we are going to teach the students (or whoever else we’re working with). But for me, it is so important to be willing to lay these ideas aside, and just to be willing to be led by the Holy Spirit. It’s not easy to do this. Our Western mind set tends to be all about ‘doing’, and not about ‘being’. But I have found time and time again, that when I step out of my comfort zone, and am simply willing to allow God to use me, then that is when God has really opened my eyes to how He is at work.