Have you ever traveled somewhere without doing any tourist activities or sight seeing? It’s a bit strange to think about, but one of the most authentic adventures I have ever had has been a trip to serve…and nothing more. During the summer of 2019 I traveled to Uganda with a group of 9 other women to the far reaches of the Bidi Bidi Refugee Camp in the northern part of the country almost to the border of South Sudan. It changed me forever. Adventure for a cause doesn’t have to mean you don’t get anything out of it! On the contrary, these types of trips can grow your heart BIG and are often the most authentic cultural experiences you can have while traveling.
The adventure began as we prepared ourselves and our hearts to go. We spent months as a team praying for the women we would be sharing life with, teaching the Bible to, and encouraging within the local church there. Our connection came through a wonderful ministry with great integrity and a focused mission called EmpowerOne. They provided us with training materials on the culture and what to expect within the camps. As we prepared our hearts to experience God in a new way, we also got lots of vaccines and perfected our packing skills. Because we would travel on a small aircraft we could only bring 33 pounds along with us to make sure we were safe. Thankfully I’ve always been a light packer, but my biggest challenge was the gifts I wanted to bring along for my translators which took up the most room!
The Adventure of Getting There
It was a LONG 24 hours to get to our destination, which included stops in Brussels, Kigali, and quick overnight sleep in a hotel in Entebbe. When we awoke in Entebbe we ate breakfast and then set off for the local airport. Did I mention the little aircraft? Eleven of us including the pilot took off from a dirt runway at Kajjansi airport and landed 90 minutes later in Arua where we met up with our hosts from EmpowerOne. They were amazing-always taking care of us, always knowing where to go and when, constantly asking how we were doing. Within that first 3 hour bumpy drive up to the camps they became our friends for life.
The Daily Adventure
Each of us women was given a separate container as a hotel room in the town of Yumbe that included a bed, desk, closet, and bathroom. As much as I wanted to have someone to talk to at night, I was grateful for the alone time to decompress after each day. The days were exhausting both physically and mentally, but the Spirit of the Lord sustained us. Every day was different, but had a similar feel to it. We traveled among the different districts within the camp to teach a women’s conference at various local churches during the morning hours. I did a teaching on the importance of learning the Bible for your own individual faith walk and not to rely only on the church. Later in the week I did a teaching on the Armor of God found in Scripture in Ephesians 6:10-20. Many of the women do not read, but I wanted to impress upon them how they can write the words of Scripture on their hearts to have forever. We also spent most afternoons visiting the temporary homes of the refugee families. It was humbling. It was awe inspiring. It was reality in a part of the world that is so far from us and so far from what we experience. The suffering is real and it is heavy, but I couldn’t help but experience joy. Many were encouraging ME as they praised the name of God and we celebrated with those who came to know the love of Christ for the first time.
The stories of the wonderful people we met is what made this adventure for a cause completely worth it. It was an absolute honor to listen to the stories of families who had fled the destruction of war and the real threat of loss of life for themselves and loved ones. Many did suffer loss during their exodus of South Sudan or Chad or Democratic Republic of Congo. They lost spouses, children, parents, co-workers, and neighbors. I worked hard not to show too much emotion in their presence, but it was hard not to be overwhelmed by the intense suffering and loss. These precious people had a family life like yours and mine. They had jobs and homes and things that they had to leave behind, often times in an instant. Praise God for a safe haven like Uganda and the Bidi Bidi Refugee camps. They don’t have much, but they do have safety and our team of women went to give hope in the most tangible way we could.
When is the Next Adventure for a Cause?
After 10 days of serving in the most culturally organic way possible, I knew I would go back. The plan was for me to go back summer of 2020, but then the global pandemic happened and the camp was closed-nobody in and nobody out. It’s a protection, really, because a virus like COVID-19 would sweep through a place like that and the population would never recover. So, it is with great anticipation that I will return next summer. It’s adventures like this I want our children to experience. My husband has done this trip 3 times and is scheduled to return in October 2020, but we shall see. Our children have interacted via WhatsApp and FaceTime with our friends on the ground there and desperately want to see for themselves. We are prayerfully considering when to take them. If there’s one thing we want our kids to know about travel, it’s that adventure for a cause is always worthwhile!