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A year ago this time, I was packing my bags preparing for a two-week pilgrimage to Uganda. September 2008, marked my first time stepping on the continent of Africa. As my sister’s pilgrim pills instructed, I kissed the ground. I was in Africa!

My time in Uganda changed me, and not in the ways one from a 1/3 world country would expect or the cliché ways (though very real) we tend to reflect upon our experiences. 

Yes, I saw realities unlike my own here in Nashville. I encountered in your face poverty, unlike the poverty in Nashville I have the privilege of ignoring. Yes, there were moments of being completely overwhelmed by the deep joy and hospitality that greeted me in some of the most “unlikely” of places. I saw children having to work in horrible conditions to pay for an education and uniforms.  I had conversations with people who appreciated the opportunity to share their thoughts about political corruption and injustices created by people’s abuse of power in Uganda. Oh, and you better believe I experienced being scammed by a bus ticket salesman who really took advantage of my lack of knowledge regarding the transport system in Kigali. And yes, I am sure in some way these experiences made their way into my soul preparing the way of the Lord. No doubt. It is all apart of the journey.

However when I looked at my months of journal entries after my pilgrimage to Uganda, these are not the changes I write about or focus on. My journal entries bear witness to other changes of perspective, desires, heart, hopes and dreams. These reflections surprised me.

It is fair to say before making my way to Uganda, I had become a billboard for all organizations in the USA trying to create a better world on the continent of Africa. To be fair, most of the organizations I connected myself to were & are doing some good things on the continent and had a clear understanding that Africa is not a country but a continent. They consist of people who have hearts inflamed with love for the people and communities they are connected to in various countries and longing for justice. Everyone just trying to do the best they can and be who they have been inspired to be.

When I returned, however, I began to pull some of the shirts off.  After meeting Ugandan visionaries, taking time to listen to the hopes they have for their country and glimpsing the ways they were creating a better world for people (sometimes without any financial support), something in me began to change.  I became a bit disenchanted with and by the work of some non-profits based in the USA, the narratives some Western organizations were sharing of countries in Africa, the Hollywood sexy nature of our campaigns telling the horrific stories of children, women and men specifically in East Africa (“by any means necessary”, right?) and this savior-like complex that always seems to make it’s way into folks like myself. 

Something began to stink a little. The fumes led me to being a bit depressed, easily impatient, quick to unholy judgment, skeptical, more intentional about how I choose to spend my energy, time and small amount of funds, and hungry to just get back to Africa. Yes, I have joined the huge chorus of others who sing, “I love Africa!”

When I got back, two of my friends began to talk a lot about this calling God had placed in their hearts and a movement they had been inspired to invite others into. It is a movement shaped by their faith, experiences and a conversation with an amazing leader/visionary/heart in South Africa. A movement of inviting people into community through learning the stories of people and joining together in prayer. They are extending an invitation for people of faith in the USA to begin praying with, instead of for, our brothers and sisters in Africa we are called to love.  A movement for us to learn first, enter into prayer with, and allow any action to flow from what we learn through the stories we share and prayers we pray together.

As I watched their journey unfold and the movement take shape, a sweet aroma filled the air I was breathing again. Here was another movement, like Global Support Mission and the Malawi Connection of Belmont UMC, that resonated deeply with how I sensed God was calling me to be, capturing the spirit of Ubuntu which had intrigued me since 2002.  Here was a group of people from the USA presenting a narrative of what I had experienced while on the continent and something that tapped into the core of my very being, inviting me to be bold enough to believe that prayer is a great gift that has the power to give birth to real change.  Here was another movement that dared to recognize God as the source of all transformation and love realized in the world.

Uganda, South Africa and Swaziland changed me, and are still changing me.

In many ways the people, conversations and experiences I shared there, have opened me up to a new way of existing in the world. I see differently, hear differently and move differently in the world. The land and the people have offered me new ways of praying, loving, enjoying life, fighting for justice, advocating on behalf of people who are marginalized and/or ignored, and acknowledging God at work in the world and in the daily life I live. At best, when I remember, the journey has taught me how to daily live a life of gratitude wherever I am.

We are a forgetful people, and I have been prone to forget a time or two. I am thankful for good storytellers, reminding me of who I am now and who I am being called to be in the world.

I am thankful for story. I am thankful for memory. I am thankful for prayer. I am thankful for Uganda. I am thankful for Nashville, my home.

sharing the water I gave him with his sistersunset on lake bBreakdance Project Uganda