Posted by Tim on 15th August 2011
I spent a year in Uganda working with a mission agency after university, with the aim of considering longer term mission work. I thought I had an idea of what life in Africa could be like, but my expectations were wildly misplaced! I had the opportunity to go as part of a team, but as I had significant other overseas travel experience, the agency were happy for me to go out on my own and “tag” onto another team already in place.
Looking back, my faith was very shaky at that time, but I was certainly not aware of it. Once I was resident in my first location, the loneliness of mission work set in and I felt totally isolated, despite there being lots of people around, both African and from overseas. I missed my life in the UK – my family, being able to go out for a drink with friends and also playing sport, especially as women taking part in sport was frowned upon by those around me. I was told that I could not wear trousers as it was not culturally appropriate and I really fought this rule – I simply couldn’t understand how this might upset people, despite being told that it would! On the back of this, my faith faltered and I realised later that this was because I had always used friends and family to prop up my faith rather than relying solely on God. I simply wanted to go home! Thankfully however, I am stubborn and refused to give up. I rode the loneliness out and I also had friends kindly organise to come out and visit me which was a massive lifeline.
After 4 months I moved to a different location and found myself with more emotional support from other mission workers around me. My faith started to recover and I felt a little more settled. However, I found myself time after time questioning the long term beliefs of the African women around me – I couldn’t understand why they would be happy to be so subservient to men…. My western views often caused upset and anger from those around me.
Over the final six months, I took part in a biblical foundations course and God spent significant time putting my faith back together, for which I will always put as my major lesson from the trip, learning to rely solely on God and nothing else. Once that foundation was in place, I found I could withstand so much more. However, being forced to preach most weeks was very difficult, as I never felt called to preach and I found this very stressful.
Looking back over the time I spent away I am not sure that I was a blessing to those around me……. I clashed with the culture, did not enjoy the subservient role that women are obliged to take and generally missed being at home.
Some would therefore see this year away as a failure.
However, God used the time to rebuild my faith, for which I will be forever grateful, and I have also developed a passion for the African culture and country. I have subsequently come home to be involved in financially supporting mission as well as understanding how difficult mission workers can find things whilst away, hence my involvement in Syzygy. I would therefore not say that the experience was a “failure”, just a massive learning experience as well as strengthening my faith hugely over the time.
Charlotte Wright is a stockbroker who is Chair of the Syzygy Trustees.