J Walking

J Walking

Back to Uganda – getting LOST?

I’m sitting in a London hotel room having had a nice Lodon sleep after a nice London dinner. I am out of my skin excited about going home and seeing my family – I literally can’t wait.
But there is a huge part of me that wants to turn around and go back to Uganda.
This is not something I could have predicted. Then again the whole trip was thoroughly unpredictable. I didn’t think I’d spend the whole time in and around Kampala, I had never heard of that hospital I discovered, and I never guessed I’d be playing balloons with kids and parents in a horrifying cancer ward.
But I want to go back. I mean I want to go home. I so want to go home. But I don’t want to be back in Western culture. I don’t want to be back in this place where there is so much of everything that we really can make God optional.
Within 200 steps of this quiet little hotel where I am staying there are at least four bakeries, six restaurants, two pharmacies, one real estate office, and on and on and on. Suddenly newspapers are everywhere with their sensational – and frankly mostly meaningless – headlines. Suddenly, with Internet access back to ‘normal’ I can tour the news much more quickly and read blogs much more easily. But there is so little I can bear to read. I’m supposed to be finishing up an oped on evangelicals in politics for the Washington Post and I am struggling to write anything. I know this is just called culture shock. I know it will fade.
But I don’t want it to fade.
When I left Uganda yesterday, a thought hit me. For the days that I was there I was living a life that was really, truly worth living. Or perhaps I should say I was living a life that I think honored God. Serving others and helping others is that kind of life.
I know, I know that that doesn’t have to end in Uganda. I don’t have to head back home and lose all of that spirit. I know that a life that honors God doesn’t just happen in Kampala’s slums.
But I don’t want to be back in this world of temptations… temptations to be majorly focused on minor things, temptations to fill my time and my life and my mind with idle things, temptations to lose the reality of God in the middle of our tidal wave of plenty.
I haven’t watched LOST for a few weeks now – and am not particularly interested in seeing it again (though I know that will change very quickly). The last episode I saw was the first one; the one that showed Hurley back in a mental institution.
I wonder if the whole point of the show is far less than we imagine it to be. I wonder if the greatest point of the show is simply this – when stripped of their goods and their comforts, this group of people come alive. When they have nothing they find everything. I wonder if the whole point of the show is simply that – they think they are lost but more than anything they are finding themselves. All of the other stuff – the crazy visions and weird people and bizarre happenings just provide for interesting context.
And I think – and I know I am probably completely off on all of this stuff – that perhaps the reason some want to go back is because they want to live again. Either that or it is really Atlantis or the eternal home of the Easter bunny.
While there I finished the book on Bono. In the mid-80s we went to Ethiopia with his wife Ali to work in the camps where the starving and dying came to find food. Of their return to Europe from the time in the camps he said:


“I remember Ali and myself flying back from Africa the first time. And the first few days in Europe again, it was culture shock. We had a lot more difficulty reentering than we had landing in Africa, and figuring that out. We said to each other, ‘We’ll never forget what we’ve been through.’ But we did. We got on with our lives. When we said grace at the dinner tables, we said it a little stronger. We meant it. Food tasted a little more. But you just get on with your life, and you slowly find a place to put Africa, this beautiful, shining continent with all its ups and downs. Occasionally, you’d take it out, you’d look at it again, and then you’d put it back in that safer place called distance and time.”

Of course Bono has taken Africa down off of that shelf and he is living for Africa more than ever before.
I just hope and pray that I won’t forget… that might be a lot easier to do in Uganda.

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posted February 19, 2008 at 7:12 am

You’d be surprised.
After a while it might be easy to forget even in Uganda. We’ve been in Ghana for almost two years. We went through phases of culture shock, from feeling the “highs” you’re experiencing right now to a desperate desire to get out of here. We’ve settled down into a wonderful feeling of home. But it gets easier to ignore the need here, just like we tend to ignore the needs back home. In fact, there is a whole expat community who has built their existence on pretending the hardships don’t exist. The avoid the hospitals and the slums and build high compound walls and hire guards. They import food from home and only associate with each other. And while it is easy to judge that, I feel the temptation every day of joining their ranks. I feel like I deserve the comforts of home for having given them up.
I guess I’m telling you this because I’m thinking about returning home and what our experience here means, as you are. It’s just a reminder that the act of surrender is a daily one despite your circumstances.

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posted February 19, 2008 at 8:09 am

i feel like this anytime i do anything “team building”, “serving”, “mission trips” whatever. what will i do with the information after? of all the bloggers posts that i have read today, you seem to be the only one who is feeling the pull to go back. good luck. i will look forward to watching your journey :)

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posted February 19, 2008 at 11:57 am

I visit an orphanage in Mexico 9-10 weekends per year. It’s not as intense (from what I’ve heard, Mexico is paradise compared to Uganda), but that sense of coming back to a place that has everything from a place that needs everything almost always hits me by the time I’ve driven a mile or two into San Diego…

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Larry Parker

posted February 19, 2008 at 1:42 pm

**I wonder if the whole point of the show is far less than we imagine it to be. I wonder if the greatest point of the show is simply this – when stripped of their goods and their comforts, this group of people come alive. When they have nothing they find everything. I wonder if the whole point of the show is simply that – they think they are lost but more than anything they are finding themselves.**
Some (including me) might say that happens in depression or chronic disease as well, David.
(Full realization, of course, of your encounters with all those children with chronic diseases in Uganda …)

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posted February 19, 2008 at 4:28 pm

Great words new friend. We missed you! It sounds like you had some wonderful living experiences. Thanks for helping me put words to my emotions! H

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Marcia Erickson

posted February 20, 2008 at 1:02 am

I feel your pain David. With living in MN permanently and traveling to Haiti several times a year I always say I’m happiest at the airport. Either I’m in MN excited about going back to Haiti or I’m in Haiti excited about going back home.
I think you may have a couple places your heart calls home now.

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