How do you measure the success of a short term mission team? In the first two weeks of July my wife Janice and I were leading my 14th short term mission team, our third in Uganda. There were 24 of us, from our church Fitzroy, back in Belfast. We had an age range from teens to 60s. We were working in a Primary School, that Fitzroy had funded the building of, on the edge of Arua, on the very edge of north western Uganda.
For some of us it was our second, third and fourth trip to Onialeku Primary School. We know staff and pupils. Our Church sponsors 70 of the children. It is like the other half of our church family. This was part of our reasoning for the project. We did not want to be sending money, and Fitzroy gives generously, to projects that we knew nothing about. We didn’t want to be just the giver. We wanted to partner in a way that we would receive. We wanted mutual mission, mutual fellowship and mutual discipleship.
We were on site at Onialeku for nine days. Well, a hastily called council election did give us a day off where we visited another school and two other projects in the Arua area. The visit to the other school, Wandi Progressive Secondary School was so that we could visit three of our Onialeku alumni who we now continue to sponsor through secondary school.
Anyway, on site at Onialeku we did a wide variety of activities. Some of our teachers took classes, bringing a different angle into teaching English, the national language in Uganda. We had a Children’s Bible club every morning, we taught an I Am Girl course that helps with sexual health education, there was a Christianity Explored Course, we taught knitting, guitar and played board games and lego as well as sport and just hanging out. We also encouraged our teachers.
It is hard to know what you achieve in a week. Some would say, not much. I do not believe that. I hear the children shouting back at me the things we have shared over these last years. They soak up the entire experience. Indeed the entire experience might be more important than the specifics. After all Janice always tells us that turning up is enough!
During the trip, two comments from Africans caught my attention and encouraged my heart. Lydia, a Kenyan and Biblica Rep for East Africa, who spent a few days with us, told me that these children would never ever forget the puppet show version of parable for the House On the Rock. In his closing speech, Pastor David, overseer of the school and our partnership, mentioned how our team reached everyone in the school.
That is one of the ways that I judge our impact. A school community in Uganda, and indeed anywhere, has a myriad of members. As I, as an overseeing leader, watched this week I was proud of how our team greeted and loved every single player on that campus. The cooks, ululating every time we drove on site, the old man who cleans the ground around the gate and blew us out on a traditional instrument, the guys building the wash room, to every teacher and child. Not one was given less importance.
As I put it, in a humorous poem for the final night concert:
"As I looked across the playground
Watched each one of you in your spot
Leaving the lavish love of Jesus
Whether you knew it or not.”
That moves us seamlessly into the other thing that I judge the success of the team on. That every member of the team finds their place and gives their all. This year’s team was the most varied team in age, personality, experience and gifting that I had ever been on. The thrill for me on the last day was knowing that not one of them felt like a spare part, that everyone of them found their spot, their role, and lived nine days of “life in all its fulness”… the verse that the children of Onialeku shout at me endlessly… “10:10… Amen!”
I did talk about mutual mission, fellowship and discipleship. Again, I am encouraged. Our team have been WhatsApping their initial feelings, arriving home. I am confident that a team who gave their all, to all of those that they were with, will have been impacted spiritually, and in so many other ways, by the experience. I believe that the transformative God at the heart of our giving, will be the same transformative God in own hearts. I know that the Spirit is making a mark on mine… but that might be for another blog!