Expectation vs. Reality- Celebrating Year 1 in Uganda

Murchison Falls




So, November was the anniversary of our first year living in Uganda. In reflection, I would say that this past year was… interesting, unexpected in many ways, fun, challenging, tiring, surprising and good. I have felt called to the nations since I was 16 and after 10 years I finally moved here with my husband, my dog and 10 years of expectations of what its like to live life over here. So here we go… my list of expectations and realities. 

Expectation #1: I will live in a hut in the middle of the bush and love it.

Reality #1: I live in a mid-sized city and though there are huts around me if I lived in one I would freak everyone out. So I live in a house that looks surprisingly American with running water and power… most of the time.

Expectation #2: I will cry all the time because of my heart breaking for these desperate people, orphaned children and war torn culture.

Reality #2: I do cry, but not as often as I thought. Sometimes it truly is because God breaks my heart for someone. And sometimes it is entirely selfish in nature due to tiredness, our neighbor’s loud music, or being overwhelmed with things to do. (that’s right, I am still selfish, even Paul was a work in progress… right?)

Expectation #3: I will not be able to eat any red meat because all the meat will be from an outdoor butcher which is gross.

Reality #3: It took 1 month to realize that I like meat to much to give it up. Turns out you ask around to find out who the good butcher is, go to him early in the morning when its still cool and buy your 4lbs of beef for $10 and you’re good to go.

Expectation #4: I will only be able to eat fish because there are so many fisherman around from the nearby lakes I will know that its fresh.

Reality #4: The fish from the main market in Gulu is caught in the capital and then takes a 6 hour unrefridgerated bus ride up to Gulu where it is sold that day…. we still eat it anyways.

Expectation #5: I will have several times where I get “culture shock” and something will totally freak me out about the new culture I am in.

Reality #5: I got culture shock, but it was shock at the other westerners! Turns out you have a lot more grace for the culture you are called to, but when another westerner’s attitude butts up against yours it really freaks you out.

Expectation #6: In the first year, I will spend a few months setting up my house and then all of my time just hanging out with people learning language.

Reality #6: I spent months 1-5 setting up the house, months 5-8 establishing an NGO so that I can actually work here legally, months 8-12 getting work visas so that I can be allowed to run the NGO I just set up. We did learn a good chunk of language, by the grace of God, but we also spent 1 week of every month since we got here taking the 6 hour bus ride to Kampala, spending 2-3 days walking paperwork from one window to another at immigration and then taking the 6 hour bus ride back home.

Expectation #7: I will spend a lot of my day time coaching people in their small group leading and discipling them.

Reality #7: This is Africa! A large part of my day (3-5 hours) is spent on cleaning the house, preparing food, going to the market, washing dishes, etc. I have no car, no microwave, no pre-packaged/frozen food (unless I make it myself). We have 12 hours of daylight all year round and you can’t be out at night by yourself so that leaves me with 9-7 hours of “work” if I choose not to eat lunch. In Africa time is not a rigid concept so my discipling appointment of “I’ll come to your house at 3” often will be a “oh, she has gone to the village today” or “oh, she is still with X person in town”. The discipleship talks eventually happen but they come on a much different timetable.

Expectation #8: I will work a 40 hour work week like I did back in the states.

Reality #8: When I had a “typical job” in America, I knew when I was finished. When I left work, I was done. Yes, sometimes I had to get on a conference call or do some spreadsheet from home but I knew that that was work.

Can anyone tell me how to quantify “ministry” or “language learning” or “culture learning”? NO! The reality is that these things are harder to think of as black and white, as work and not work. If I am chopping vegetables for dinner while listening to an audio recording of my language lessons, is that work? If I stop talking in the local language to ask in English about a cultural norm, is that work? If I spend an hour in prayer over the nation, is that ministry? So, some weeks you work 40 hours, some you work 60 and some you work 30… but you actually have no idea and hope that God is going to make something out of what you have. There were a lot of self pep-talks of “Colleen, you did the best that you could today and that’s all you could do.” Hopefully in the coming year I will get a better handle on it… or stop caring. 😉

Expectation #9: I will help start an obedience based bible study with some of the people I meet around town in their local language and the people in that one will start their own bible studies and so on.

Reality #9 and this one’s pretty cool: I did actually manage to start 2 bible studies. One with my house helpers and language teachers in the local language (broken and sad as it was)…. which I thought was useless until everything went right (thank you, Holy Spirit!) . My language teacher received salvation, attended a discipleship school and is now involved in a bible study he started himself and a growing hospital ministry! If you want to hear about the rest of that bible study members you can read it HERE. The 2nd bible study I started was in English with our church’s worship team. Four of the members from that bible study have started at least 1 additional group in their own neighborhoods, are rotating the leadership of that bible study and are practicing obedience based discipleship!

So… no, this year did not look like I expected, but I got to see God move in some amazing ways through my biggest inadequacies and that’s pretty cool. For the moment, I am looking forward to what he plans to do with me in the coming year and I am trying to not place too many expectations on it.

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