Recently, Bayshore Baptist Church in Tampa, Fla., asked Karen Alford, CBF field personnel in Mbarara, Uganda, to contribute to a newsletter by responding to the following question: How do you retain your enthusiasm and optimistic attitude in a country with such overwhelming needs? Her response (in her own words) follows.
Well, that is certainly not a simple question. But a simple answer would be to say because I have the greatest job in the entire world.
But life is not always simple. I could say it’s because I am here to serve, and, while the challenges are many, when one is living out one’s calling one is reminded of God’s grace and peace that transcends daily suffering. That is also true. But that doesn’t always capture the day-to-day reality either.
Some of it is personality. I love the way of life here. I like the crazy driving, I like washing my dishes in an outside sink, I like using a traditional broom to sweep outside, and I like buying fruits and vegetables from the traditional markets and cooking from scratch.
I like the sense of satisfaction from finally figuring out a way to plug the hole in the bathroom window so the big hairy spiders from the banana plantation outside the window stop coming in because they are attracted to the water, but then crawl up my legs while I’m bathing to escape the sudden flooding of their world. I have a super great dog. I work with amazing staff who continually teach me anew what it means to put heart and soul into their work and live completely by faith.
I know that in some small way, we are improving the lives of people who have lost so much. And I know, slowly, I am learning better how to love.
But not every day. Some days, I’m just really really tired.
Some days, I am so over the constant attention of being one of the only Caucasians here, and dealing with the locals’ perceptions and projections of what they think it means to be white and American. Some days I’m overwhelmed by the suffering, the stories, the tears, the fistula mother who was brought straight from the border crossing to our clinic because of her fistula, but is desperate to get back to the transit center to see if any of her other family have showed up. She and her six children fled into the jungle in the middle of the night when their home was attacked and the father/husband was hacked to pieces before their eyes. In the ensuing terror and confusion, their village in flames, they all got separated and now she has no idea where they are. Her youngest is in the second grade and she can’t eat or sleep for constantly seeing his face in front of her, hearing his cries as they ran, and not knowing where he is or what has happened to him or her other children.
Some days I just want pizza.
But then my neighbor’s five-year-old makes a drawing of herself and her siblings playing with their white friend and colors my skin blue because she doesn’t know how else to draw a white person on white paper, and blue is her favorite color.
And on World Refugee Day, our fistula survivors gathered to dance in joyful celebration to witness to others their healing, their stories, and to let others know hope exists. They ended up being dropped from the program as there were other groups waiting to perform due to time constraints and, well, poor organization of the event. But rather than being disappointed, the mothers gathered around and hugged each other and us, and said they are happy to gather for any reason to be together with their fellow sisters, including the white “mzungu” whom they now consider part of their family.
And I remember I have the greatest job in the entire world!
To learn more about and support Karen’s ministry in Mbarara, Uganda, visit www.cbf.net/alford.