This past week was the culmination of a process that started nine years ago when I fell in love with Africa for the first time. It was during a college trip to South Africa in 2000 that I discovered the beauty, needs, and receptiveness of this vast continent. As I was about to graduate from college two years later, I began to make plans for a return trip to Africa. I had met a Pastor from Malawi at a conference who invited me to visit his church and to work with him at training pastors. Having talked to everyone I could about Africa, I kept hearing that their greatest need was for leadership training to help deepen the church. When my plans fell through, however, I took this as a sign that I needed to spend more time preparing for the work that I would one day do in Africa. Although I have been back one time since, this week’s pastors’ conference in Gulu, Northern Uganda, marked the beginning of my opportunity to fulfill the goal that began nearly a decade ago to help train people for ministry in Africa.
A wonderful week in Gulu, Northern Uganda, has kept me away from the web but now that I am back I have so many stories to tell. Let’s start with the trip up to Gulu. We were cruising along and around 40 kilometers from Gulu when all of the sudden our van lurched forward and with a loud thud. I looked up just in time to see a cow flying through the air and landing off to the side of the road. Screeching to a halt in one surreal moment the inescapable fact that we had just hit a cow set in quickly.
During my layover in Oxford I looked up a guy who I met last time I was in Kenya. Benny and I had become fast friends in Nairobi and kept in touch over email. Having since moved to England to pursue his studies, we were able to meet up for an afternoon. He drove me to Luten where he is currently living and on the way back I decided to ask him about his thoughts on the best ways to help Kenya. As he shared his insights with me, it occurred to me that we do not often stop to listen to the people we are trying to help.
Stepping off the plane into the Nairobi Airport seemed surreal. It is a place so far away yet after one trip here in the past it seem so familiar. I remember the unknowns surrounding our last trip here. Before I came as a visit and now I am returning as a welcomed guest. Rather than trying to figure out how to get a ride to a hotel, I scanned the signs being held up in the arrivals area until I saw “Welcome Andy Johnson” being held by the driver who had come for me. Helping to carry my bags, he led me to a gentleman by the name of David Kamatu who was to be my host.
I’m sitting in one of the most appropriate places to reflect on the power and influence of writing; under the shadow of two of the greatest writers of the last century, C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien. Overjoyed to find an empty table in the Rabbit Room at The Eagle & Child, I am enjoying a cup of tea and reveling in this place.
Sometimes I forget that life is not about me. Okay, most of the time. I was greatly regretting my agreement to carry a box of books with me to Uganda. After all, the rest of the time was going from San Diego straight to our final destination in Uganda while I had several places to stop in between. Carrying this box, in addition to my own luggage, is quite a feat.
While feeling sorry for myself it eventually occurred to me that this box of books is at the core of why I am going to Uganda in the first place. These books represent the opportunity to equip Ugandan pastors with some of the only training for preaching that have ever received. This helped remind me that this box and indeed this trip is not at all about me. I hope to never forget it.
“He’s someone who cares ridiculously much about the intimate details of our lives.” I overheard this statement from a girl sharing her faith with a friend at The Eagle & Child. Her expressed confidence in God’s concern for our best interests made me feel even more at home here at Oxford.
This place feels wonderfully familiar. Oxford is perhaps the closest place that I have to a home overseas. Flying across the Atlantic, bussing to Oxford, then walking down St. Giles Street to have tea in the Rabbit Room at The Eagle & Child all feels quite natural. I’m sure this is largely due to how long I have been here. I’d like to think though that it is linked to how long I have desired to someday study and live here. Meanwhile, I am thrilled to be here in a most fitting place to prepare my heart and mind for my upcoming time in Africa!
I was walking along Headington Road toward the city centre when a drunken man said hello and struck up a conversation with me. Amidst laughing my head off, here are a few of things that I remember him saying:
When I finally made my way through the long lines at customs, I walked through the welcoming area at London Heathrow right into a Starbucks. I guess we have globalization to thank for that and in this particular moment drinking an Americana in London was most welcome. So I guess the culture shock will have to wait for another day.
Perhaps you’ve heard by now that I’m heading back to East Africa so here is the story. A couple of months back I walked into the student lounge at Bethel Seminary and noticed a flyer about a trip to Uganda. Having visited and fallen in love with Uganda and the surrounding region several years ago, I was immediately intrigued. As I read more it seemed like the trip was actually designed specifically for me to be involved. So why am I going back to East Africa? I’m glad you asked. Here are the two primary reasons: