For the first half of 2016, I had the opportunity and privilege to work and serve as an architecture intern with Engineering Ministries International (EMI) in their Uganda office. In their own words, "EMI exists to transform lives by providing hope to the poorest of the poor. [They] are a Christian ministry that designs facilities that serve the poor in developing countries. These facilities (including hospitals, orphanages, schools, clean water projects and more) directly impact communities by meeting physical needs and communicating God's love in a practical way." Engineers, architects, surveyors, and construction managers from around the world come together through EMI as missionaries in their fields, partnering with ministries on the ground in countries in the majority of the world to quite literally "build" a world of hope.
My whole life, Mother Teresa has been one of my greatest inspirations and she played a major role in the fulfillment of my desire to live and serve as a missionary in Africa. Since the beginning of my faith journey, God has often used her to communicate His will and lead me in the direction He desires. I thought it was fitting, therefore, to begin this post with a quote of hers that I love. I believe so deeply in its truth, but also recognize how rare and difficult it is to find people, and to be people, who draw the circle of family wide. It was the EMI Uganda community, more than anyone else up to that point in my life, who showed me what it looks like to stretch my concept of family. They also showed me examples of strong family units, both in their messiness and their beauty, and I knew it was through the love learned and taught in these individual families that they were able to pour out such love on others. They were evidence that the family is the most fundamental building block of a community and further, a society.
The following is an excerpt from a blog I wrote about two months into my internship, and gives a brief glimpse into some of my experiences of familial love during my time in Uganda...
Over the past couple of months, I have been so inspired by the people I get to share life with on a daily basis here. Having the privilege to get to know the diverse staff at our office better and better each week is something I am truly grateful for. From some of our local staff, who have been working with eMi for a decade or more, sharing vast amounts of knowledge and experience to help grow this ministry, to the newest expat family who is just beginning their 3 year commitment here - trying to get settled in a new country while taking on impressive amounts of work at the office and learning the ropes from other experienced staff members. I love the family-like dynamic of office life. I have never felt so much a part of a family in a professional setting. There is a care and concern for each person evident in all of our daily interactions, in both a personal and professional sense.
I have been sick from what seems to be a persistent parasite four times since arriving here, missing work on a few occasions, and each time without any request, prayers were offered up for my recovery during morning devotions. Upon my return to work, I had countless people come to check on how I was feeling (Hope is still checking in on me).
In another example of the kindness of the EMI staff, Cyndee, my mentor and basically my adoptive mom while working here, showed up at my house to drive me to the health clinic on Thursday, once she found out I was home sick again. She tried to keep me distracted by sharing some of her most entertaining expat stories (having moved from Florida only a few months prior) and I tried very hard not to get sick in the car as we sped along the incredibly bumpy village roads, jostling to and fro in our seats. When the lab results were ready later in the afternoon, she even went back to speak with the doctor while I slept at home, and Phil (an EMI engineer at our office) came to drop off the prescribed medication at my house at the end of the work day. I didn't ask for any of this, they just saw a need and filled it. My friends and fellow interns paid frequent visits to my room as well, checking in to see if I needed anything and whether I wanted company. The people here go out of their way to take care of each other. If there was ever an example of Christians being known by their love, the EMI Uganda staff would be a prime example.
I have loved visiting the homes of various missionary families here and meeting the EMI children. Just being in a family home and sharing a meal is a wonderful time of community and relationship building. Bearing witness to Christ alive in these families is a privilege. The intern compound was a busy place this past Saturday. With various staff members and their families dropping by to meet with a visiting counsellor staying in the apartment next to our house, the interns had the chance to do a bit of babysitting while the adults had their meetings. There were lots of laughs and amusing stories with the many MKs (Missionary Kids). Matthew waged war on the bugs in our living room and the front porch with the electric bug zapper, and we played a rowdy and highly entertaining game of Cranium with Mercy.
God has scattered countless blessings during my time so far in Uganda. I am working with wonderful, inspiring people, building lasting and impactful relationships, and serving alongside incredible, compassionate ministry partners who are truly acting as the hands and feet of Jesus on the ground here. Sharing life with so many beautiful people is a true privilege.
One of the greatest lessons I learned during my experience in Africa was how to love better - how to love others visibly, through small, everyday actions. As I wrote on my last day, "I want to love with abandon, lavishing the love of Christ on those I come in contact with. The people here love so well. Since many Ugandans don't often express their feelings in words, they seem to express them through actions instead, and it is powerful. I have learned so much from observing and living in community with these people."
The five months I spent in East Africa were some of the most transformative of my life. The people I worked and lived with there taught me things I'm sure I will be learning from and unpacking for the rest of my life. The goodbyes were very hard, but as a colleague and friend wisely reminded me before I moved back to Canada, "among Christians, goodbyes here are never truly goodbyes." We are part of a larger family, a Body - universally linked. That is one of the things I treasure most about my faith. I know that when I encounter a fellow Christian, I am meeting a brother or sister in a very real sense. Through our baptism, God has welcomed us into His family as His daughters and sons - but it doesn't stop there. It is within this family where I have learned what it means to love every human person as family. As Christians, we are each called by Christ, through our adoption, to brings others into this family with us.
We must learn, as Mother Teresa reminds us, to draw the circle of family wide - to reach beyond our comfortable circles, our fellow believers, our blood relatives - beyond what is familiar and easily accessible. We must pray for the grace to see each man, woman, and child as a brother or sister, since, from the beginning, that's what we were made to be.