As a member of the Uganda Mission team, I have struggled a bit with my reentry into my life in America. From the moment we stepped off of the plane in Atlanta, I loathed how I was treated by the personnel at the airport. Instead of the friendly Ugandan greeting, "You are most welcome," we were welcomed back to our homeland by the hurried rudeness and tension of time constraints as we were shuffled through various lines and security checkpoints! I do appreciate that our leaders are striving to provide for our safety as citizens in the land of the free and home of the brave, but couldn't we do a better job of welcoming those from other lands. On the flight back from Amsterdam, I sat next to a man named John from India who was coming to the states to attend a pastor's conference. Before landing in Atlanta, he was asked to complete lengthy forms that he was not able to read. As I watched him struggle, I anticipated the harassment he would encounter upon entering my country, and deeply distressed, I helped him complete the necessary information. I am saddened that in our country, the way to welcome someone is to present him with forms that he cannot understand, herd him through lines labeled "foreigner" and "security clearance", and sequester him in order to bombard him with questions that he does not comprehend! As an American citizen, I too felt unwanted and confused by the numerous lines and questions. I want to return to Uganda, where I was greeted with beautiful smiles and "You are most Welcome to Register" signs at the checkpoints in the airport!
Over and over again, I was amazed by the graciousness of a people who have so little! They put "southern hospitality" to shame because their warmth comes from hearts that are genuinely glad to be with you and to celebrate life in the moment with you instead of mere niceties and pretension to coverup what Southern Americans really think--("Why is she carrying that bag with those shoes?" or "Doesn't she know she's not supposed to where linen after September?") Alice, Pastor Johnson's wife was among the women who showed me the grace of hospitality as she served all 17 of us in her simple home with bare walls, mismatched plates and serving dishes from a kitchen the size of a closet with one countertop, a bucket, and a single hot plate! The food was among the best I've ever enjoyed and the conversation was better still. Upon entering her home, she knelt before us and exclaimed, "You are most welcome!" After I had been "home" for a while, I decided to host a Ugandan meal in the style of Alice, for to really live and enjoy the blessings God has given me through His eternal creations he has surrounded me with, I must be as Alice, free from pretension and worry of the unimportant--matching dishes and a "Southern Living" home. Of course, as the time came closer for people to arrive, weeds still covering the walkway and the porch littered with spray paint cans from a last minute touch-up on the porch furniture, I experienced that same anxiety rooted in the grip of materialism! I realized that my Ugandan expereience had not really changed me, that I could never even hope to be a gracious as Alice, and I was disgusted with myself and my stupid preoccupations! In that moment, I cried out to the Lord and asked for his help to be free to enjoy the people he has blessed me with instead of being bound in pretension. I put on the African dress that Kiiza our bus driver gave me--the one that my arms look too fat in and greeted my guests. I served them African tea that Christine rescued from disaster and goofily plodded through African introductions. Kathy reminded me of how Alice knelt, so I knelt before my friends and washed their hands with a bowl of water as Christine another Ugandan had shown me! In that moment, I think I began to experience a little freedom and joy from my imagined constraint. I became a little as Alice, a little as Christine--in my own less gracious and blundering way! This is part of the grace and power of the gospel given us--it is a putting on until we become who we want and are intended to be! The people I experienced in Uganda demonstrated such grace and faith, for they arise early each day and put on the gift of faith God has provided as they live out their faith at a level that I have not yet reached, at a high level though knowing and having so little! I was given three African garments--one from a part-time bus driver who cannot afford to always eat, one from the women of the church in Lira who served faithfully each day feeding three hundred pastors tea and dinner thus missing out on the teaching and worship during the gathering, and one from Florence who is orchestrating a ministry to prostitutes and alchoholics in Lira town. Lord, give me the gift of faith that I may clothe myself as these!!