Cheap avocados. 50c bags of mangos. Hobbit-worthy grass-thatched dome housing. An orange flowering vine winding over the veranda. Living 100% off the grid. It’s the dream! The sun’s energy to charge your laptop and rain to provide water to hand-wash your clothes (which is very idyllic and not at all tedious). Whether you’re a teacher, a change-maker, a business person, a nurse, a mechanic or a theologian, there’s more at stake and more potential here than anything you’ve encountered before. God’s at work and there‘s plenty to do. So come join our little team!
Lately I’ve been thinking about what it would be like here in Gulu, Northern Uganda, if we were part of a mini-team with a shared purpose and common rhythms. My husband, Nick, and I have lived here now for over three years. Determined to connect locally, we dedicated our first five months to language learning and joined the closest Anglican church. We spent time sitting and listening. For our first year we stubbornly turned down invitations from other ‘non-nationals’ to socialize. After all, we came to befriend Ugandans, not Australians, right?
Around a year in, we found we deeply missed culturally-familiar conversations with similarly educated people and fellow Christians who were willing to pursue us, hold us accountable and challenge us. We sheepishly called the Australians back. Why couldn’t we find this amongst our many local friends, who we deeply love and respect? It’s a hard question to answer, but despite being surrounded by many caring local neighbours, we’ve often felt isolated, lonely and overwhelmed by the seemingly endless need around us and the challenges and frustrations of our work.
A month ago I sat in Gulu’s dusty, bustling bus park, carefully scanning the rows of passengers on each bus that swung in. Right on time, our friend emerged with his glorious kiwi-accent, wearing a marmite laden tramping pack. My sister arrived a week later, and another friend just in time for Christmas. Now, with five of us living in our little hut, we have a glimpse at what team-hood might be like here.
Since they’ve arrived I’ve been thinking even more about why doing life and mission as a team makes a lot of sense. Here’s my top five:
1. Becoming more available to neighbours
This Saturday morning our neighbour Lucy popped round to charge her phone with our solar and bring us a papaya from her tree. Our friend Opiyo dropped by to process some bad news: his carpentry teacher was killed in a car crash. After lunch a band of four kids arrived ready to read their story-books, answer a quiz on the content and exchange it for a new one. We want to be available to our neighbours, and we want to be part of our community. But with just the two of us, we can’t always handle so many visitors. Since our three friends arrived, if I have my hands full cooking dinner, or I’ve had a rough day, we don’t have to turn the kids away. There’s usually someone there with the energy to make someone welcome.
2. Life logistics
Without running water, washing machines, a stove top or a fridge, life takes a bit longer. Division of labour is not an overrated concept. We take turns cooking, and it’s just way more efficient. My sister and I wash the clothes, and the boys fetch the water from the borehole with a wheelbarrow. We all get to avoid our least favourite tasks!
3. Greater scope for creative re-charge time
Before we arrived in Uganda, Nick and I never, ever watched TV series. I’m too embarrassed to confess how many I’m now familiar with. As excellent as my personal favourites ‘the Wire’ and ‘the West Wing’ may be, we’ve definitely over-dosed. A combination of factors led to this trend. Often we’ve felt so exhausted by the work day, community interaction and domestic tasks to find the energy to do much else. Local friends don’t like to move around after dark so there are limited social opportunities. Since our visitors arrived, bringing with them new energy and creativity, we’ve spent more time singing, running, playing games and discussing life over long meals outside. Some forms of relaxing are just better for the soul.
4. Spiritual discipline
There’s this bit in Romans which reads: “I’ve spent a long time in sin’s prison. What I don’t understand about myself is that I decide one way, but then I act another” (The Message, 7:15). I know I’m not healthy if I don’t regularly take time out to be quiet and listen to God. Yet I too frequently lack discipline to actually do it! I’d love to try group spiritual rhythms and times for prayer, whether it was something collective or an individual thing we all do at the same time. Other people can help us commit to ways of life that we’ve decided we want.
5. Common vision for a common location
A month ago I was part of a disastrous meeting. It felt like our community organizing group was irretrievably falling apart at the seams. I was low, confused. I came home to our temporary team. They were a sounding board, giving me perspective and hope. And sometimes, discussions lead to new ideas altogether. The other day my sister and I were thinking about what the early seeds of an organic woman’s rights movement would look like in Gulu, and we discussed the idea of starting a woman’s dance and discussion group. There’s something special about living with people with common visions for a common location. Frustrations get aired and discussed. Challenges collectively pondered. New creative ideas emerge.
So that’s what I’ve been thinking lately. It’s been a great, tumultuous, inspiring three years by ourselves. But there might be a whole other way of doing things round the bend. I’m sure it won’t be all rosy tinted, I’m sure living in a team would bring its own conflicts and challenges. But I’d love to try. And in case you’re wondering, I’m entirely serious about my opening ad. Get in touch.
Tessa & Nick are NZCMS Mission Partners in Uganda. Tessa heads up a Community Organising group that tackles various social issues in the broader community. For more from the Laings visit ugandapanda.com
In what ways do you feel lonely, isolated and overwhelmed?
How could Tessa’s top five apply to your context? What points would you add to your list?
Exploring today's missional issues from a variety of angles, each edition of the Intermission magazine will equip you and your group to engage with God in your community and beyond. To signup to receive the Intermission in the post, email firstname.lastname@example.org. Intermission articles can also be found online at nzcms.org.nz/intermission.