By Austin Thomason
Standing on the tarmac at Entebbe International Airport, I looked around trying to find my teammates. It struck me that I didn’t actually know who I was looking for. I had met them briefly at the airport in London, but that was nearly ten hours earlier. Now we were in Uganda, it was midnight, and I was bushed.
I knew I was looking for my friend Lynn Corker. We had flown together with eight other people. She had been here last February and convinced me to come along this year. My goal was to help her figure out her future mission opportunities in the country. In this unfamiliar and very foreign place, a second set of eyes would be good to have.
Fortunately, one of my teammates had a better memory than me. He recognized me, we all gathered together, made our way through the long security line and were off.
In this unfamiliar and very foreign place, a second set of eyes would be good to have.
The next week was a whirlwind. The streets of Uganda’s capital city, Kampala, were clogged with the city’s 1.7 million inhabitants. Two days later, we drove for hours on a muddy road trying to find the village of Namwendwe and barely saw another soul.
Our primary reason for visiting was a place called Bufuula. The village is sponsored by Hope Lutheran Church out of Lubbock, TX. With the leadership of Pastor Tim Radkey, Hope has bought land, built a primary school, dug a well, and set up a sponsorship program for children to attend the school. They’ve sponsored a young man named James through seminary.
Our primary reason for visiting was a place called Bufuula.
The partnership has been successful. So successful, in fact, that the villagers in Bufuula have set up their own church plant in a nearby village. The kids are learning to read and write. They’re learning the skills that they’ll need to flourish once they’re out of school. They’re being fed at least one good meal per day. James is going to be ordained in February.
Help is still needed, though. While Bufuula is doing well, there are many congregations who don’t have a pastor; a building; clean water; a school where the children can learn.
The Lutheran church is growing fast, which brings unexpected difficulties. The nearest seminary is in Kenya, far away and expensive. That means only 13 pastors are serving over 130 congregations nationwide.
Only 13 pastors are serving over 130 congregations nationwide.
With the leadership of the Lutheran Church Mission in Uganda (LCMU) and Lutheran Church Missouri Synod (LCMS), land has been bought to build a seminary outside of Kampala. It is currently in the planning phase and funds are being raised to get the project off the ground. Once the seminary is complete, Ugandan men will be able to be trained as pastors without having to leave the country for months at a time.
And there is so much more. This is what I saw during a short one-week stint in the country.
I had originally intended to be a second set of eyes for Lynn, and my eyes were opened also to the reality of the Lutheran Church in Uganda. I had to document it. I found myself not only helping Lynn, but also trying to capture their story through pictures. I’ve put these pictures up at the Common Cup Coffee Shop. They’ll be on the walls for the entire month of January.
Their story is endlessly fascinating to me. The culture is so different from what I’m used to. Daily life could not look more different from our own. The language, the landscape, almost nothing matches up.
My eyes were opened to the reality of the Lutheran Church in Uganda.
But we are brothers and sisters in Christ. Their success is our success. Their failure is our failure. Our faith ties us together. My hope for this show is that you leave with a better awareness of our Ugandan brothers and sisters. Think of them throughout your day. Pray for them when you get the chance.
Just please, don’t forget them. I certainly can’t. That’s why I’ll be headed back for two weeks in January and February of 2014.
Don’t forget them. I certainly can’t.
If you would like more information on the mission, the sponsorship program, the seminary, or my next trip there, contact me. Donations are tax-deductible and you can choose where the money will be spent.
Austin’s show runs at the Common Cup Coffee Shop throughout the month of January. The opening is Friday, January 10, 2014.
For more from Austin’s trip last year, check out If God is for Us. For more from a photojournalist perspective, see A View Through the Lens.