It’s here. The week of “chasing my lion” has arrived, and I am about to embark on a journey with so many unknowns. I’m headed to Uganda to lead women’s conferences in Pader and Soroti, remote communities where the majority of the women can’t even read or write. Their towns and their people were ravaged by Joseph Kony and Lord’s Resistance Army for 20 years, and many of their friends and family were killed. Those who remained were traumatized. Many were infected with HIV/AIDS. The war ended around 2008, but the effects remain. Poverty, AIDS, malaria, malnutrition and starvation are constant problems.
The women are the backbone of their communities. They earn the income for the family, work the fields and raise the children. A large number of children were orphaned during the war so many of the women are not only raising their own children but also orphaned ones. Lack of education, combined with school fees for all schools, makes breaking the cycle of poverty very difficult.
I’m going with my friend Holly, who’s been visiting one of the communities three times, yearly, since 2013. Her first mission trip turned into a passion for helping the women lift themselves up out of poverty. Over the past few years, she’s taught them to make beads out of paper, which they turn into lovely jewelry and purses, which Holly brings home to sell. What started out with a small group of 20 women has grown to over 100. Women walk for miles for her craft days when she’s there.
As we prepare for the conferences, I’ve already learned so much about these women. Just like us, they have negative beliefs that hold them back. They experience fear, doubt, shame and unforgiveness. They want to live with purpose and to glorify God in all they do. As they have gotten to know one another in their communities, they’ve learned to be supportive and generous. They don’t know much about the western world, which in many respects is a blessing. No social media, no pressure to achieve, no clutter to fill up their minds and homes.
I’ve also learned they operate on “Uganda time,” not rushing through their days but being truly present with those they’re with. They don’t cut conversations short to rush off to an appointment, and being late by an hour or two is the norm. Perhaps they value relationships more since they’ve lost so many. They are making the most of their days, because they know each one is precious.
As a speaker I’ve always been taught to prepare, rehearse and deliver a memorable presentation. This time, I am holding my plans loosely. I’ve been asked to guide the women through thought-provoking exercises to deal with their self-sabotage, discover their God-given callings and view the future through new eyes. This time, I am prepared to be spontaneous, flexible and patient. We may not cover all my carefully scripted agenda, but I want to leave with them knowing they have immense value and purpose just as they are. No matter what their past stories, each of them was put on this earth for something very special. Even in poverty, they can flourish.
My life’s purpose is “to inspire joy by awakening worth.” As I do my best to inspire each woman I meet over the two weeks I’m in Uganda, I have a feeling my joy will overflow as they teach me more than I teach them. I look forward to sharing my journey with you when I return!