Uganda mission trip experience

Last month I had the privilege of going to serve with our team on the ground in Uganda. Up until this point, my only exposure to what happens in that mission field was through watching the Queen of Katwe (a movie on Disney+ about Sports Outreach Uganda) and listening to Robert Katende during our SOI board meetings. I had so much anticipation about going on this trip, and it was an honor to not only see what this team is doing but to be a small part of it. Here are my top 3 highlights:
On Sunday 6/4, our team got to see Shane play with the Good News Soccer Team. After the first half of the game, I decided to get up and start playing with some kids that were hanging around. Jonathan and I were teaching the kids Red-Light-Green-Light, freeze tag, and Simon Says. After the game ended, the SORC coaches called everyone to the field to share about Jesus. My group leader, Lydia, had Tori, Trace, and I share our testimonies. Lydia then shared hers in her native language and shared the Gospel message. She invited people to come to Christ, and 17 people from our group accepted Christ. After we prayed a blessing over them, I noticed a little girl hanging off to the side that kept looking over at me. I went up to her and said hello, and she said "I want to be your friend." I said, "Let's be friends then!" We walked around, held hands, and talked with other people. I had a feeling that she wanted to ask me a question, so I asked Lydia to translate. She said, "I am Catholic, but I want to accept Christ into my heart." I asked Lydia if she would be able to lead her in the salvation prayer, but she said "She has taken an interest in you, so I think you should do it." So I led her in the prayer, Lydia translated, and Desire came to Christ. I told her that the next step after salvation is baptism, and asked if she had ever been baptized. She said no, so I immediately started talking with Robert, Juventine, and Simon Peter to arrange that for her. The team on the ground knows where Desire stays, and will be keeping in touch with her as she grows in her relationship with Christ, and will be keeping me up to date for when she gets baptized. Every day that we were at the SORC, I got to wave to her before she walked to school and say hello when she was on campus. I am very thankful for the ONE that God called me to minister to and lead to Christ and I look forward to going back and seeing her again.
We did so much relational ministry, and there are two sites that really stood out to me (Katwe slums and the ICM church plant funded by Movement Mortgage), with one common theme: JOY. Walking in the slums of Katwe, it was very humbling. You would see trash littered all over the place, tarps and broken down tin for shelter, lots of roadside stands where families sell things to try to make a living, people using the bathroom in the public eye, and kids getting run-off water from the ditches. Seeing that level of poverty was a hard pill to swallow. However, whether it was families we were doing home visits with or people on the streets, you would constantly see people running to you with massive smiles on their faces. All I could think is "If this is their reality, and they can still have joy, then so can I." When we went to the ICM church plant, we got to play games and sports with over 250 children and adults. They welcomed us with song, dance, and open arms. There were so many kids who held my hand, sat on my lap, and just wanted to be by my side. It was beautiful to see how even when we do not speak each other's language, we can still connect and love each other. They showed me what joy can do to transform your heart for people. Their joy taught me how to love deeper and love better. I will never forget how my number one takeaway from this trip was joy. That is a gift I am eternally grateful for.
Our reflection day was such a special treat. We had the privilege of going on a boat safari on the Nile (YES THE SAME RIVER MOSES FLOATED DOWN!) and going on an open truck safari in the bush. Growing up, I always wanted to be a veterinarian, and even though that's not the path I went down, animals still hold a very special place in my heart. To get within 10 feet of a pride of lions in the wild, to see hippos chasing us on the water, giraffes in their natural element, and elephants at the watering hole, was one of the most surreal experiences of my life. I got to experience God's beautiful creation through His people in Uganda and through the nature he so thoughtfully designed.
All I can say is if you are being called to go on a mission trip, GO. You won't regret it and you'll come back with memories that will stick with you for life. <3