Written by Bailey Timmis, Class of 2018
Although this was Ave Maria’s pioneer mission trip to Uganda, personally, I was not expecting to encounter anything new. This wasn’t my first time to a third world country. It wasn’t my first time on a mission trip. It wasn’t even my first time to the country itself. And yet, in spite of all that, God still managed to surprise me.
My family has a long history with Uganda. Though my father was raised Catholic, it was not until he was 22 or 23 that he encountered God for the first time. During a trip to Africa, inspired by his newfound faith, he founded a Christ-centered leadership high school, Cornerstone Leadership Academy, with two other Americans which has grown into four other countries in Africa. He remained in Uganda for seven years during which he met my mother. After moving back to the States, he has continued to visit Uganda almost every year. When I was thirteen, he began to take me along too. I have now been to Uganda 5 times.
Because of these frequent visits, I was not expecting to be surprised by third world poverty. I had always heard about it from the students at the schools my father helped found, people who, with a little help and education, are able to work themselves out of the depths of poverty.
This journey was an entirely different from my previous experience. Going to stay with the Missionaries of Charity and working at their home for the mentally and physically disabled, I encountered the “poorest of the poor” for the first time. It is one thing to be poor materially. But at least the poor I had met before were still in possession of their bodies and minds. The people I met were scarcely in possession of one or both of these. If no one fed them, they could not eat. If no one cleaned them, they remained sitting in their own filth. The idea of this extreme dependence terrifies me. The sisters and those who help them do their best to care for these people with very limited supplies, but there is only so much they can do. Yet in spite of this, in these handicapped people I saw the face of God. I have been to adoration of the Eucharist many times before and I realized that caring for these people was in a way the same thing. I finally understood what I had already been told, that whatever you do for the least, you do for God.
I also saw God in our trip to the shrines of the Ugandan martyrs, both Catholic and Anglican, neither of which I had visited before. Shortly after the first Christian missionaries arrived in Uganda, the king, Mwanga II, had 23 Anglican and 22 Catholic pages executed for their faith. True to the saying “the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church,” Christianity blossomed in Uganda after their deaths, and Africa more generally. The magnitude of what their blood wrought could be seen in the Catholic shrine, which is a church with a huge outdoor amphitheater. June 3rd is Martyrs Day, perhaps the biggest holiday in East Africa, and people walk from as far away as Kenya in pilgrimage for the feast. To get a seat in that huge amphitheater you need to be there at least three days in advance. It was incredible and encouraging to see such a vibrant part of the Church when we are struggling so much with secularism in the Church in the States today.
The Anglican shrine emphasized the suffering of the martyrs, with a museum of surprisingly life-like statues showing the tortures inflicted on them. You know it’s brutal when, halfway through, you feel relieved to see the statue where the guy is “only” getting his limbs hacked off instead of some other method of torture. Yet in spite of the horror, it was not a place without hope. In their deaths there were victories and their victory could be seen in the vibrancy of the Church we had witnessed at the Catholic shrine. What it really drove home though was how rich their faith and love was. Could I face martyrdom the way they did, with courage and even joy?
In spite of the many times I have been to Uganda, the Mother Teresa Project mission trip allowed me to more deeply understand and love my faith and the country that have been so deeply a part of my own personal history. I pray that the lessons I learned will stay with me for the rest of my life.