Faith lessons from my Ugandan family
Editor’s note: This is the final blog post of a five-part series “Faith lessons from my Ugandan family” (see lessons #1, #2, #3 and #4) by Messy Jesus Business guest contributor/Rabble Rouser Nicole Steele Wooldridge about her experiences in Mbale, Uganda.
More than almost anyone I know, my Ugandan host parents embody the “American Dream” of hard work and righteous living resulting in opportunity.
My host dad’s story almost seems too inspiring to be true (but it is): he grew up in a traditional clay house nestled within a small subsistence-farming village. A self-described “naive village boy,” he was eight years old before he saw an electrical light bulb (and the story of his first encounter with a toilet would have you in stitches). During secondary school, he walked 14 miles every day to attend class; as the top-performing student in his district, he earned a scholarship to attend university in Uganda’s capital. From there, he was recruited for a prestigious post-graduate program in development studies in Dublin, Ireland, and now works as a professor at the local university in Mbale. He is in the process of completing his dissertation (focused on emergency response to climate change-related landslides in the foothills of Mount Elgon), and will soon be awarded his PhD.
My host mum is no less impressive (indeed, my host dad would be the first to tell you—with great pride—that she is his boss at the university). Together, they are a force of wisdom, intellect, and tireless work. With their credentials and connections, they would have no problem establishing an easier, more convenient life in a Western country.
But they have no interest in doing so.
They have made the choice to remain in Uganda and put their skills to use in service of their people. That choice is fraught with daily sacrifices—sacrifices which probably would have overwhelmed me many years ago. But for my host family, whose every breath is rooted in transcendent hope, the trials of life in Uganda can do nothing to diminish their sense of fulfillment in doing their work … or their sense of joy in knowing, truly knowing, they are loved by God as they do it.
Of the theological virtues of faith, hope, and love, hope was always somewhat nebulous to me. What does it mean to hope, and how is that different from having faith? But life with my Ugandan family made real to me just what it looks like to dwell in the joy of belonging to the Lord.
The Catechism describes hope this way: “The virtue of hope responds to the aspiration to happiness which God has placed in the heart of every man … Buoyed up by hope, he is preserved from selfishness and led to the happiness that flows from charity.” (CCC 1818) My host family’s hope cannot be stymied by the setbacks and tragedies they experience in Uganda, because their hope is written in their hearts by Someone greater.
The unmistakable fruit of that hope is their relentless joy.
When I am asked to describe my host family, the first word to come to mind is always “joyful.” But words really cannot do justice to the sheer jubilation that is infused in my Ugandan family. They are radiant with it. It is palpable, contagious … It is, quite frankly, exactly the sort of thing that can change the world.
It has certainly changed me.
For reflection: How can I nurture a spirit of true hope in my family, so that our joy and generosity are not influenced by our circumstances?
Author bio: Nicole Steele Wooldridge is a friend of Sister Julia’s who writes from the Seattle, Washington area. She spent three months living and volunteering in Mbale, Uganda in 2006, and recently returned there with her husband to visit her host family and friends. She considers her experience in Uganda to be the greatest theology class she’s ever taken.