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September 26, 2014

The challenges of living as a "Hands Across Nations" missionary in a foreign culture

Dear friends

Newsletters home from the mission field are frequently filled with success stories, victories over tough challenges, and requests for prayer for difficult circumstances.  But often, the real story behind the scenes is not shared.  There are daily stresses and strains of working in a culture so different from our own, where thought processes and cultural history are very different.  Beliefs, ways we celebrate and mourn, see our roles in society,  and the things we value can be on opposite ends of the spectrum.  As we live for longer stretches of time in Uganda, and get to know people more deeply, we discover that though we are all part of the family of man, and often the family of God, we see the world and life so differently. We assume our thought processes are similar but they are not.


Flowers at a burial are a tradition both in our culture and in Uganda.  People are laid to rest in their home village in a special area near their hut or house.  There are no cemeteries. 


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  Keith and I have found many challenges living in Uganda though we love being there and can't think of anything we would rather be doing.  It's exciting and gratifying to see people we care about learning to read so they can read the Bible, being able to see to read or sew through donated reading glasses, getting clean water, learning to be tailors, getting an education, and learning to farm in new ways. 

People line up for food in abundance served to hundreds of burial attendees. Village families all take part in helping prepare for days in advance for the large number of guests who will travel from near and far to honor the beloved person.   

However, we have experienced thought processes foreign to our culture.  One of them we've been told is,  "if we don't attend the funeral of our neighbor's or acquaintance's  family members, their ancestors will haunt us, and the family of the deceased will not attend our family burials which is shameful".   Everything stops for the burials - government offices, businesses, even weddings are unattended rather than missing a burial.  In a culture which has so much disease, and terrible roads with reckless bus and truck drivers, there are many deaths happening each week.  This leads to very low productivity of a culture.   In our culture, we attend for a few hours and get back to work.  In the Lango culture, because people must come many times on foot, and by bus from long distances, the burial activity often lasts for days.  So getting things done in a timely manner is near impossible.


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Timeliness is an expectation in our culture.  Timeliness is not expected in the Ugandan culture except possibly in the big cities.  In small towns and the villages, everyone expects to wait up to hours for people to arrive though the hour of the meeting or event has been set.  Therefore planning more than one meeting in a day is risky.  We might even arrive at an appointment someone has set for us, and the person has left for the day!   It is a tradition that if a person arrives at your home, you are to invite them in and give them something to drink at least, even if you have a pending appointment.  It is rude not to attend to them.  The person waiting for you, will understand and not be upset about your lateness.  It's expected.

"Borrowing" things is common.  When asked why a friend would take something from our house, another friend stated that people often want something from someone they like as a remembrance of them and they are happy to have it displayed in their home.  They do not feel it is stealing.  Lango people don't make a big deal about others taking their things.  So when people visit, we must put away small objects that might disappear such as pens, pencils, staplers etc. We are so protective of our "stuff".  At weddings, we've been told that people carry home the dishes if they leave after dark, and no silverware is used so that it can't be taken. We carry our own plastic eating utensils while everyone else eats with their hands.

Flowers, loud whooping and singing are the welcoming tradition for honored visitors to a village.


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In villages it is the custom to eat only with your hands - our friends say "we like being close to our food!".  Napkins are never used, but a pitcher of water with soap is carried to each person before and after a meal.

Boldly asking for money from white people is common and acceptable.  Often we will give to the poor, disabled people begging on the streets, and some will even grab my clothing and ask for my dress.  It is believed that all Americans are wealthy and have unlimited cash which they should share with anyone who asks. 

It is often expected that American charities, if putting on any kind of training, will pay people to come, and feed them a very nice meal.  We have resisted this and have found there are people who want to learn enough that they will come without being paid and in fact, will share what they have learned without being paid.  They are finding that God is blessing them with joy and often a better life. 

Believing that a family member or neighbor has cursed them and caused an illness, injury or some other calamity, has caused untold grief between people.  Some have even harmed or killed others because of this belief.It has occasionally meant that some refuse medical treatment, and choose to stay angry at the person they believe has caused their illness.   

This man eventually refused to continue treatment for his infected lower leg because he believed it was caused by his neighbor's curse on him and could not be healed.

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As we look at our own beliefs, we can see how the Lango people wonder about us - how we allow our children in our culture to be disrespectful to their parents and elders, we leave our children in the hands of strangers to go off to work, we live next to our neighbors  for years and don't even know who they are, and don't take care of our neighbors when they are in trouble.  The differences of our values and viewpoints can cause all sorts of misunderstandings and disagreements.

Navigating these differences is an art which we continue to refine.  Loving our neighbors as ourselves is how it all works for our mutual benefit.  We can laugh at our differences and enjoy our similarities.  They love us and put up with our strange Western ways, and we love them in spite of their peculiar tribal ways.  And God loves us all.

Hands Across Nations' annual fundraiser for Uganda is scheduled for Saturday, October 11, at the Chewelah Civic Center.  Come join us for a chicken or vegetable fettuccine dinner, live and silent auction and live band, Spectrum, providing entertainment and music for dancing.  Tickets are at Akers Drug or call Carolyn Jones at 509-979-7448.  Don't miss out on this fun evening event for a great cause. 

So many of you are continuing to be regular and faithful in your financial support for Hands Across Nations work in Uganda.  The long term effects can only be measured by God, but we know people are being helped, thousands are learning to read, and some are increasingly coming to know how much God loves them.  Thank you for your sacrificial compassion and giving.


Sharing the love of Christ in practical ways,

Carolyn and Keith Jones

You may send emails to either of us at:

Carolyn: carolyn.jones@handsacrossnations.com

Keith:  keith.jones@handsacrossnations.com

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