MY EXPERIENCE IN UGANDA AN OPEN INTERVIEW WITH TIM GEISLER |LEAD PASTOR, EPIKOS CHURCH
Uganda. Half a world away. Rough part of the world. 38% of the population lives on $1.25 a day or less. Forty million people in an area the size of Oregon. Median age of 15.5 years (lowest of any country in the world). Life expectancy in 2003 was 42 years (and, thankfully, is climbing).
For almost seven years, Epikos Church has poured love, prayers, and resources into a village called Ntandi. The contrasting “Then” and “Now” snapshots are stunning – in a good way, of course. When Epikos arrived at Ntandi years ago, 120 students attended a small, primitive primary school. Epikos subsequently built an orphanage for 57 children, and today enrollment at the primary school is 760 with 280 more at the secondary school. It’s hard to believe that Ntandi is the same place!
On Wednesday, March 2, ten Epikosians boarded a plane in Portland, Oregon, and headed eleven time zones away for the church’s annual mission trip to Uganda. Their objectives were to (a) bring Marriam from the U.S. (where she has been receiving medical treatment) to her new home at a school for disabled children; (b) establish the Ntandi Wellness Club (they installed hand-washing stations throughout the campus, provided a daily vitamin for a year for all of the orphan children, and paid for water purification and water bottles); (c) assess how to improve the secondary school; and (d) bring gifts to the children from their sponsors back in the States.
TIM GOES TO UGANDA
One of the first-time members of the trip was Tim Geisler, the new lead pastor at Epikos Church. This was his first time overseas. Check out this interview:
Mission Catalyst: How excited were you to be going to Uganda?
Tim: Well, it was nervous excitement. When I was about a week out, though, I was mentally ready to go and super excited.
MC: What was your initial impression of Uganda?
Tim: We arrived at night. The airport looks old and tired. The weather felt hot and muggy. We paid $100 for an entrance visa, picked up our 31 checked bags (1550 pounds) of things we brought to help the kids, and we were in!
MC: What were you responsible for while you were there?
Tim: We all had daily responsibilities. My greatest responsibility while I was there, was to begin a discovery process about the secondary school. The primary school is one of the top two schools in the Bundibugyo district of Western Uganda, but the secondary school is lagging behind. I spent a lot of time interviewing the teachers and the headmaster, Justus, to identify the challenges that need to be addressed.
MC: That’s interesting. Do you feel like you identified some possible opportunities for improvement?
Tim: Yes. There are great teachers there. They are smart. They care. They’re always researching ways to improve their students’ learning. They are held back, though, by a number of things outside of their control. Once we figure it all out, we’re going to help.
MC: What did you see while you were there?
Tim: I’ll call it the struggle. There is a lot of beautiful countryside and beautiful animals (seeing a pride of lions on a hunt was pretty cool). But when I think of Uganda now, I don’t think of any of those things. I think of the people. I was blown away at the constant struggle. The struggle is real.
MC: What do you mean by the struggle?
Tim: Everything happens alongside the road. People are doing whatever they can to earn a few shillings. A family of four or five rides a boda-boda (motorcycle), or you’ll see a huge bunch of bananas or pallets or even beds balanced on the back of the boda-boda. The people’s clothes are modest. You see vans driving down the road with big mud flaps that read, “God is Good” in huge letters or “Jesus Loves You” or “Islam is Good”. They’re a very driven people who are hindered by infrastructure, by their education system, and their lack of trust in government. They are people who want to do well, to have a better situation than where they are at.
MC: What was the best part of the trip for you?
Tim: It was amazing to see a lion take on a buffalo. I know that seems so unimportant considering what we went there for, but that was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Other than that, walking with the kids through the field on the campus was one of best parts of the trip for me. They were all over me trying to hold my hand. I had a kid on each of my fingers. They were looking up at me like I had some hope that was going to change their lives. It was a Jesus feeling. I mean, I can only imagine what He felt like as the children were coming to him or when the woman grabbed his clothes.
MC: Did the trip change your initial feelings about going to Uganda?
Tim: Absolutely. I used to wonder why people spent money on mission trips instead of just giving that money to missions. Now I get it. Going on a mission trip does change your view of the world. It changes your view of wants and needs. It’s helpful to send money, but they need more. Of course, they need some things that we can provide, but most of all, they need a person. At the end of the day, is someone going to show up to prove to them that they are worth more than just sending money across the ocean?
MC: Is there anything else you would like to share?
Tim: At the end of the day, I think that the gospel is more real when you have been here in the States and then go to a place like Uganda. You compare people who have an extravagant life – like all of America – to people who are living without a lot of things we consider as basic: three meals a day, water, and shelter. Yet they are still praising God. It’s in America where we are questioning if there is a God or not. You would think that where they have very little possessions that they would be questioning God’s existence. Instead, it’s us who have so many more possessions, questioning that.
MC: Thanks, Tim. How can someone get involved?
Tim: Check out www.epikoschurch.com/uganda/. And let us know if God prompts you to do something special to help these wonderful people in Uganda!