A Message from Ana on Uganda

Dear Readers,

            My name is Ana Cutshaw. I am a current student at Eukarya Christian Academy and in the past two years I have had the honor of being able to accompany the Eukarya Missions Team on both trips to Uganda, Africa. While I am sure you are here to learn about the work we did over there and not my personal story, I believe it is important to show the significant impact these trips had on me from within the context of my life.

            I grew up a Pastor’s kid, “cutting my teeth on the church pew,” as some might say, but from a very early age I had always desired to be a missionary. And so it was with great reluctance and disappointment that, year after year, I would watch the churches I have been a part of, send teams overseas and not once was I able to join them, though I extremely desired to do so. I began to believe that this dream I had fostered since childhood might never come true, until one day a woman named Misty Fields with ‘In the Garden Missions’ paid a visit to Eukarya to tell the students all about her ministry in the nation of Uganda. Immediately my heart strings were pulled. After her lesson, I went up directly to Mrs. Hughes and told her, “I have to go on this trip.” No ‘I want to’ but ‘I have to.’ From the very beginning I knew this was what God was calling me to. And though my bold declaration might have given my principal a heart attack as we didn’t even know if we were going yet (I’m so sorry Mrs. Hughes if you’re reading this), it did not scare God. He had bigger plans. And here I am today having gone on not one, but two life changing trips quite literally across the world. So now that you have some context, while I don’t have the time or space to share every single detail as much as I would like to, I will touch on the themes of the ministry on each trip, some of my most loved experiences, and the lessons God has taught me through them.

            Trip #1:

            On this trip many things were trial and error as it was our first time visiting but it could not have gone better. Our first trip to Uganda was focused mainly on in-school ministry, staying relatively in the same village and spending time with the people of Rwentobo, Ntugamo, Uganda. I would say the first highlight of this trip I remember is actually the night we arrived. We were all very jet lagged, having been traveling for almost over 48 hours at this point, and after we finally got through security and customs we walked outside the airport where Misty was waiting with her team to greet us. I will never forget this moment where the team of Ugandans with Misty, who were complete strangers to us, embraced us as if we had known them our whole lives. I had never felt so welcomed nor so loved by even the closest of my friends before. And I knew instantly that this was what the love of Jesus truly looks like. We would get to know this team over the course of our two week stay and develop bonds with them that I am certain no man could break, it is why I now call them my family and despite the oceans, blood, and race that may seem to divide us, if you ask me, they are my brothers and sisters and I will never view them differently; and I know all of the Eukarya Missions Team feels the same way.

            Over the course of the next two weeks we visited many schools, singing, dancing, and loving all the children we encountered. Though it was a place of complete poverty, I will never forget the joy that these children had. They were quite literally living in and off of filth, some of the worst living conditions you can imagine, and yet I had never experienced an amount of joyfulness quite like theirs. It was contagious but also convicting. Another important experience of note was during one of our visits to a somewhat local church, we were given the opportunity to hand out Bibles to pre-selected members of the congregation. Bibles are very hard to find in the Ugandan language so it was a miracle we had any to give out at all. And while we were handing them out, the people receiving them began to jump and dance in the aisles, raising shouts of joy to the Lord with no music but the chorus of the congregation joining in celebration with them. Let me emphasize this, these people were throwing a dance party over just the prospect of holding a Bible in their hands. The average American has two Bibles in their home, but yet we dread making time to spend with God on the daily. We have been given the greatest gift in freedom of religion and the ability to have the easiest access to the Word of God yet we treat it as if it is not that valuable. This struck me really hard. Now this is not to condemn anyone reading this but simply to make us think, if these people can find joy in the worst conditions, and in the simplest of things, why can we not be more joyful with the immense amount of things God has blessed us with in America?

            Some of the other once in a lifetime experiences included: getting to ride in the van with thirty chickens at our feet that we would later give to families in need, and going on a real life African safari where we had to walk with night guards past 7pm because of the free roam the animals had in the area. One of our nightguards was very serious but took to telling us stories from the years he had worked there, one being, and I quote, “There was an anaconda who was eating a child, and I had to save the child.” What a way to encourage people to stay there, am I right? But nevertheless seeing those animals, God’s creation, roaming free in their natural habitat was an experience I will never forget. While there are so many things I can say about this trip, I will quote the motto which I was taught by the team there that truly expresses the unity we felt and the unity God desires for His church:

            “I am because We Are. We Are because I am.”

            This trip taught me to be comfortable in who God had made me to be, in a lifestyle so simple, it became so clear to me how complicated we make everything when it comes to relationship with Jesus. But ultimately God tells us the two greatest commandments are to “love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and mind. And to love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matthew 22:37-39)

            Trip #2:

            Coming into the next year, I knew I wanted to return to Uganda. I missed my family over there more than ever, but this time it took a little more faith than the last one. With my first trip, I received confirmation after confirmation of my going from God, and on this trip while my parents heard from the Lord, all I knew was that I wanted to go and there was not really much else that confirmed that I should. However, when there was only a few months left to fulfill the payments due, and I did not have nearly enough, suddenly within 2 weeks my entire trip was covered by donations and even had overflow to help pay the way for others. They say the Lord works in mysterious ways, but truly, He has already told us that His ways and thoughts are higher than ours, so it is truly a matter of trusting Him through everything, especially uncertainty.

            Going into this trip was a completely different feeling than the first time around as I felt as though the past year God had really worked on me to establish my identity in Him. So I went into this trip with one thought; I will have something to bring back home with me to teach to others. I was in a season where God was putting me in quite a few leadership positions in my life and I really felt like this trip was going to prepare me for that.

            The arrival was almost better than the first time as I got to tackle my Ugandan brothers and sisters with the biggest hugs and the biggest smiles. The plan/theme for this trip was slightly different this time as we landed near the capital of Uganda rather than landing in Rwanda and crossing the border as we had last time. From the airport to Misty’s compound (where we stayed during our first trip), it was a total of 8 hours drive time. This allowed for us to make many stops along the way and to do city ministry. In fact we actually started right away, because of the time limits on when we could check into our hotel. We arrived in Uganda around 1am, drove 4 hours to our first school, were there for the sunrise, and went straight into our ministry to the children. Now you may think this is insane, I did too at first, but even though I was tired, I was actually able to stay awake. And looking back on it I can’t help but think of how lucky I was to be able to make a slight sacrifice like sleep to do the work of the Lord in a place He so clearly loves. That day we got to play with the children in a field and on the beach of a lake. There was one girl in particular who was very little and clung to me the entire day. When I would carry her she would barely let me switch her to my other hip because she thought I would put her down. It was heartbreaking to see so many beautiful, sweet children, so starved of affection from their family, the people who are supposed to give them the most love.

            We were also able to visit the capital of Uganda, Kampala, and the worst slum in the country. I will never forget walking down the streets and seeing literal human filth in the streets, trash covering every surface, and water so green it could have been colored with food dye. We were in the slums specifically to meet Misty’s friend Rachel who ran a rescue program for girls in child prostitution there to put them in education, because once a girl was in school she would become safe. My heart broke. Most girls in the slum are made sexually active from the age of 10-12. And one of the worst stories I remember was when Rachel told us of one girl she rescued who refused to go into prostitution, so her mom would bring men to her at home. These kids were molested by their own fathers and told to keep quiet or they would literally be thrown onto the streets to fend for themselves. I got to speak to some of these girls while I was there, and while I have not experienced anywhere near the level of trauma these girls have endured, I was able to share my own stories where I was in similar situations and how even when I was at my lowest point, of attempting suicide, God met me there. He called me clean. He called me pure. He called me beloved. I encouraged the girls to look to God in the midst of their situations and I was able to pray with many of them for those very reasons. It was unforgettable.

            We visited two churches, many other schools, including one girls school where I had the opportunity to preach to over 900 girls, and another safari (this time with giraffes that we actually got to walk beside). And while there were a few complications (like two of our team members coming down with typhoid), this trip prepared me in ways I never thought possible to simply spend time and love on those hurting and broken, to share with them the love Jesus gives freely and to act in that love towards them. I don’t share these gruesome details purposelessly, but to make you aware of the true environment in which these people live. They, just like us, are hurting, broken people who need God. And I am so glad we were able to give them a glimpse of Jesus. On both trips we were able to play against a women’s soccer team (who played barefoot) letting the guys show off their skills, while many of the girls played with the children. It was the fun and joy more than anything that taught me to appreciate the little things in life.

At the end of our trip we were all forever changed, and on the way home we were able to spend a 21 hour layover in Istanbul, Turkey, where we visited some of the most famous mosques in the world, and where I received a very strong call to minister to Muslims. While there are so many more details and things I could share about these trips, it will have to be done in person, but I will say this: God moves. God heals.  He is moving and working in ways we don’t even know. But we must do our part. When He calls, we go. And remember where God guides, He provides.

            “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.” -Jeremiah 29:11

            “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”-Matthew 28:19

            “And the King will answer them, ‘Truly I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’”-Matthew 25:40

            I encourage you to pray about going or donating to one of our future trips to Uganda and to ‘In the Garden Missions.’ Thank you for your support and for reading about my experience, I hope I was able to speak to you in some way.

Love,

Ana

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