BY DAVE WAYMAN | SPECIAL TO FAITHLIFE
Editor’s Note: Dave Wayman of Our Lady of Peace Parish in Erie shares his experience of a recent mission trip to Uganda.
Feed the hungry. Give drink to the thirsty. Clothe the naked. Shelter the homeless. Visit the sick. Ransom the captive. Bury the dead.
These are the traditional corporal works of mercy that we are all called to do as Catholic Christians. Most of us reach out in mercy in our own communities, but sometimes, God calls us out of our comfort zone to help those in need in places we never dreamed of going.
For me, it was Africa.
Traveling to Africa was never on my bucket list, but two Lents ago, the Holy Spirit showed me that while giving up sweets is nice, helping someone is actually much better. I decided to sponsor a child through Mary Mission, Inc., a 501(c)3 non-profit headquartered in Bismark, N.D. The mission had just built St. Philomena Primary and Nursery School, which is located in a rural area of East Africa where an estimated 800 children have lost one or more parents to the HIV/AIDS epidemic.
These children need to learn English and obtain a Catholic education if they ever hope to avoid making the same potential mistakes as some of their parents. They need to be given the chance to advance economically in the wider world outside of their tribal area.
I sponsored a boy, David Kisekka, and my wife, Kathy, sponsored his little brother, Augustine. We were able to help them attend St. Philomena, which currently has 285 students and a waiting list of 400.
I was invited to go along on Mary Mission’s July 2016 trip to the school. Although reluctant at first, the Holy Spirit got the better of that argument, so I went.
I mostly wanted to make sure the charity was legitimate and the work they were doing was worthwhile. I also wanted to be certain that it was safe before Kathy would join me in the future.
To my delight, it was both legitimate and safe. What joy I felt in being part of the mission! I traveled with four others, called “mission partners,” who took clothes, dental supplies and worm medicine, in addition to financial assistance provided by Mary Mission.
What love we were given in return! The people and the children are very poor and deeply appreciative of anything done for them. On the Sunday I was there, we celebrated the first-ever Mass at the school and afterward the children entertained us with dancing and singing and plays for about five straight hours. I was moved to tears several times as I watched them. I remember thinking, “I’ve done virtually nothing to deserve this gift of love I am being given as part of the team.”
God is so good. You really can’t out-do him.
Because it was relatively safe to travel there, Kathy accompanied me on a return trip last July. This time, we had a total of 13 mission partners, including a doctor, two nurses, and Erie resident Nicole Maxson, a student at Clarion University of Pennsylvania.
Donors previously built a basketball court at the school, but the children are not familiar with how basketball is played. There is no electricity, so they are not exposed to the game via television.
A former varsity standout on the Villa Maria Academy basketball team and on the Clarion University women’s basketball team, Nicole didn’t hesitate to accept the invitation to be part of our mission team and teach basic basketball skills to the children.
She says: “I learned so many life lessons about who I am as a person, about what I can give to others. The people of Uganda and the children taught me perhaps the most valuable lesson of all: you don’t need much in life to be happy. As long as you have Jesus and those you love around you, all will be well.”
Kathy loved her experience as well, and is eager to return.
“I was most moved by the children—especially the 32 children who made their first Communion in a half-built church that is already full of love—and the faith exuded by the people of the villages,” Kathy says.
St. Philomena School opened in February 2016 and already is bearing much fruit for the faith. The sacraments and the gifts and graces they offer are preparing the children for a better future.
Much has been accomplished by the grace of God, but there is much more to do.
Among the most rewarding experiences of my life has been going to Uganda and seeing so much good accomplished in such a short time—and seeing children and families hopeful about their future. I pray that others listen to their hearts and reach out in mercy, too.
My advice to anyone is, “If the Holy Spirit prompts you to go on a mission, just go, no matter where it leads.”
Dave Wayman is a retired publisher. He can be reached at email@example.com. He is willing to speak at parishes and schools about his mission experiences.
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