Sunday, September 9, 2012

Oh, say, can you survey? Part ssatu--from John

Along with the Gospel in the developing world —and because of it!—we must pursue partnerships and the intentional development of engineering and design professionals and programs. This was one of the sentiments that hung with me (John) from our eMi staff conference one year ago.  

And this summer, I got to experience it. As of August 3rd, eMi East Africa—in partnership with eMi Canada—finished a six-week course pouring practical survey knowledge into the minds of Ugandan college students.  I spent more than four weeks in the classroom and on the grounds of Kyambogo University here in Kampala.

I got to be on both ends of the exchange as I performed the role of administrator and aid for the course, but was also a student.   Five other Ugandans and I were privileged to sit under the experienced tutelage of eMi volunteer Patrick Cochrane and learn the practical ins and outs of surveying on many varieties of equipment: RTK GPS, Total Stations, Theodolites, data collectors. The students received more time on equipment in those 4 weeks than in all their previous three years of studying surveying.  We also navigated the beginnings of drafting our surveys.  

But one of my favorite moments was actually the devotional time all the guys--at varying levels of commitment to Christianity--took turns leading. I don't know that I'll easily forget the morning one of the guys forgot it was his turn and poked me, which found me cracking open my Bible with them to one of my favorite, life-defining passages: Psalm 40.

I waited patiently for the Lord;
he inclined to me and heard my cry.
He drew me up from the pit of destruction,
out of the miry bog,
and set my feet upon a rock,
making my steps secure.
He put a new song in my mouth,
a song of praise to our God.
Many will see and fear,
and put their trust in the Lord.

After weeks rubbing shoulders with these guys, most of them typical male (Ugandan) college students, it was an incredible chance to tell them some of my story, and what the Gospel looked like--particularly in my life. eMi is mostly a support ministry to other organizations; directly sharing Christ with people is not as frequent an opportunity as some missionaries have it. But the ensuing conversations with these guys as we interacted over this passage was a unique privilege.

A week later, taking the practicum to the field, we spent 7 days in the thick bush surveying 500 acres on Restoration Gateway’s ministry site in rural Uganda. (I returned by myself last weekend to tie up some loose ends regarding the survey of the river there, and I'm now there for a week with the design team from North America.) We learned a lot about surveying, but also about each other, and how our faith crosses cultures.

There was a point where I wasn’t sure if I was learning more about surveying or about the culture of Ugandan college students.

Some reflections:

·         Atkins what? You can eat pounds of starch at every meal and still have less than 10% body fat.

·         I still don’t understand the importance of dowries.  But talking about them along with other gender issues generates a truly lively discussion among Ugandans.

·         Talking politics isn’t so challenging when you can keep yourself a bit removed and don’t do the talking.

·         Some jokes translate, some don’t.   But explaining a joke still kills the humor.

·         Despite our very real problems, I really value America and despite putting on a neutral posture, I am more sensitive to its criticism than I would have thought.

·         Asking “why” takes observation to a whole new level of learning.

·         I have taken for granted how much we in America have a culture rich in education.   There is very real value in this that I don’t know how to properly describereal value that allows us to increase our positions professionally, technologically, and otherwise.  We all stand on the shoulders of those who have gone before us growing from the knowledge that has previously been discovered and integrated. Even those of us who might not have finished college, or even high school, absorbed more than some college educations, simply from living a culture that is saturated with education.   I have a new level of gratefulness for my education, but even more for my parents and grandparents generations and what they have imparted to us.

·         Character and heart transcends culture.   We all bleed red regardless of our skin color or the colors of our flag.  Some students were hard working, some not so much.   Some were more aware of others around them, some weren’t.   Some were gracious, some were entitled.   Some were haughty, some were meek.  Working with 5 students in another culture was difficult in some respects and very rewarding in many.   Spending some much time with these guys, it was challenging to get my head around their ways of interacting and understanding their experiences.  But it was comforting in one aspect, underneath their culture and life experiences, they were more familiar to me than I would have thought.   And each of them, no matter how likable or wanting their character was, have the same needs I have: needs for love, belonging, kindness, need to be known, to be forgiven, need to use or lives for a greater purpose than satisfying our own appetites.   

Final reflection: Not unlike the Bible belt of America, or my own heart at times, the gospel of grace is sometimes a shallow, missing, or forgotten concept in the daily faith of those who call themselves Christians.   But daily devotions together and preaching the gospel over and over to each other was one of the highlights of my time with my new Ugandan friends.

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