Earlier this month I traveled to the remote village of Kawete, Uganda to visit Christ Community Lutheran School, a primary school that serves about 400 children in both boarding school and day school programs. In addition to preparing the children of Kawete for secondary school, CCLS-U shares God’s word and teaches character through the same Christian Character Formation Project that our HOPE Schools and Compass Educational Programs use.
I set out on this journey to explore the similarities and differences between how children interpret and live out character virtues in America and how those same virtues are interpreted in Uganda. If I’m being honest, I had no idea what to expect. Going into this trip I knew three things: 1) that even though Open Sky schools are located in some of the most under-served communities in the United States, our country is still one of the most developed in the world, 2) Uganda is one of the most impoverished countries in the world, and I was likely on my way to a place that was further from home (both geographically and in terms of lifestyle) than I had ever been before, and 3) that children are children, no matter where they are, and that there is something inherently good and pure about the heart of a child.
I traveled with the St. Louis mission team from Christ Community International, which included medical professionals, church and school leaders, high school students, and others in the Lutheran community looking to make an impact on the lives of the people of Kawete. Everyone on the trip had a job, whether it was to provide medical care, to bring knowledge and resources for students at the nearby seminary or to gather updates for sponsors back home. My job was simple in comparison: learn everything I could about life in Kawete and a child’s journey to living a flourishing life for Greater Purpose.
The Christian Character Formation Project helps us understand our Identity as God’s children, our Purpose, or the answer to the question “Why do I exist?”, and our Actions, or the answer to the question “how shall I live?” in a context that is greater than ourselves. The lessons help us understand that “there is something bigger than me”. What better way to set out on my own journey of understanding a context greater than myself than to travel across the big world we live in and interact with my brothers and sisters in Christ who share in the same mission of educating God’s children?
The Character Formation Project is created on the idea that four essential elements must be present in order to form a person’s character: the stories of influential people, pain and struggle, a Greater Purpose, and practice, or commitment to acting on and reflecting on the lessons one learns. In my interactions with both the adults and the children of CCLS-U, two themes emerged over and over again—joy and diligence.
On my second day in Kawete I was able to spend some time with the staff of CCLS-U and teach a character lesson on Noah’s Ark and Diligence. The “Big Question” learners are asked to reflect on is “How do I diligently complete everything just as God commands me?” In planning the lesson and my discussion questions, I was initially concerned that the definition of terms like diligence or self-sacrifice wouldn’t translate well across language and cultural barriers. I quickly discovered that my worries were unnecessary.
After reading Genesis chapter 6, I asked the staff to think about how Noah may have felt when God asked him to do this hard work of building the ark. What might he have been thinking? I asked the question, “If you were Noah and God asked you to build the ark, how would you feel?” One teacher quickly responded that although she may have felt scared or unsure how to complete the task at first, she knew that God would provide her with all the tools that she needed, and since it was work that God called her to do, she would do it with joy, enthusiasm, and determination. We went on to discuss how our work as educators could be similar to Noah’s work; it is the work God calls us to do, and even though sometimes it seems scary and daunting, we must do our work with joy, enthusiasm, and determination to live out our calling.
It was during this discussion that I realized that the concept of diligence not only withstood the language and cultural barriers I was so worried about, but it was likely that I was learning much more about diligence than I was teaching to this group of hardworking educators looking back at me. We were sitting in a classroom with dirt floors, no air conditioning or electricity, no running water, and brick walls that had literally been built by hand by the very people in the room. Pain and suffering? Check. Had we heard stories of influential people? Not only did we hear Noah’s story, but the influence of the educators in the room served as powerful stories of their own. Was there Greater Purpose in the pursuit of educating the children for which they care deeply? My aching feet just from a few days spent watching the teachers and children enthusiastically move through a 10-hour school day certainly told me that they had plenty of practice living and working diligently. Check, check, and check.
What surprised me the most was the amount of joy and pride the teachers and children take in the work they complete so diligently each day. In an environment that most Americans would consider destitute and unlivable, the people of Kawete have chosen to find joy, gratitude, and so much love for the work they do and the lives they live. No wonder the children at CCLS-U were some of the happiest kids I’d ever met; the adult influencers in their lives were great role models for choosing joy under even the toughest circumstances. Where does this joy come from? It isn’t from material possessions, or the comfort of a luxurious home, or the security and confidence that comes from financial freedoms. What I experienced was a joy for life in the purest sense. A community of people working together to rejoice in the life that the Lord made for us, diligently working to share God’s love with one another, and teaching me a lesson in how character is acquired.
Senior Community Relations Director, Open Sky Education