Hashtags & Happiness

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By Jill French Anderson, First UMC Graphic Designer & Social Media Manager
When Ashley asked me six months ago to accompany her on a trip to Uganda, my heart raced and excitement filled my spirit. I wasn’t sure if I could raise enough money, but if God has a plan for you to go global, you will get there. So…needless to say…I was able to raise the money, and the hashtag “#jillandashgoglobal” was born! This was the trip I will never forget. Ever.

As a first time international traveler, I had no idea how to prepare for a long flight. On our way to Amsterdam via Atlanta, I quickly learned what everyone had told me about getting up and moving around, drinking lots of water, and trying to sleep was all about. Nine and a half hours later, I was in shock that I actually was overseas. I made it! I made it across the ocean! I thought to myself, maybe I can be a world traveler after all?! We quickly jumped on another airplane headed to Uganda. Only eight and a half hours to go, and another two-hour drive from Entebbe to Mukono, and our 29 hours of travel would be complete.

Arriving in Entebbe, Ashley and I were greeted by two beautiful and excited young women carrying flowers with open arms followed by big hugs! It made my suitcase not making it to Uganda not a big deal. I mean, I am a world traveler now. Who needs a suitcase?! Every experience seemed to produce a hashtag for our social media enjoyment, and this is where the hashtag “#itsinthesuitcase” was born. The girls showed us to the car, where William Nsubuga greeted us with smiles and more hugs. At this point, my tears began – not sad tears, happy tears. I remembered William’s visit to Shreveport not too long ago, and I couldn’t believe I made it to his country. What an overwhelming sense of amazement I was feeling!

The next day, our arrival at Agape Christian Academy was more than what I ever expected. The children were playing loud music over the speakers. They were dancing, laughing, and singing. They threw open the sliding side door of the van and pulled me out with huge welcoming smiles and hugs. The joy that filled my heart is so hard to put into words. Grabbing my hands, I was led over to a huge dancing circle filled with children. I got cheers and laughter as I joyfully danced uncontrollably, or some would say making a fool out of myself. My body was so alive I felt like an infomercial – the Holy Spirit took a hold of my body ,and I couldn’t help but have the hugest smile and overwhelming surge of energy! It would far exceed any energy drink to help with this jet lag.

Grabbing my hands again, some kind-hearted young tour guides took me around the campus of Agape. They showed me their chickens, cows, and beautiful gardens. They were so proud of their home. The girls led me to their dormitory, and they were so excited to show us their beds. This is where I had a life-changing experience. Just before my trip, my husband and I were discussing how we needed a new king-size bed to not just help with our poor posture but to have room for our 100lb. son, aka Leroy our dog. When these girls were overwhelmed with excitement to show me their beds, their one true possession, it was eye-opening. Here was this small bunk bed, their only personal living space. I was just knocked over by the feeling of guilt. I have so much, yet they are so joyful and happy with having so little.

This trip truly brought a new perspective. I was able to look at Uganda and see a country filled with poverty, but it’s one of the happiest places I have ever been. The people of Uganda didn’t look upon themselves as poor. They didn’t have media, advertising, or a comparison of others to show them what they didn’t have. They knew how to survive and live happy. They had their community, families, and themselves. It didn’t matter what possessions they had. What they have is what they have, and whatever work they had to do, they did it. Whoever they needed to help, they would. Seeing this country this way led me to question my own. I didn’t have a culture shock when I was in Uganda; I had culture shock when I made it back to the States and saw the mass quantity of things we have. And by things I mean the abundance of food, gadgets, iPhones, cars, and computers. I had to stop and take a breath. It was too much. Though it’s an understatement, I felt overwhelmingly blessed when I thought to what I had back home.

Also on our trip, Ashley and I were honored to be a part of Eve and Vincent’s wedding. As a gift to them, we offered to take engagement photos and wedding photos of them. What an amazing experience! These two beautiful people, so humble, gentle and shy, made the sweetest couple I have ever met. Learning of their traditions was more then just educational, but intriguing. One of my favorite moments occurred at the waterfalls taking photos and Ashley led us in the most beautiful prayer. After that moment, we piled into the car to head back into town, and Eve and Vincent broke out into a beautiful hymn. They began to harmonize, and Ashley joined in, and I was just taken by the love of God in that single moment. How His presence filled the car! The love between this couple and everyone I have met in Uganda was uncontainable.

It has been a challenge to try to fit my first mission into a small article. The life-changing experience of global mission is hard to fit into words that others can relate to sometimes. I truly feel everyone should be able to experience a trip to not just go to serve with others, but to see God’s people within His kingdom in a country beyond our own. I am forever grateful for this opportunity. Which leads to the overall hashtag “#wow”

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