Experience at African school brings missions to life for student interns


 “It is strange to be back in ‘Big American Church.’ Oh, and to be finished with worship after only one hour,” Hannah Stubblefield reflected. After spending 10 weeks last summer living and serving in Uganda, East Africa, as one of three interns from the North Georgia United Methodist Conference’s BRIDGES Missions Initiative, adjusting back to the American way of worshipping was just one of many transitions she had to make. 
Stubblefield, a current second-year student at Duke Divinity School and member of Due West UMC, spent her summer working with the leaders of the East Africa Annual Conference, as well as local pastors and churches. In addition to preaching her first sermon, she also further discerned a calling to Youth Ministry through developing a Bible study for students at HUMBLE United Methodist School.
“The group focused on two things: provide kids a place to ask their questions, and prepare them to lead studies themselves.” She reflected on the uniqueness of the group: “The kids wanted to be there. They were that excited about the chance to learn and pray together. I had kids skipping recess to come and talk about Jesus together.” Stubblefield brings that question back to the local American Methodist churches, How do we cultivate and feed that kind of hunger in American youth and children?
Intern Dan Tinsley returned with a slightly different set of reflections. Having grown up in a preacher-filled household (both parents are NGUMC clergy), Tinsley, a member of Young Harris UMC in Athens, is no stranger to the Methodist connection. However, earning a degree in Applied Biotechnology through UGA’s School of Agriculture uniquely prepared him to consider, how can agricultural sustainability strengthen a community and the church? Tinsley spent his summer helping re-envision the agricultural initiatives at HUMBLE United Methodist School. With his help, the school has expanded its cultivated farm land, reconfigured irrigation systems, and is producing harvest that will better nourish the students and provide income through local sales, thereby reducing the school’s overhead and tuition costs.
Oh, and he also teamed up with one of the HUMBLE Staff, and recorded a CD of original African gospel music in a local studio.
For intern Millie Davis, a current junior at the University of Georgia and member of the campus’ Wesley Foundation, her college courses came to life through a weekend excursion to Kigali, the capital city of neighboring Rwanda. As an International Affairs major, Davis was familiar with the genocides of 1994 that decimated the population and international reputation of this small country. But after being there, she became particularly haunted by the violence inflicted by children of God on other children of God. All three interns returned to Uganda, and to Georgia wondering, How do we as faithful Christians prevent ourselves from getting swept up into such atrocity? How do we teach dignity and sacred worth as the core values of Christian love?
Davis took this to the classrooms at HUMBLE United Methodist School where she spent the summer teaching the early elementary classes.  She offered a poignant reflection on overcoming the “us/them” dynamic so vital to faithful mission work and Christian living. “Muzungu (Lugandan word loosely translated as white foreigner). We heard it all the time. Every time my students would call me that, I’d correct them. I’d remind them that I had a name, just like they did. Calling each other by name is a sacred and important thing. God calls Israel by name. Jesus called to Mary in the garden by name. When I learned their names and they started using mine, that’s when we went from Muzungu person and Ugandan person to brothers and sisters in Christ. I realized, this is what I’m here to learn.”
All three members of our inaugural class of interns have been profoundly shaped by their experience, and the applications for their lives and ministries will only continue to unfold. Stubblefield, however, is already signed up to join the NGUMC team headed up by Rev. Dalton Rushing (Johns Creek UMC), leaving for a two week mission trip to Uganda in March. The team will help with the construction of the much needed girls’ dormitory at HUMBLE School.
As a critical part of the program, each intern enjoyed support and oversight from Bishop Daniel Wandabula, as well as supervisors at HUMBLE School. Through Skype, they communicated with parents and family, as well as held weekly processing sessions with the Revs. Blair and Will Zant. Blair is the Uganda Internship Program Director and Will chairs the Uganda partnership of the BRIDGES Initiative. The interns for the summer of 2012 will also be assisted by newly-minted North Georgia Missionary, Jennifer Hansen, who has just begun her ministry in Uganda, and will be living next door to the Intern House.
Applications are now available for the Uganda BRIDGES Internship Program for the summer of 2012. They can be found at www.ngumc.org, keyword, “Bridges.” You can also e-mail blair.zant@ngumc.net for more information. Applications are due on January 27, 2012.
      HUMBLE United Methodist School is a United Methodist-sponsored boarding and day school in Mukono, Uganda. It was founded in February 2004, through the combined vision and efforts of Bishop Watson and the South Georgia Conference, the Virginia Conference and Crossroads UMC, as well as the Kentucky, North Georgia, and Texas Conferences. HUMBLE stands for “Helping Ugandan Mwana (Children) By Loving Example.” Learn more at www.humbleunitedmethodistschool.org