*Michael Okleme is Bright Hope’s Strategic Partnerships Manager. Last month he traveled to Uganda with a team for the first time. He shares his eye-opening experiences here…
This trip was my first visit to Uganda. I was privileged to join a group of men from Northview Church in Indiana to visit our Bright Hope Uganda church partners. This was also the first time I would be meeting this group of men from Indiana, so I didn’t know what to expect.
It was a joy to see how God used everyone’s experience to His glory on this trip.
At a men’s conference held on the first day of our visit, the Northview team gave speeches on topics like how to be a good father and husband, how to save, and how to make time for your family among others.
The over 80 men that were present at the conference listened with rapt attention and proved their engagement with relevant questions after each presentation.
One thing that stood out with these men was that the majority of them had come to realize that some of the cultural practices that prevailed in the nearly 60 tribes in Uganda are detrimental to the healthy role of the father in the family.
Some of the cultural practices even prohibited men from helping their wives with home chores, while others did not give the wife a say in home decision making.
During the question and answer sessions I discovered an opportunity for God to use my experiences.
Having been born and raised in Ghana, with similar experiences as the conference attendees, and now living in the United States, I have had the humble privilege of experiencing both worlds.
I was able to somehow help bridge some knowledge and mindset gaps. For instance, a question that was asked by one of the attendees echoed a very common mindset among some Africans: “Why are all Americans rich and all Africans poor?”
I shared with the men that this was not a true concept we should hold about the people of both worlds. Economically, America is very rich compared to Africa, but that doesn’t mean there are no poor people in America.
I mentioned that I’ve seen people begging along streets in Illinois. When I said this, I heard one participant respond with the question: “White?”
“Yes,” I said.
They were surprised to hear this.
We went on to elaborate that both worlds face challenges and that a change in mindset, one of the focuses of the conference and the work Bright Hope is doing with fathers’ clubs, is an important component for transformation.
Thanks to the collaboration between the local church and Bright Hope, these men proved that they are set on a course to be biblically relevant instead of culturally relevant.
A father at one of our meetings said, “To make the needed changes, we need to ignore some of our cultural practices.”
Some of these men were proud to share about the changes they have begun making in their homes. These included helping their wives with house chores and verbally expressing their love for their wives in the presence of their children. These are not common things for men of their culture.
Other fathers now make time to play with their kids at home—we even walked into one home and saw the father playing with a homemade soccer ball with his kids.
Pastor Vincent, one of Bright Hope’s partner pastors, gave an example of how this cultural shift has affected his own family.
He mentioned that what he’s been learning in their fathers’ club has changed the way he relates with his grandkids. He is warm with them, plays with them and demonstrates his loving relationship towards his wife. He added that he’s a different father and grandfather now, and he often feels sad that his own kids did not experience such a kind and loving dad when they were growing up.
On this trip I saw God at work through the local church, and I saw the transformation that could take place when a people are open for change.
And for our six or so days in Uganda, I also got to experience great fellowship with the seven passionate and daring Christian men who had travelled to Uganda with open hearts and spirits, ready for God to use them however He wanted.
For some of them, the trip to Uganda was their first ever trip outside of the United States. The men on this team were made up of some who had been believers for a long time, some not so long, and one man who had just come to Christ six months ago.
The most touching and impactful part of all was the fact that these men from Northview showed great vulnerability, a quality which isn’t very common among men in Africa. They shared their struggles, failures and challenges, and shared how God brought them out—or is still helping them out.
Most impactful was the story of one team member who shared with the Ugandan fathers how he had been abandoned by his own dad when he was young. But he said that coming to know Christ has made him know that he has a loving Father who will never abandon him, and this makes him want to be a good father to the children that God blesses him with.
The audience of Ugandan men were so amazed. The room became so quiet.
The participants later expressed sincere appreciation for such vulnerability and openness, and they were determined to make changes in their own lives.
These Northview men came prepared to share their experiences as fathers, husbands, brothers and pastors with fellow men in Uganda. They also came with open hearts, ready to be blessed by the people in Uganda, and for sure we all came back from Uganda changed and challenged.