Student missionaries step out into the world stage

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Two of the children in Uganda Kristen was able to spend time with. (Photo provided by Kristen Hopewell)
Two of the children in Uganda Kristen was able to spend time with. (Photo provided by Kristen Hopewell)
As some students made their way to classes during the past fall semester, others were on their way to a different type of campus. Bethel senior Sam Palombo and junior Kristen Hopewell both made a journey for a semester abroad program in Uganda. These two students had very different experiences, but they both shared the adjustment to African life and were both left with memories that will last them the rest of their lives. Palombo spent most of his semester at Uganda Christian University in Mukano, Uganda. He lived mostly in dorms but also had the chance to live with host families in both a city setting and in a rural setting. Adjusting to this new way of life was not difficult for Palombo. “When most people go to Africa, they are there to help and they probably see a lot of poverty; but, while I was there, that was not the focus,” said Palombo. Palombo expected to meet and begin relationships with Ugandans, but found that cultural and personality differences made this a challenge. However, he valued the opportunities to spend time in Kampala, Uganda’s capital, and to travel to other parts of the country. Palombo also values the time he spent with his rural host family, as well as the debrief that took place after his trip. A seasoned traveler, Palombo went to South Africa for a semester abroad a few years ago; but Uganda was “quite different,” according to Palombo. Hopewell, who also spent time in Mukono, travled on to Luweero, Rakai, Jinja, and Kapchorwa − where she lived in a rural setting for a week, then spent ten days in Rwanda. Hopewell participated in the Uganda Studies Program and also chose to stay with host families. Hopewell had some assumptions about the way she would live, but she still experienced a few surprises when she arrived. “My home in Mukono was a lot nicer than I expected,” said Hopewell. “I had no idea what kind of conditions I’d be in. I even imagined a round mud hut. I honestly had no idea.” Her home in Mukono was an average sized cement house with electricity, a TV and a computer. The family also had a car. The kitchen was located in a separate small building on the compound and the toilets were located outside. However, Hopewell’s rural home was much more rustic. The walls were made of mud and sand, and there was no electricity. These less-than-ideal circumstances allowed her to spend time with the people, which is something she truly values from this experience. “I really grew close to my host brother, Brian. He’s so great and has such a heart for people,” said Hopewell. Hopewell also connected with the rest of her host family and with kids who also lived on her road. Most of her favorite memories come from the time she spent with them. “One of my favorite experiences was walking up the foothills of mountains in the dark, after a huge rain storm, with some of my host family,” she said. “I loved the simple things, like just being with people, whether it be my family, my classmates or the kids in my village.” Overall, Hopewell felt that God was pulling her in the direction of Uganda. She knew that it would be a challenging but rewarding experience. Adjusting to this type of life was difficult at times. When she first arrived, she struggled to relate to the Ugandans and their culture. “While it does seem like a different world, there is a lot they have in common with us, once the culture shock starts to wear off,” said Hopewell. She adds that she was amazed by the Ugandans’ openness and hospitality. She misses their desire to simply spend time with people and their acceptance of her. For Hopewell, the main focus of her semester was on education, but she feels that she was ministered to as well. “This experience made me realize that we have chances to minister every day, whether in the U.S. or in Uganda, whether it’s to a sibling or a stranger on the road, or whether it’s playing with an orphan or just taking the time to talk to a waitress at a restaurant,” said Hopewell. While both Palombo and Hopewell seized an educational opportunity, they both challenged themselves and enjoyed what the country of Uganda had to offer, gaining some of the most memorable experiences of their lives.
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