The Journey

A year in Africa with His new liver: will God keep my husband safe?

Before we left, there were tears, fear and anxiety. It wasn’t that we wanted to turn back and not go – no, it wasn’t like that. In the quiet of the night in Singapore, we would sometimes toss and turn in bed, only to find each other still awake, too, asking the other, “Are you scared?”

This would be an exploratory trip as a stepping stone to us serving a longer term of at least a year in a country so different from where we each had grown up in.

What if we hated the place? What if the local people didn’t like us? What if all our planning in taking no-pay leave and getting new tenants for our home and turning down job offers in preparation for missions all went to waste? What if we couldn’t pick up the local language? What if, like people cautioned, we were eyed as targets for theft and robbery all the time?

By God’s grace, a missional church and the prayers of many, kept those seedlings alive.

Because there, in the early morning quietness in Uganda, which they affectionately call the Pearl of Africa, we awoke each morning to watch the sunrise peek humbly over the languid waters of Lake Victoria. God’s embrace of peace overwhelmed us against the backdrop of a magnificent sky of billowing clouds, and with more than fifteen different kinds of birds singing their own songs while feeding by the shore. Every fear, tension and doubt left us. No one could respond to me in a tone that suggested I was doing my husband, who has had a liver transplant before, a disservice in health by allowing him to go to Africa – a land whose healthcare system might be a maze to wade through. No one could put the burdensome weight of lost status, lost prestige and a lost career upon me.

There, just watching the lake teeming with activity, unjudged, our hearts pulsed into life. There, we felt free, and alive.

It was not always quiet of course. There is never a dull moment in Africa – children’s faces glowing with the most radiant smiles, little bellies bulging with remorseless parasites, village people waving gleefully at us “mzungus” (a term used to describe foreigners). Under the scalding sun, were tiny lonely wooden tin shacks, roasting like ovens, with undiscovered old men or ladies huddled alone in their abodes filled with either the stench of urine or the choking smell of burning cinder. They were elated to have company.

One elderly lady in her nineties was so delighted to have visitors, that she hugged Cliff tightly, barely before he even crouched through her door, and started jumping for joy.

For a bag of salt, sugar, bread and a cake of soap, she burst forth unspeakable joy and unimaginable hospitality, in a dark house with nobody else.

We also visited the two Cornerstone Primary Schools, where Cliff and I shared stories and games with the children. It was surreal to see the children we had been sponsoring for years in person! It seemed like so much had happened. Yet, at the end of every day, after we were drenched in perspiration or sun-baked like a grilled lobster, we could return to the lake and our Living Water residing in each of us, knowing full well that God had called, and we were right to heed it. Having a medical background, I remember sitting in Pastor Yang’s office one day last year, burdened with the warnings my medical colleagues had given me about going to an impoverished land with a husband who was unable to take the yellow fever vaccine (an official customs requirement for Uganda) and needed ongoing specialist care for his liver transplant.

“Trust God” was Pastor Yang’s unshakeable reply. I was confused. Yet, we all knew, that if it was God’s way, He would make a way. And there we were, sitting by the lake on the last day of our trip, recollecting how God had, at once, answered so many of our prayers, and yours too. A Christian medical professor of mine had got in touch with me, and it must have only been God’s grace that she should “happen to be” an international expert in travel vaccination and gave my husband the medical advice he needed, and a medical waiver that would permit him to pass through Ugandan Customs.

There, in the Pearl of Africa, we found a plethora of ministries we could be involved in; there, we “accidentally” met the Medical Director of the best, internationally-certified hospital in the city, who gave me his personal contact in case of emergencies and offered to give Cliff quality care; there, we enjoyed the local food and I picked up enough Lugandan language within 11 days to greet, compliment, bargain and start a conversation with a local.

There, by the lake, I was overwhelmed with how God had provided for us, and felt Him ask me gently – if I could possibly ever love myself or my husband more than He does?

Despite what people say, we can be sure that God has called. And it is well with our souls.

Tam Wai Jia

*Cliff & Wai Jia returned to Uganda shortly after to serve for a year among underprivileged communities in the Apprentice Program.

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