As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.
— Proverbs 27:17
This verse has been on my mind for a while, even before I left for Uganda. I had a good two months where I was fortunate to sit back and watch wonderful things happen to some of the great people around me – things they had worked hard for. I had friends make it to the college rodeo national finals and finish in the top ranks. I've had another friend run in a pageant and fulfill a lifelong dream, then handle a disappointing outcome with the utmost grace. I've even had a sister pass a test to practice law despite her lack of schooling, and another sister finally buy a house after years of saving. This summer, friends have started marriages and careers that are going to be so, so successful, and others have continued to shine in the places they've been. Needless to say, some phenomenal people surround me.
It should have been no surprise to me, then, when I found myself in Uganda surrounded by more incredible people. Last week, I traveled all across northern and parts of eastern Uganda with six great people. Day by day, I was able to see even more of their greatness, and each day they all taught me more about the culture here, their agricultural knowledge, and more about Christ. They sharpened me. Not only that, but they sharpened each other, too.
Mike, Jason, Kelly, Sarah, Alexa and Ryan on Day 2 of our travels.
Kelly is an agricultural professor at Northeastern Junior College in Sterling, Colorado, and has served as a missionary to Uganda during her summers and Christmas breaks over the last seven years. Jason is a member of Kelly's church, and he made his third mission trip to Uganda this summer. (Yay for fellow Coloradans!) Ryan is a Field of Hope intern this summer, and he hails from a small town in Oklahoma. We got acquainted during a day-trip to Ardmore about a week before we left, and he's here working on the school gardens affiliated with Field of Hope. Dan is the current board president of Field of Hope, and Mike is the previous president and partial visionary. Sarah is a fellow Oklahoma State University Master of International Agricultural Program student who is serving her internship at the Suubi Goat Farm as a Noble-Watoto fellow.
It was extremely enlightening for me to sit back and watch each person put his or her talents to work over the course of the week. We traveled a lot of miles and spent many hours in a van and on farms during our time together. There's nothing like getting to know someone while in a foreign country, living in a hotel that has power only half of the time, and eating posho (boiled corn flower) and beans for the majority of your meals. Quirks don't stay hidden long.
Despite what may be considered negative instances, this group fed one another, and those we came in contact with, every day.
Kelly was able to give the lead farmer trainer some valuable teaching tips that greatly added to his presentation. She brainstormed with Mike and Dan on how to effectively make an impact in Ugandan culture. She guided Sarah and I through the different traditions and customs, and even graced the women's farmer training attendees with scripture. She prayed with us and told us some greatly moving missionary stories. All in all, she led by example and has a true love for the Ugandan people.
Jason was the ultimate helping hand of the entire week. Even though he has little to no agricultural experience, he never missed the opportunity to jump in and help. The first full day we were all together, we had the opportunity to help students plant in their garden. The instructor had no more than extended the invitation when Jason was kneeling next to four students making holes in the ground for seed. That's truly a testament to his work the remainder of the week. He sharpened us with his willing and serving heart. On top of that, he was also helpful when it came to explaining the various nuances of the people and culture in Uganda.
As Sarah and I like to say, Ryan has officially "blossomed" in Uganda. I remember our drive down to Ardmore what seems like forever ago (it was literally only three weeks ago), and him being so worried about his duties while here. He felt as if he wasn't fully practiced and, like me, was intimated by his lack of preparedness for working in a foreign country. It's truly funny how God works sometimes. As soon as Ryan laid eyes on the first garden, his gloves were off and he was full speed ahead. His mind has already started working on improvements. He has begun to sharpen Dan and Mike with his ideas as well as the agricultural instructors and even some of the students. I think he and Jason also sharpened each other while bouncing ideas back and forth while they labored side-by-side. It's been a fun transformation to watch, and I've been sharpened and inspired by his zealousness in getting right to work.
I couldn't have asked for anyone better to initiate me to Uganda than Ms. Sarah, or as I've began to call her, Ya-Ya. I knew Sarah at Oklahoma State but we never had the opportunity to truly spend time together, until this week obviously. I'm so glad God worked it out like He did! She has inspired me in so many ways. Having spent the last seven weeks in Uganda, she knew just what to point out and gave the best recommendations. In such little time, she also motivated me in my faith. God's love just radiates off of and through her! We've had a ton of laughs, and I feel like she's sharpened me just by being herself and loving everyone around her. She was always cheerful just to be along for the ride and never failed to help me understand what I was seeing in a different, usually better, light!
Dan is one of the most genuine people I have ever met, and he even comes in tow with a great list of book recommendations. His desire to fully understand every aspect of each project involved in the Field of Hope ministry is admirable, and you could tell his mind never stopped spinning. During every presentation or discussion, he asked purposeful questions and then listened with such great intent. Just from this, you can tell his intuition and knowledge is impressive. He greatly sharpened all of us with his aim in getting to know us better and his leadership in asking the right questions with the best of intentions. Not only that, but he was a close second to Jason in his willingness to lend a hand or take the worst seat in the bus to make everyone else more comfortable. His knowledge of the Bible was also sharpening, and I look forward to more discussion with him on any number of topics.
As for Mike, he was our fearless leader. Managing a group of seven, including three who had never been out of the country and none from familiar territory (geographically or in content), is a pretty tough gig. If anyone were made for the job, however, I'd say it was Mike. He runs a full schedule but was always tentative to the African timetable. Somehow, we managed to accomplish the entire itinerary and maybe even more. Mike sharpened us all by leading at the helm, and having a great attitude and ample enthusiasm while doing so. I think my favorite thing about this past week with Mike was his love. At each training, with roughly 30 women in attendance, his introduction always concluded with, "We love you all so much." That is leadership I can stand behind and learn from. He always took time to make sure we understood the projects and that we were well taken care of, and his passion is evident in the attention he pays to every detail. As Dan is following in his footsteps on the board, Mike was sure to groom him on the specifics of each project and how each branch was woven together. The love the people from Uganda have for him was also enlightening, as that speaks volumes to his leadership, devotion, and genuineness to them and his purposes while visiting. Mike sharpened us all with his leadership, love for the Ugandans, love for us, and love for God.
As you can see, I was in some hard-working, God-fearing, Ugandan-loving hands this week, and for that I'm beyond thankful. To go even further, it brings about immense inspiration to know these are the type of minds working to sharpen Uganda as a whole. We spent the week visiting people just like the group – they're all visionaries following God's lead and working for the greater good. I didn't even get started on Agnes, Walter, Irene, and the amazing women of the rural north who I also got to interact with this week, but we will get to them at a later time. For now, I'll say they've all been sharpened by someone in this group, or someone like them, and now they are doing their part to sharpen others in their own country.
Our new friend Alfred, Mike, Dan, Ryan, Alexa, Sarah, Kelly and Jason with Dinah Muasizi of the Buscoga Resource Center.
After this week, I know I'm sharper, and this is just the beginning. With this glimpse into the work force behind empowering Uganda, I know the people of this country are sharper today than they were yesterday, and they will be sharper tomorrow than they were today. All it takes is one person sharpening another, and that person going on to continue sharpening another, and so on. I know of six amazing people, and even two handfuls more, sharpening those in Uganda. I'm pretty sure there's a point forming, and soon they will all be unstoppable.
Alexa Major is a 2017 MIAP-Noble Fellow serving in agricultural development roles in Uganda. Major is from Fowler, Colorado, and is a student in the Master of International Agriculture Program at Oklahoma State University, where she focuses on business and rural development. This fellowship is sponsored in part by the Noble Research Institute.