The end of a season and the start of another
In mission, as in all life, sometimes things don’t work out quite like we expect.
It’s good to be honest when things don‘t work out as we expect – in mission as in all of life. Tom and Verity Clare have graciously shared their mission experiences with us, and explain why they returned to the UK sooner than they planned.
In Spring 2023, just as the first rains finally arrived after a long, dry season in Arua, we announced to our wonderful supporters that we were leaving Uganda.
During the dry season, it feels like the place is getting hotter and hotter, dustier and dustier, day by day, until you are so used to constantly sweating that you almost forget what it’s like to feel chilly. Then, just when you are beginning to doubt whether it will ever rain again, the rains come. The boys’ response was usually to rush outside and do a ‘rain run’, zigzagging under the drops.
Then before long, the flowers start to come out.
We felt the joy of spring rains more keenly than ever this year, because we knew that this would be the last time the children would be doing their ‘rain run’.
Acknowledging the struggle
For over a year, I (Tom) had been increasingly struggling with the reality of life in Uganda and our two older boys had also found it increasingly difficult.
My role in Arua involved a combination of clinical medicine, training, administration and management. Clinical medicine could be very frustrating at times, with patients often unable to access treatments due to their cost, or incorrect or delayed diagnoses sometimes having fatal consequences. Training medical staff in the disparate health centres was enjoyable, however, with the six health centres being located between 45 minutes and three hours’ drive away, it proved challenging to help develop a Christ-centred working culture as an occasional visitor. Administration and management in health are both areas that require a strong knowledge of the underlying local health systems, knowledge which I slowly gained but even after a time, mostly lacked.
In summary, I found it hard to come to terms with the knowledge that I wasn’t doing the job well. Mostly because I wasn’t trained, experienced or passionate in the right areas to thrive in the job roles. I did the best I could, but my best in Africa felt a long way from where it used to be.
I also found it hard at times on a social and personal level. The local language proved difficult to master. Local friendships were extremely hard to cultivate. My concern for supporting Verity and the children at home prevented me from spending time just sitting with people. The constant identification and attention as a ‘mundu’ (foreigner) was wearing and increasingly became a problem for me mentally.
My concern for the kids’ happiness also weighed heavily at times. For the two oldest boys, a lot of the problems seemed to come from being away from wider family. They have always been very close to their grandparents on both sides and to other family members. We prayerfully hoped and expected that as time passed, they would find it easier living on a distant continent, but with every departure from the UK, they found it progressively harder to cope with.
A difficult decision
Having acted on God’s established call on our lives to serve him overseas, we tried to serve him faithfully. We wrestled with these challenges over a long period, pressing on and pressing on and praying for God’s strength in our weakness. We tried changing my working role and tweaking the way in which we communicate with family in the UK to help the boys. We continued to submit to God’s sovereign will and to seek him for wisdom. At what point should difficulty for some of us lead to a change in environment? What level of challenge or distress should trigger a big change? How do we respond in unity when some of us are thriving and others aren’t?
For us, after talking and praying through the issues again over many months, we felt that God was saying that it was the right time to go back. It was earlier than we had initially planned and in many ways it felt like we hadn’t finished what we set out to do. But we also knew that God was leading us and had always been faithful to us.
After a time of handover and farewells, we are now back in the UK. I am working as a GP again. I really want to thank you so much for all of your prayers and support during our time in Uganda. Sometimes we felt like our prayer update emails weren’t as God-filled or as hopeful as they should be, but we appreciated the many replies we received from faithful pray-ers as we tried to share a realistic picture of what we were going through: the peaks and the troughs.
Grateful to God and to you
Looking back on our time in Uganda, we are both overwhelmed with thankfulness to God. I had amazing work colleagues at the Diocese, holy and thoughtful in their ministry and on fire for Jesus. Our children learned so much and they made some really great friendships, among others in the expat community, and also with local children, many of whom they played with daily. Verity and the three other children enjoyed the richness and flexibility of life in Uganda. I was able to serve a good number of patients, with God using me on more than one occasion to bring a life-saving intervention and many less-dramatic but still-significant therapeutic blessings.
We are thankful for the beauty of the sunrise and the fresh chill of the new rains. We are thankful for the inspiring example of hardworking local women and the faithful, Christ-centred church leaders with whom we worked. We’re thankful for God’s provision for us as a family at every stage. We’re thankful for the many friends and family who saw our calling and supported us in prayer and giving. We’re thankful for our children and the great blessing they continue to be to us and others. We’re thankful for so many more things than we can succinctly list here. Most of all we’re thankful to God who sees us, who knows us, complete with all our weaknesses and walls, yet still loves us enough to send Jesus as our rescuer.
You have searched me, Lord, and you know me.…
Search me, God, and know my heart;
test me and know my thoughts.
See if there is any offensive way in mePsalm 139:1,23–24
and lead me in the way everlasting.