From Uganda to Guatemala, God’s love is universal

Originally posted at:


(Note: The author of this story is a 2011 graduate of Uganda Christian University. For the past two years, he has worked as a business and community relations specialist for Child Care Resource and Referral of Southeast Iowa, USA. He lobbies businesses and state policy makers to create policies that support families and help employees access quality, affordable childcare.)

By Dennis Wandera

It certainly wasn’t the first mission trip I had taken. And, growing up in underdeveloped Uganda, I certainly never imagined myself going on a mission trip to another Third World country – Guatemala, Central America.

When I was a journalism student at Uganda Christian University (UCU) nearly a decade ago, I developed the urge to seize any opportunity to live my faith through service to God and people. Thankfully the campus had many fellowships and a robust spiritual program offered by the Chaplaincy. Throughout my student time, I led four separate student-mission trips to eastern, northern and southwestern Uganda under the Compassion Leadership Development Program.

Many of us (students) had never interfaced with the brokenness, injustices, vulnerability and need for God that hovered among people living in our own country. These experiences shaped our perspectives and desire to be part of the long-term solutions to the challenges that undermine our country. But it also – at least for me, was a formative moment to find my place in God’s global plan through missions in and outside my own culture. I was certainly not aspiring to change the world, but aspired to do something – however little – and to watch the world change me.

Cross-cultural ministry

When an opportunity was presented through my church, Harvest Bible Chapel (Davenport, Iowa), to partner with Impact Ministries, Guatemala for a short-term mission trip of 16 people on October 13-21, I knew God was sending me. This was a country and culture that I knew nothing about. I was prepared to have my mind, opinions and perspectives altered. I was determined to learn and grow through every experience – not to revolutionize the place I was going to.

Cross-cultural ministry experiences can be, and usually are, ones that change us in deep ways. From her fragile past history after Spain colonialists, to the current political establishment, culture, worship, hospitality and food – Guatemala mirrors Uganda in some contexts. Like my Ugandan homeland, more than half of Guatemala’s population is classified as poor. They lack material wealth yet they find joy and cling to hope in Christ through their circumstances.

The sight of Guatemalan kids in villages walking distances to schools and women doing back-breaking work for long hours was a down-memory-lane of my own boyhood struggles growing up in Uganda. These visuals, along with the lack of basic needs like clean water demonstrated that despite the 13,437 kilometers (8,341 miles) separating my native country from Guatemala, this newly visited Central American country and Uganda are a reflection of each other in their public policy system.

Construction and connections

Our team helped construct a classroom block at a local school and donated items to new moms in a local hospital. We played a soccer game, visited local food markets and got hosted in homes for cookouts as a way of cultural immersion. Not many locals spoke English. Nonetheless, we sang, prayed together, laughed at our pitiful Spanish, and worked alongside them. Despite the language barrier, God’s love is universal.

One aspect of the trip unique to me was local reaction to the color of my skin. While Guatemalans generally have darker skin than most American Caucasians, most had never seen a black person except in the movies. I became an attention in some places we went. Three kids in the market kept following me and wanting to touch my hair and skin. Their mom pulled out a phone, asking for a picture of me with her kids. The adults who had seen the Black Panther movie gave me a nickname: Wakanda (location near Tanzania, Africa). I loved it. Eventually everyone on my team from the United States started calling me Wakanda.

Visiting is about scenery and places. But more importantly, it’s about people.

In Guatemala, I made a connection with people in that country as well as those on my team through the joy of their life stories and struggles. This was much less about me making a profound impact in their lives and place, but rather about them (and God) making a profound impact on me and my heart.

Eyes widened to poverty

By exposing my heart while getting my hands dirty in the soil of this country, my eyes were widened to poverty and needs. Beyond poverty statistics are the beautiful souls of kids who sat on my lap. I hope that the impact of this trip stays long after their country dirt is washed off of my feet.

Ultimately I hope that for the first time, or in a deeper way, I come to see that the gospel needed by the not-yet-Christians I encountered while I served in Guatemala is the same gospel that’s needed in my own heart. The people I loved and served there are not merely good people trapped in hard circumstances who need little help. They are fellow sinners, whose sin is no less deep and no less present than my own.

And their deepest need – though it may look drastically different on the surface is no different than mine. The need for a Savior who not only says, “I am willing” but “It is finished,” so that they too can be welcomed home as sons and daughters of the King.


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