‘Without Jesus, I would not be here’
Originally posted at: https://www.ugandapartners.org/2019/09/without-jesus-i-would-not-be-here/
By Patty Huston-Holm
“Going to bed hungry is an experience I’ve never had.”
Tabea Hofmann finished a soggy banana and folded the blackened peal on the circular table just outside the Uganda Christian University (UCU) student cafeteria. Inside, at 1:30 p.m. on a Sunday, and amidst the hum of voices blended with sound from a single, large-screen TV, was the usual meal of rice and beans, with an optional banana.
Tabea, 21, from Germany and less than a week into her one semester of UCU studies, reflected on the food, her career path, her faith, her life in Uganda and in her home country 3,700 miles (6,000 kilometers) away and about the message from a three-hour church service off campus that September 1, 2019, morning. Reminders that God does not abandon His people – even when they are weary from lack of food – came from the New Testament chapters of Corinthians, Romans, Matthew, Ephesians and James.
“God has predestined that you overcome everything,” said Pastor Stephen Wanyama of Dunamai (meaning “to be able” with Greek origin) Church in Mukono. “God loves you so much that when you go through pain, He is right there with you.”
Tabea was among 60 people and one of two German youth who heard the sermon from the pastor and a Lugandan mother-tongue language interpreter. Tabea and Stefanie Guenter worshiped from plastic chairs arranged on a dirt floor inside a small, sheet-metal building. Children ran and twirled joyously around the room. Local villager laundry flapped outside two small openings, while bare-footed residents walked or rode bicycles beyond the single entry opening.
“The main message is that when things don’t go well, you don’t have to understand all of it,” Tabea said. “You just need to know that God is there working for your good.”
Lack of popularity in high school, losing two grandparents within three months, eating unfamiliar food and missing a fiancé back home are small concerns compared to those of the people Tabea has met in East Africa. She reflected on the “gap year” experience with the Maasai ethnic group in Arusha, Tanzania. She had just turned 18 and was mentoring a mostly female population in a children’s home.
“The girls had a hard past,” she recalled. “Some had been hit with sticks by teachers. Some were early married. I’m not sure what men did to them. Yet, they were smiling.”
Helping people has been Tabea’s passion from an early age in her home city of Linkenheim, Germany. While she has worked with various populations, including a Bible study internship in a men’s prison, she has especially gravitated to nurturing children and girls. One 12-year-old girl she last saw when leaving Tanzania in July of 2017 is still in her heart.
“She was mentally disabled,” she said. “She was often disappointed in herself. I spent a lot of time with her to turn that around.”
Education and interactions in Tanzania and Uganda are informing her career that is a combination of theology and social work. Tabea, who also has musical skills (piano, violin, guitar), sees her Christian faith as inseparable from anything else in her life. She’s especially driven by verses 38 and 39 in Romans 8 that she associates with her Lutheran church confirmation class when she was age 14.
“The message is that nothing can separate us from God,” Tabea remarked, recalling one professor who said that while education is important, “in the cup of knowledge, when you reach the bottom (of what you can know), there is God.”
She is concerned that her generation, especially in Europe, doesn’t see Christianity as “cool.” In a fast-paced culture where “time is money,” fewer young people go to church.
“Jesus gives us rules, and most my age don’t like rules,” she said. “One thing I like about here is the slower pace and the stronger faith.”
Bare feet on dirt that is sometimes frequented by chickens and other animals can result in jiggers, according to Akena Luck, a leader of the congregation at the church on that September morning. He asked the 50 people there for shilling donations that could someday put cement over the church’s dirt floor. To Tabea, who had never heard the word “jiggers,” the danger of the insect that can emerge from the ground and burrow in the skin was explained. At the same time, Tabea recalled a Tanzania wedding custom of having goat meat as the “wedding cake.” Immersing in African culture, she said, is fascinating and rewarding.
Changing her German diet from salads, meat and potatoes to rice and beans is part of the lesson that “it’s most important to feel full and not hungry” in a country where the government doesn’t feed its people.
“We have poor people in Europe,” she said. “But if they need food, the government provides it.”
Where the young woman’s future life and career will take her is uncertain. But what is certain, she says, is that “without Jesus, I would not be here.”
In addition to Tabea Hofmann and Stefanie Guenter, the other German students studying at Uganda Christian University through mid-December and through a partnership with Internationale Hochschule Liebenzellare: Chris Buehner, Hanna Koelz, Joel Müller and Johannes Keisers.