In the beginning . . .

Here’s what I knew about the African continent before I arrived in Uganda with my family. I pictured a harsh, barren land (as depicted in some documentaries) and having to fetch water from some far away riverbed.

But when I looked out the plane window as we approached Entebbe Airport, I saw fertile land, lush trees, and rivers snaking out of Lake Victoria. It was gorgeous!

My brother, Onyx, with mangoes he harvested from a tree in the ADRA compound.
The sunrise view from my window.

Now, imagine this with me. You step out of the plane and feel the gust of humid air. As you step down the runway, you hear loud calls of birds you’ve never heard before. You see grey-crowned cranes, hadada ibis, marabou storks, horses, bunnies, and, to your surprise, a camel. It’s as if you’ve just entered a country-sized zoo! And that’s just your first step; you’re still at the airport!

Me with Mrs. Andrews, one of our five chameleons.

While we drove toward Kampala, the capital and largest city in Uganda, we passed hundreds of roadside vendors with colorful stone-and-dirt storefronts and homes painted with advertisements. The merchandise sold at these stores is quite varied—from fruits to dry goods to fresh meat.

Finally, we drove up the long hill to our new home at the Adventist Development and Relief Agency (ADRA) compound. The compound sits on a hillside overlooking the city and beautiful Lake Victoria. The view is incredible, and every day, I get to see the sunrise from my bedroom window!

The compound is surrounded by people of different faiths. At precise times during the day, I hear the beautiful Muslim call to worship echo across the valley. Lively prayer and praise come from the Christian church, while catchy Ugandan dance tunes erupt from the market below.

We have jackfruit trees, avocado trees, guava trees (with two colorful parrots feeding off the juicy fruit), banana trees, and mango trees. Every day we check the trees for ripe fruit and enjoy freshly squeezed juice, smoothies, and fruit salad.

Working on a makeshift swing from the mango tree.

The rainy season has arrived in Kampala, and I love it! The rain goes sideways and comes with bright flashes of lightning and loud thunder, and most of the time, the roads in Kampala are flooded. When we first experienced an intense Ugandan rainstorm, my brother, Onyx, sister, Jaden, and dad were out playing in the rain and dancing to the beat of the thunder booms. They danced until the rain stopped.

There is never a dull moment in our home. Whether the exciting moment is finding cute, cuddly kittens nearby, a new brightly colored bird, a huge cockroach sneaking up your leg, or a millipede hiding in your shoes, it’s always lively here. This place is a riot to the senses—always something new to see, taste, smell, or hear.

I still can’t believe I’m here in Uganda with my family. At times, I think it’s just a dream. But the reality is, Uganda is my mission field for the next couple of years, and I pray that God will bless me as I try to be a blessing to others in this beautiful country.

My family at the equator. From left: Elizabeth, Onyx, Jaden, me, and Pastor Charles Ed II.

And then . . .

When my parents received the official call to become missionaries, my mind rapidly flew through images of me living in Africa—pumping water, owning animals, getting a nice tan, and helping people as much as I could through ADRA.

However, the transition from Canada to Uganda wasn’t easy, especially for this 15-year-old. Had we made the transition without any help, I can tell you honestly that I would have persuaded my parents to send me back to British Columbia.

I missed my friends and school terribly. I love Vancouver because it’s such a multicultural city. In Ugandan markets, sometimes children point at us or call us Mzungus (which means “foreigner” or “white skinned”). I felt different and out of place.

I thought my homesickness would fade with time, but I was mistaken. I wanted to share my struggles with my friends back home, but I was afraid of seeming depressed or needy.

I started hiding my feelings and having troubling mood swings. It was at this low point that my family attended the General Conference Institute of World Mission (IWM) in Chiang Mai, Thailand.

At IWM I learned how to effectively deal with the challenges of adapting to new situations and living and working in a new culture.

I discovered that all the emotions I experienced were completely normal! My troubling mood swings were the “transition phase” in the life of a missionary.

IWM was such a God-given blessing. I felt understood. I felt empowered to do more for Jesus. I felt affirmed; I am part of God’s work in Africa.

Now . . .

I’m back in Uganda with my family. My dad just went up north to the refugee settlements where ADRA is working, my mom is in a planning session with the Uganda Union Health Department, and I’m with my two younger siblings, trying to catch some grasshoppers to feed our five chameleons.

I can’t wait to see what God has prepared for me to accomplish in Uganda. Mukama Mulungi (God is Good)!

Thank you for supporting ADRA through your mission offerings and World Mission Budget Offerings!

Jewel is the eldest child of Elizabeth and Pastor Charles Ed II Aguilar. The Aguilars are currently serving in Uganda with ADRA and the Uganda Union Health Department. Jewel loves to play her ukulele, enjoys speaking Luganda with her siblings, and is looking forward to the next International Pathfinder Camporee in Oshkosh, Wisconsin.