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Summer Trip Is a Blessing for Students 

Winston Churchill once called the East African nation of Uganda a fairytale, saying, “You climb up a railway instead of a beanstalk, and at the end there is a wonderful new world.” However, with the insurgence of the despotic regime of Idi Amin in the 1970s, the fairytale turned into a nightmare, and decades later, the region is still recovering from the aftermath of war and the devastation of HIV/AIDS. 

UgandaFallMag19 Students from Christian Union at the University of Pennsylvania and other schools were transformed by the hospitality they witnessed in Uganda.


This summer, students from Christian Union ministries at the University of Pennsylvania and Harvard traveled to Uganda, where, despite encountering great brokenness, they also witnessed the wonder Churchill referred to and found the Spirit of God to be breathtaking. Kelly Schaaf, a Christian Union ministry fellow at Penn, oversaw the summer trip.

Uganda is rich with the beauty of the Rwenzori Mountains, Lake Victoria, and Murchison Falls National Park, known for its waterfall and abundant wildlife. It’s also where the students ventured to work with the Rural Orphans & Widows AIDS Network (ROWAN), which is nurturing the souls of the poor with the dignity and grace of God’s love.

Catherine Parr, Penn ’21, served on the Uganda trip to the village of Mwanga. She has been a member of Christian Union since her freshman year and is an assistant Bible course leader. On the trip, Parr was joined by Penn students Isabelle Pabon ’21, Kaiyla Banks ’21, Lisbette Hernandez ’20, and other students.

“I thought we were going there to give,” Parr said. However, she said she ended up learning more about receiving love and how love looks different across cultures. “We did nothing to earn or deserve the loving welcome, but they gave to us so completely and freely.” As a result, she witnessed the kind of love and hospitality that she wants to share with the young women in her Bible course.

While in Uganda, Parr and her peers experienced village life as they visited local schools and watched patient visits in the clinic they helped to paint. The team also participated in field projects, partnership development with local urban volunteers, creation and execution of a biblical theology training curriculum, and home visits.

The Christian Union team helped ROWAN fulfill its goal of promoting self-reliance, encouraging dignity, and ensuring healthy well-being among the Ugandan people. According to Schaaf, the trip was about community engagement and building relationships, not about fixing or saving the ROWAN family in Mwanga.

 Parr had limited travel experience, but was encouraged to participate in the trip by Schaaf.

“Kelly encouraged me to come on the trip to see the ways God was moving in a part of the world that was so different from mine,” she said.

The Uganda trip has turned into an annual event for students affiliated with Christian Union, challenging students and faculty in their understanding of leadership in community development, and what it means to be joyful in serving and ministering to others.

The relationship developed between the people of Mwanga and the students was one of mutual love and respect.

“Every year, I have been amazed with the joy that overflows from the hearts of our friends in Mwanga,” Schaaf said. “The excitement and love we are met with from our arrival to our departure is beyond anything I can explain.”

To learn more about 2020 summer opportunities, click here.