News - Daily Donuts and Rethinking Call in Uganda

Daily Donuts and Rethinking Call in Uganda

By Hannah (Groves '13) Cowman

Do our jobs define us? Do young people in our culture feel pressed to identify a life work or vocation? These are the questions that Hannah (Groves '13) Cowman puzzled over as she observed differences between Christians in America and Christians in Uganda. Here are her thoughts.

Hannah (Groves) CowmanImagine yourself sitting around a dinner table engaging in conversation with guests you didn’t know. Your first question likely would be, “So, Jim, what do you do for a living?” There is nothing wrong with this question, but its precedence in American conversation implies that our identity is wrapped up in our jobs, in our work.

A Preoccupation With What We Do

This preoccupation with our identity as “what we do” creates confusion and anxiety for many young Christians as they seek to answer the question, “What is God’s will for my life?” I found myself studying abroad in the East African country of Uganda when I wrestled with this question the most. It didn’t take long for me to notice that work, for many Ugandans, was a repetitive act that simply met a basic human need for each day, not one that defined them as persons.

What We Do, Not Who We Are

For example, my host sister prepares a large batch of sweet dough to make Ugandan Uganda Donuts-1donuts called mendazi. After mixing, rolling, cutting, forming and frying the dough, all completely by hand (a process that takes most of the day), she sits on the floor and pours the mendazi into long plastic bags, sealing individual packages by melting the plastic in a nearby candle. She repeats this process six days a week. The profit she gains means she can send her children to school.

Many Ugandan men spend the day transporting people—or live chickens or a new bunk bed—by motorcycle. Others drive vehicles stuffed with as many people as possible (I once took a five hour bus ride next to a mom and five children who occupied only two seats).

Who God Wants Me to Be

In Uganda I discovered a new freedom to think of God’s will for my life in terms of “the person God would desire me to be” rather than “what I do.” I didn’t hear my Ugandan friends wondering what job God wanted them to pursue like my American friends did. Instead I heard themes of “making God known,” “participating in God’s work” and “living an obedient life.” I wondered if my quest to discover God’s will was birthed out of privilege; possessing many choices and having opportunity. Perhaps asking about my life first was the wrong question.

The apostle Paul adds his voice to the discussion when he writes in 1 Thessalonians (to a church experiencing persecution and where daily work for most people consisted of manual labor): “Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”

Sacred Work, Everyday

My experience in Uganda freed me to realize that all of us can be living in God’s will even as we perform our daily, mundane tasks. How refreshing to discover that the missionary looking after orphans is no more doing God’s will than my sister Harriet making mendazi . . . and that both acts can be holy, sacred work in the hands of a loving God. Perhaps more importantly, it frees us to realize that both individuals, alongside their brothers and sisters in Christ, are becoming the people that God designed them to be.

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This story was published on September 15, 2016

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