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Elises justice journey Uganda 2

Elise's Justice Journey

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I never wanted to be a missionary or involved with any kind of humanitarian work. That’s not to say that I didn’t care about the poor, or appreciate the people who were called to the mission field. I grew up in a family of missionaries and humanitarians who taught me about what it means to be generous and to serve the vulnerable. That lifestyle just never appealed to me. I didn’t want to give up all of my possessions and status to live in a foreign, stinking hot country, far away from my family and friends.

When I finished high school, I was convinced that I was going to be a youth pastor. I went to bible college and simultaneously started working at my church. It seemed that all the doors were opening and I was convinced that I had found my calling.

After a year and a half of bible college and church, a friend invited me on a short-term mission’s trip to Indonesia. I NEVER wanted to go to Indonesia. I’m not sure why, but it’s beautiful islands, tasty food, and rich culture just never appealed to me. However, I felt like I needed to tick ‘missions trip’ off my list of prerequisites to becoming a pastor, so I reluctantly said yes.

A few months later I was laying on a mattress on the floor of an overcrowded room in Manado after being woken up by the sound of children playing at 4am. I couldn’t shake the feeling that something inside me had changed. I was filled with a joy that I’d never experience before instead of the usual frustration that comes with being woken up at a very silly hour. I hadn’t even been in the country for 12 hours, yet I knew that the trajectory of my life was going to change.

What followed was two incredibly eye-opening and lifechanging weeks. I began to see first-hand and wrestle with some of the inequalities that I’d heard of but never lamented. My heart broke. In fact, it broke many times over that two-week trip.

Elises Justice Journey Indo 2
On the way to our team’s soccer match on a nearby island on an overcrowded boat
Elises Justice Journey Indo 1
My first trip to Indonesia

So, I came home, marched into my boss’s office and quit my job. 6 months later I was back in Indonesia where I spent 5 months serving, learning and growing. After my visa ran out, I knew I had to come home and work. I had debts to pay and volunteering in a third-world country wasn’t exactly going to help me pay those off, and so begun my career in corporate marketing.

For the 6 years that I worked in corporate, I wrestled daily with my life’s purpose. I’d been so fortunate to finish high school and work in my dream job, surrounded by Christians and people who inspired me greatly. Then I’d spent this time in Indonesia where I felt like I was fulfilling my life’s purpose, and now I was spending my days making sure our clients were happy with how their logo looked on a pen (insert face palm emoji here). I think it’s safe to say that my mental health and relationship with God took a huge beating during that season.

As part of this wrestle I took a short trip to Uganda to visit a family friend’s development organisation. While I was there we visited a fishing village on the border of DRC. At this stage of my life I had seen a lot of poverty and suffering, but nothing compared with the despair of this village. As we left I asked our team leader why no one was helping these people. He began to tell me about the countless Christian non-profit organisations he had spoken to who said ‘no’ and ‘it’s too hard’. I was shocked by this response. It challenged what I thought of as crucial to being a Christ-follower. As Christians are we not called to help the least of these? Are we not called to help those in need? Jesus never turned anyone down because ‘it’s too hard’.

I came home with a stronger conviction than ever. If I was to help those that no one else wanted to help, I needed to know how. Giving up my life to go and live in an African village with no knowledge of development was going to cause more harm than good. So I decided to head back to uni to study International Development.

The more that I learnt, the more I came to understand that my role as a cis white female was one of incredible privilege and therefore problematic in a development setting (see Helping Without Hurting for more on this).

Because of what I had learnt, my mission had drastically changed. The more that I learnt, the more ignorant I realised I had been. I was not the right person to go back to that Ugandan village, because the right people to help them was themselves. My mission was no longer to jump on a plane and save the world, rather it was to advocate for and support the incredible community leaders and organisations who were already doing a far better job than a privileged white girl from Melbourne could ever do.

Now I get to do exactly that every day. I’ve been able to bring my marketing skills to an organisation whose values and mission aligns perfectly with my own, Tearfund.

Every day I get to share the incredible stories of our partners who are working within their own complex contexts to bring about lasting change.

Every day I get to be part of a movement encouraging the local church to talk about our call to justice. Every day I get encourage Australian Christians as they demand justice for our global neighbours from our country’s leaders.

I am so thankful for the journey that has bought me here. I’m thankful for every high and every heart-breaking low. I know that this is not the finish line, but rather just the beginning of a much bigger story.

Elise is Tearfund's Digital Content Creator