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Interview: Liz Parker, teacher, Uganda

20 August 2021

‘I don’t use Swahili much except when I get stopped by the police’

I loved my French degree and teaching English to French students in my year abroad; so teaching seemed to be a good fit. Now, I teach in Kampala, where my husband, a pilot with the Mission Aviation Fellowship [MAF], is based.

I love that moment when something suddenly makes sense to the student and they take off,
thrive, and grow in confidence. Kids are the same, wherever you teach: energetic, curious, creative, willing minds. Some are always helpful, some may be more difficult. All kids are sometimes good and sometimes cheeky.

British schools are more regulated,
much better resourced, and there’s a stronger sense of accountability; but there’s also more pressure. In Africa, I’ve needed to create more resources and to establish the timetable and organisation I’d like to work within, and it’s sometimes been hard to get honest or professional feedback to keep growing as a teacher.

My present school is an international school with an American curriculum.
Most of the children who attend are wealthy Ugandans.

I’ve lived in five African countries, and taught in three.
South Africa is more developed, but has a different approach to teaching, with more emphasis on sport and outdoors. I was home-schooling in South Sudan, too — that was hard — so the push to work came from me, and political tensions and incessant heat made everything feel tense. Uganda’s warm and welcoming, and the adults and children have mostly been very open.

I wrote Immeasurably More during the lockdown last year.
South Sudan was quite a difficult MAF placement for me, but I learned there so much about God’s grace and goodness to me. When we moved to Uganda, I read those words in the Bible: Don’t forget what God has done for you. Tell your children. I wrote it all down for my mum’s 80th birthday last July, because she worked as a missionary in Uganda in the 1980s. The friend who proofread it sent it to a publisher, and it became something bigger.

I’m really not a bold person.
People who know me know I’m not. God’s just been good, and we’ve been taken beyond what I could ever imagined. Immeasurably more — hence the book’s title.

All the royalties from my book will be going to help refugees in Uganda.
It was an honour and a privilege to teach them . . . if a little overwhelming, because, pre-Covid, there could be 50 refugees from several African nations in a class.

I’m up by 6:15.
I drive myself and our three kids to school around 7:15. I’m teaching all day, and then there’ll be meetings or schoolwork and lesson prep. Andrew and the kids and I are usually all home by 6 in the evening, and there’s homework for the kids and myself.

Before bed,
I write out the next day’s list of jobs, and set out any ingredients for our wonderful house-help. I use cockroach chalk to draw a ring around the bin to stop ants and cockroaches invading our kitchen at night, and make sure someone has fed the dog and cat; make sure there is a meal ready for our night guard who arrives as darkness falls; maybe make some calls and send messages back home to family and friends overseas.

I hate the way they look at me goadingly, and then run. Rats are the worst, but we do have a cat.

Uganda is a poor country;
so, if you live in a big house, you’re a target for robbery. It’s been very sad to see friends go through the aftermath of a robbery, and some have even left; so we have security 24/7.

The worst thing is the poverty.
You can’t make it better, and you can’t make it go away. I do find that difficult, and our children will ask: “Why can’t we help these people? Why can’t we do more?” There’s a lot of suffering and a lot of Covid; so there’s a strict lockdown. It’s difficult for people in the church, our friends, the refugees. There’s no public transport now, even though, if you have a menial job or manual labour, you can’t work from home. You either walk to work if you can reach it by 7 a.m. from when the curfew lifts at 5 a.m., or your job and income just stops.

We miss our family.
It’s hard to miss family gatherings, and to know my children miss out on those and on certain educational possibilities — and cheese and real chocolate.

I had no idea Andrew would become a pilot, and nor did he.
When we married, he had a job at St Michael’s, Chester Square, as a temporary office assistant. I prayed for him to find a job that would use his skills, using a book called The Power of a Praying Wife. One day, MAF’s magazine came through our letterbox, and Andrew read it and couldn’t believe it: people use aeroplanes to bring God’s word to the world?

MAF doesn’t train pilots,
and there was no guarantee they would take him. But we moved to South Africa, where it’s cheaper to learn to fly. I didn’t have a work permit initially; so we lived off our savings, and some friends supported us. That buoyed me up when I wondered what on earth are we doing. When a Christian school was recruiting, I volunteered, and they gave us love gifts, and — with the help of a miraculous bank error — we never missed a payment of our rent and the flying fees. Nothing to do with us: it was all God’s doing.

Being missionaries introduces us to inspiring new people and incredible places
— but moving and packing are hard work, emotionally and physically. My oldest child says she finds it rejuvenating; my youngest finds it extremely stressful.

Saying goodbye to people who become like family,
within a close-knit community of MAF staff and local friends, is very painful when they or we move. And it’s not easy to form deep friendships locally, as our different Western-style homes, culture, and perceived income are suspect. Taking time to learn about each other is essential: nothing can be presumed.

MAF sent us to learn Swahili in Tanzania, and I really enjoyed it
(though, oddly, my German kept coming back). Quite a lot of Ugandans understand Swahili, but it’s fallen out of favour because it’s associated with Idi Amin, and I don’t use it much, except when I get stopped by the police.

My childhood home was a loving and energetic vicarage in Liverpool.
My first experience of God was going to a Billy Graham rally at about five, and wanting to have the joy and energy I saw in all the people praising God. I remember somebody prayed with me to ask Jesus into my heart, and trusting that God heard and would always be with me.

As a student living and working in France,
I wondered whether it might be fun to try living free of any Christian beliefs, but, within days, I felt utterly miserable, and wanted to be back in touch with Jesus. Life makes no sense to me without a loving God who is at the centre of life, and caring for each detail of our existence.

The best gift this year has been this time with our family in the UK.
I love the sound of my family’s voices, and rejuvenating ’80s/’90s dance music.

I pray at random times throughout the day,
although it’s always best when I carve out time to be with just God. I pray about all kinds of things, from tiny details in my life or my friends’ lives to world events.

I’d choose to be locked in a church with Leanne Payne,
or another great intercessor who could teach me to use my time to pray more fervently, deeply, and enter into the presence of God more fully.

Liz Parker was talking to Terence Handley MacMath.

MAF enquirers’ day is tomorrow, 21 August, 11 a.m. to 1.30 p.m: maf-uk.org/special-enquirers-events; Immeasurably More: Flying for the waymaker is published by 10ofthose.com at £9.99; royalties are going to refugeandhope.org.

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