All posts by Michelle Hancock

How can we ask God to forgive if we don’t forgive?

The strongest lesson I learned while in Uganda is what forgiveness truly is and why we need to do it. Mama Angelina put it best while sitting on a mat in the middle of the pouring rain under a mango tree in rural Uganda. She asked, how we can expect God to forgive us if we can’t forgive others? We all want God’s forgiveness because we are sinners, however, we are frequently unable to forgive others.

Every grudge I had ever held seemed so minute in comparison to the atrocities committed by the LRA towards the people of northern Uganda. Although not everyone found forgiveness to be possible, many said they had already forgiven or could see forgiveness as possible someday. This was unfathomable to me. I came home from Uganda and mended broken relationships because I have to forgive before I can expect God to forgive me.

Additionally, Mama Angelina pointed out that without forgiveness we cannot know peace. Although we in the United States know peace much better than those in northern Uganda, we all have known inner turmoil of some degree. We cannot move forward without first forgiving. This was a common theme with many we spoke to in Uganda. Forgiveness and reconciliation are the only ways to peace.

2 weeks later…

So tomorrow will be the 2 week anniversary of returning from Uganda. I think I’ve hit every emotion possible within that time frame and it seems like everything in my life has changed. I have gotten a new tattoo, volunteered to transfer locations at my job (pre-Uganda, I would have quit if they ever made me transfer), and started mending poor family relations that I had been too stubborn to confront.

My personality has even been affected. Visiting Uganda was a humbling and sobering experience. I’ve learned that I am truly blessed (in case that wasn’t clear enough in my previous blogs) and that life MUST be celebrated! Coming back to the US was extremely hard. The feelings of disconnect and bitterness were not easy to cope with, and I know they will stick with me. But at the same time, I shouldn’t spend my life being sad or angry. If there’s one lesson the Ugandan people intended to pass on to us, it is to celebrate life.

Praise God, be grateful for what you have, and celebrate.


Changes in Latitudes, Changes in Attitudes

Documentary building blows. I am a biology major heading to pharmacy school in a couple of months with zero creative intuition. Definitely no journalistic intuition either. My trip to Uganda was amazing, but now I’m stuck in the journalism computer lab 7 hours a day, 5 days a week. I have tried to be enthusiastic and contribute my best efforts towards the documentary, but they have been fruitless.

The Backpack Journalism course required from me the following technical skills:
videotaping (successful)
interviewing (successful)
b-roll sequencing (fail)
matching b-roll with interview footage (fail)

The weeks since we returned from Uganda have not been fun. Consistently trying, and failing, to contribute something useful all day every day is frustrating, and at times, torturous. Yes, I have enjoyed spending time recovering from what we witnessed as a group. No, I will never build a documentary again. 

Culture Shock

A question frequently asked by my friends is, “How was Africa? Culture shock?” Shockingly, no. Yes, everything was different. Yes, it was incredibly uncomfortable. But nothing compared to coming back to the United States.

We’ve been back for almost a whole week now, and I can confirm that jetlag is NOT to blame for my crazy mood shifts. I have discovered that I am most at peace with the group of students I went to Uganda with, and least at peace with my friends and coworkers who didn’t go with me. Everyone has asked how my trip was, what I saw, if I got sick (thanks IBS reputation.) Every time I try to explain what I did or saw, it comes out wrong. I almost wish people didn’t even ask. 

I have shared pieces of the heart-wrenching experiences with close friends and family, but there is one experience I have yet to vocalize and write about. Sorry, not going to happen here either. It took me a while to figure out why I couldn’t communicate it, but I think I’ve finally figured it out. The things I did and saw can not possibly put in words. The English language is too limited and to try to break it down into words would diminish the truth. The only way to know what I went through is to see it yourself. 
Uganda is always on my mind. Yesterday, I mentioned needing a new pair of flip flops. I immediately regretted my statement. I do not need a new pair of shoes. In fact, I need fewer shoes. Now when I hear people casually mention being low on cash or needing groceries, something bubbles up inside of me and I want to tell them they really don’t need anything. All of our needs are met. But I usually keep these thoughts under wraps for fear of sounding as crazy as I currently feel. 
I never thought I would be so uncomfortable with being comfortable. It feels wrong to sit in front of my TV and eat a bag of chips in air conditioning. Life really isn’t fair. I did nothing to deserve comfort, and Ugandans did nothing to deserve discomfort. If there was one message I could relay to everyone that hasn’t experienced the developing world, it would be that YOU ARE BLESSED.  

More to see than can ever be seen, more to do than can ever be done

Well, as my location notes, I am back. Our flight arrived at 4:30 yesterday afternoon. Our journey back only lasted 25 hours, and I found it difficult to complain since it was 25 hours of movies, iPod, and air conditioning.

But I couldn’t help but feel an overwhelming sadness. I wasn’t ready to leave yet. Yes, I was fully prepared to leave the bird-sized insects, but looking back, the panic attacks and breakdowns were so small in comparison to everything else I experienced. I didn’t want to leave the people, the cities, the culture.

I found myself with anger, as Tim predicted I might. How can people live their lives so selfishly and ignorantly when there are so many people in Uganda (real live people) who are struggling to LIVE. Not struggling to get by like we do here in the US. They just focus on living.

As soon as we arrived at the Minneapolis airport, the first thing I noticed as different (besides all the m’zungus) was how much BIGGER people are. It made me sad and angry to realize that not only do we not starve here, we overindulge in food. We overindulge in everything. All we want is the brand new iPhone. All they want is a pair of shoes. 

I have turned into the type of person I used to hate. I never appreciated someone on a soapbox telling me I can’t want new things or else I’m selfish. I do believe that there is a happy medium and that with time, I can find it. But the harsh juxtaposition of our lives and cultures has left me not knowing how else to feel except angry.  I honestly felt disgusted to be an American (pre-African Michelle would backhand myself right now.) We won the life lottery when we were born in the US, but we still believe we are entitled to our lifestyles.

Alright, stepping down off the soapbox now. You’re welcome. Now we can wash the nasty taste of reality out of our mouths with a little random list I compiled of unique things about Africa:

1. I went 13 days without seeing a single stoplight. They prefer aggressive roundabouts.
2. They mow their lawns with machetes. Although on one occasion, I did see some fellows weedwacking a hill.
3. I rarely saw children (toddler age and above) with adults. Adults work and children go off and play without supervision. Sometimes the children carry around the infants too.
4. Herbert (our guide) told me that people who are addicted to cigarettes only smoke 2 a day. That’s 2 sticks, not 2 packs.
5. Our hotel at Murchison Falls had electricity for 5 hours a day. And we were told not to leave our huts after 10 because that’s when water buffalo roam (aka charge at humans).
6. Speaking of water buffaloes, they are the funniest looking creatures ever (see picture).

I am digressing. I’ve been up since 5am so I’m feeling a little loopy. Let’s just leave it at that 🙂

It’s all downhill from here

The last few days here we’ve interviewed a LOT of people and spent a lot of time on the bus. It’s been crazy hot here and my SPF 50 seems to be completely ineffective, even if I’m only outside for 30 minutes. We’re all very exhausted and running on empty. Luckily, today was our last day of interviewing and we leave Gulu tomorrow for Murcheson Falls.  I also finally slept well last night without the use of sleep aids, so I think my time zone conversion is complete. Ahh, feels good.

Back to business. My favorite interviews so far have been the ones we conducted with local students. Many of them were abducted by the LRA during the war and we’re subjected to unimaginable atrocities. I’m continually shocked by their forthcomingness of their stories regarding the war. They recall painful details on camera so that we can tell everyone in the United States their story. Between the damage remaining from the war and severe government corruption, these people are desperate. Many have been placed in IDP (internally displaced persons) camps and have no way to get out. They have tried to return to their homes and others have claimed their land. They truly are helpless. Yet, everyone we visit tells us how happy they are that we came to see them and hear their stories. They also frequently want us to tell everyone back in the US that they love them and that we are all brother and sisters in Christ. Their messages warm my heart every time I hear them.

Finally, I’m going to highly suggest you read Molly’s most recent blog because it is hilariously true and I’m sure it will make you laugh. I also added a picture to one of my last posts, so go back and check it out 🙂 


Credit to Tim Guthrie for my pictures (he’s good, right?) 

I am blessed to be a witness

Lessons learned thus far:

1. You have everything.

I have life and health. Many here are dying of disease and malnutrition. I have adequate shelter. Most people here live in tiny huts with grass roofs and dirt floors. I have constant access to food. Many people don’t know when their next meal will be. I have shoes. Many people I see here don’t, and some never will.

2. Rejoice the above daily.

People here rejoice life daily. There are days that I haven’t rejoiced at all and I have so many reasons to do so. I should never frown.

3. Justice is owning what is yours, therefore do not blame others and give proper credit (praise God).

I learned this from a teacher whose students were abducted by the rebels of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA). Father Opio also enforced that blaming is toxic and forgiveness is the only way to know God. The people who were affected by the actions of the LRA have known unimaginable pain, yet they have found ways to forgive. We have so much to learn from them.

4. Community before self.

Being selfish is toxic and giving will only improve your life. Mama Angelina is the best example of this that I have ever seen. Her daughter was abducted along with many of her classmates by the LRA rebels. Mama started an organization called the Concerned Parents Association (CPA). When the CPA started getting too much attention, the rebels offered Mama her daughter back, but none of the other girls. She said all or none. We in the United States would have freaked if the events that occurred in Uganda has occurred in say, Europe. The Ugandans were forgotten and continue to be overlooked, even by their own government. When will we start looking further than our own front doors?

I am blessed for more reasons than I can even list and you are too. I wish that everyone was able to bear witness like I have here. I am eternally tied to these beautiful people.


Shout out to my baby brother who just graduated from high school this past weekend!! Miss you and love you Kev 🙂 

Waka waka ehhhhh

WOOHOO! I finally get to blog. So much has happened and I wish I could say it all, but I can’t. So let’s start with some highlights.

The trip from Omaha, NE, USA to Entebbe, Uganda, Africa was so long. Nothing could have prepared me for 29 hours straight of traveling. But I survived. We spent 8 hours in a bus the very next day getting from Entebbe to Lira, but fortunately the sights were amazing. We traveled through Kampala en route, and it was amazing. Words cannot even being to explain. One of the first things I struggled with was seeing men with guns everywhere. Including outside both of our hotels. And taking pictures of military and police is strictly prohibited (punishable by jail time). During our bus ride, we got to drive over the rapids of the Nile, and of course military was stationed there. Lame, right?

Back on track. We’ve been in Lira for 2 days now. If I tried to write everything we’ve seen and done, I would seriously never finish. Instead, I will share a special experience from today.

We had the opportunity to interview Mama Angelina at her own home in the jungle (seriously) of Africa. And, of course, it started pouring right as we pulled up. Fortunately, I did my share of filming earlier in the day, so I was just a soaking wet spectator. And the bugs. Oh my goodness, the bugs. Soaking wet covered in insects. And I have a debilitating phobia of bugs. Then, I had to go to the bathroom. Since I had been properly hydrating myself (you’re welcome, parents.) Mama led me back to the bathroom with Aurelia. When I swung open the door of the latrine, it fell off the hinges. Awesome. Then I hear Aurelia state, “Well, this is clean!” (completely serious). I peered in, door in hand, and came to the realization that there was no toilet. There was a hole. I successfully used the hole in the ground while laughing and crying simultaneously. Yep.

Mama had collected mangoes, and so our class, the African men we had brought with us, and Mama ate fresh mangoes, in pouring rain, in the jungles of Africa, surrounded by swarms of insects. Legit.

The interview with Mama was conducted outside. It was very wet and beautiful. Her kind smile and heartfelt message warmed all of our hearts, even in the cold rain.

Although all of the aforementioned was memorable, the bus ride home took the cake. We piled into the bus – 17 Americans, 9 Africans, and easily 75 freshly picked mangoes. As we drove through the jungle back to the main road, we found ourselves all (I do mean everyone) belting out Justin Bieber’s, Baby, bottles of pop in hand, speeding on a dirt road past villagers working outside their huts. Pure joy is priceless.

Every day I’ve been here I’ve said, “This is the most amazing, irreplaceable moment I will ever experience.” Keep ’em coming.

PS This is what the alphabet would look like without Q and R.

PPS If I find a bug zapping tennis racket, I’m never leaving this place 🙂 

Freak out!

So, today we had “reflection,” which is apparently when we all sit in a circle and listen to music and share our feelings. We were told this was the first of many reflections we’ll do.

When I first sat down for reflection, my first thought was, ‘I hope this goes fast, because I have about 50 million things to do tonight.’ But then came the music. My memory fails me when I try to recall the title or musician, but I remember it was about witnessing and it was one of those songs that made me think too much. And then my emotions went from anxiety to straight fear.

We had spent a good part of the day filming and analyzing our practice films, and it was not pretty. We forgot to focus the camera, check the white balance, lock the tripod, not talk, and the list goes on. But that was it. We didn’t have any more time to practice filming. We leave tomorrow and we only have two weeks in Uganda to collect footage that has to be good, or our documentary will suck. True story.

Excitement. Anxiety. Fear. I can pinpoint the exact moments when I transitioned from one emotion to the next. Cue excitement on the first day of class. Cue anxiety when I realized I had 80 pages to read last night and I just wanted to sleep. Cue fear midway through the reflection song today.

I have accepted that none of the above actually matters now, though. I’m leaving for the airport in 12 hours and I’m just going to have to do my best to not only capture some great footage, but also appreciate my relatively short amount of time in Africa. Welp, wish me luck!

Calm Before the Storm

I will be en route to Africa three days from this very moment. What was I thinking!? I signed up for this trip 6 months ago or so, and really didn’t know what I was getting myself into. I have zero experience with cameras, zero experience interviewing, and zero experience being away from my blow dryer and hair straightener. As I try to rewind 6 months, I can vaguely recollect why I thought this would be a good idea.

I have always desired to travel around the world, however, I assumed that I would go to Europe or Asia as an adult. When I saw a flyer on my lunch break last November, I was intrigued. I thought, if I don’t look into this opportunity, will I ever get another chance to visit a country in Africa or any other developing country? I knew I had to go.

I spent the last few months being excited to meet and interact with people who live completely different lives than me. I know this trip will change my outlook on life for the better and will stick with me for the rest of my life. Now that I leave the United States in only a few days, I’m totally consumed with thoughts of lists, concerns, and fears. Anyone who knows me, knows that I am moderately unorganized and am completely capable of meltdowns if things don’t go correctly. The “MemoPad” application on my BlackBerry has become my best friend for every fleeting thought I have.

I’m praying that I don’t forget anything important and that once I arrive in Uganda, I will be able to focus more on the experience and less on minute details. I’ll let you know how that goes in a few days…