For four Bay County high school students, last month’s Spring Break was anything but typical.
Hoping to spread the word of God, they visited Uganda, a country where most people live in clay huts with straw roofs and a charcoal fire burning outside. There is a dirt floor and no windows. Neither are there toilets, and there’s no such thing as toilet paper, the students said.
But all said they were enthusiastic to go.
"It was a last-minute thing," said Zach Bingham, 16, a sophomore at Covenant Christian School.
The Rev. Bob Hayes of Covenant Presbyterian Church, which started the Christian school, has made mission trips to Uganda annually for the last 14 years.
"He asked if we wanted to go," Bingham said. "I jumped at the opportunity to go over there and witness and encourage them through Christ."
Equally enthusiastic about taking the trip were Andrew Underhill, 17, a junior at Mosley High School; and Emily Trumbull and Heather Smith, both 16-year-old 10th-graders at Covenant.
"We had to raise $3,000 in 1 1/2 months," Bingham said. "It was quite a challenge."
The students wrote letters to family and friends asking for donations, and Hayes spoke about it during church to encourage the congregation’s help.
Hayes and Trumbull’s father, Jay, an elder in the church, joined the students on the trip.
"We’re all Christians," Bingham said. "It’s something that God laid on our hearts."
The trip took 19 hours by air, flying from the Panama City-Bay County International Airport to Atlanta, then on to Amsterdam, and finally to Entebbe, Uganda.
During their stay, the group traveled from city to city speaking to people.
"The four of us (students) got an interpreter and went to four schools in two days and spoke at assemblies," Bingham said.
"Afterward, they had a lot of questions about Americans: what we eat, if we were learning the same things in school. They also wanted to know about Jesus and why there is sin in the world.
"They were trying to understand. Some of them believe an asteroid is going to crash into the Earth."
In their travels, the group visited outdoor food markets.
'“They had eels and big red slabs of raw meat with flies all over it," Underhill said, wrinkling his nose.
The Ugandan cuisine wasn’t much better.
"They mixed flour and water and cooked it and called it food," Bingham said. "Their bread tasted kind of stale, but I ate 14 pieces for breakfast one day because I didn’t like the other food."
Ugandans also eat goat, which the students found too chewy for their taste. They also eat a lot of chicken, but the fowl were so skinny, there was little meat, the students said.
"Mostly, we ate muscle, gristle, cartilage or bone," Bingham said, grimacing. “They also had 'mitoki,' which is a plant in the banana family. They mash it up and steam it in a banana leaf.”
Smith said she had plenty to eat.
"I brought food from home: peanut butter, crackers, Wheat Thins," she said. "We would have parties at night and eat it."
One night, the group heard chewing noises outside their clay hut. Bingham got a flashlight and peered out the door. There was a huge hippopotamus eating grass.
Underhill recalled some excitement that occurred the last day of their trip.
"We went into Kampala (the capital) to go souvenir shopping," he said. "Outside of the city, there were burning tires blocking the road, and the driver said there was a riot going on. Then, the roads cleared, and we saw a military van full of soldiers carrying AK-47s."
Despite the excitement, the students said, the Ugandans seemed to welcome their visit.
"They loved to see us come over there," Trumbull said. "Whenever we went anywhere, they would rub our arms to see if there was black skin under there."
Everyone said they brought back valuable lessons from the Uganda trip.
"Even though we went over there to spread the love of Christ with them, it encouraged me in my faith," Smith said. “They have so much joy for their salvation. It was great to see them happy, even though they didn’t have anything."
Panama City News Herald, www.newsherald.com