2018-05-03 / Life in Leelanau

Trip to visit church members changes perspective; new habits

By Jen Murphy
of the Enterprise staff


A BIT of Africa. Pastor Robin Carden models the stole she made from fabric purchased during her recent travels through Uganda. A BIT of Africa. Pastor Robin Carden models the stole she made from fabric purchased during her recent travels through Uganda. How far would you go for family? For one local pastor, the answer would be, “about 7,500 miles.”

Pastor Robin Carden at Suttons Bay Congregational Church traveled to Uganda last month for a visit with members of her congregation.

“It doesn’t matter where you are, you’re still a part of our church family,” she said. “We are a family, and you don’t forget about your family.”

Paul and Amy Sutherland had been in Uganda for two and a half years while processing an adoption, and Carden decided it was time for a personal visit.

According to Carden, during the Sutherlands’ time in the African country, Paul Sutherland has written children’s books “to reflect the country and kids of Africa.” He also works with parents, presenting workshops on how to develop “emotionally intelligent parenting” instead of resorting to violence or threats.


WHAT A smile! Suttons Bay Congregational pastor Robin Carden leans in for a picture with a smiley boy named Divine during her travels through Uganda. This photo was taken at a school near Muhanga, in the southwestern part of the country. WHAT A smile! Suttons Bay Congregational pastor Robin Carden leans in for a picture with a smiley boy named Divine during her travels through Uganda. This photo was taken at a school near Muhanga, in the southwestern part of the country. As Carden was visiting, the group drove around the country to visit rural schools. They dropped off copies of Sutherland’s books and provided parent workshops.

Carden’s focus was reading to school children. To prepare, she said she reviewed the books so she could read them smoothly.

Some of the schools Camden and the Sutherlands visited didn’t have any books, with children learning by copying material the teacher wrote on a board into composition notebooks. “Memorization and testing is the dominant educational structure,” Camden said. “Paul’s books are designed for students to use critical thinking.”

“A highlight for me was the gracious welcome of the kids at the schools we visited,” she continued. “They don’t know a stranger.” And the students were curious as well, especially about her hair. “They were fascinated by the blond highlights.”

Camden also visited slums in the country’s capital city of Kampala. “It was an eye-opening experience, for sure,” Camden said. “I thought I had seen poverty on mission trips to Appalachia, to Mississippi and to urban areas. It doesn’t even compare.”

Returning to the U.S. was eye-opening as well. “The reverse culture shock really threw me for a loop. It changed so much of my perspective,” she said.

“The idea of what 20 bucks here will buy and what 20 bucks does for programs to help people in the slums ... Upon arrival home, before unpacking my suitcase, I packed two trunkfuls and brought them to Samaritan’s Closet.”

Carden plans to make changes in her habits as a result of the trip.

“I’m not going to buy retail anymore,” she said. “Their second-hand markets are full of our Good Will stuff, and that puts their folks out of business. The people who make the cloth, and the people who sew.”

“I know I gained a lot more from the people I met than they gained from meeting me,” Camden said.

The trip, she explained, was a “God thing” that culminated when the Sutherlands’ kids, who she had just seen in Uganda, attended church in Suttons Bay last week.

“The whole thing has felt like such a God thing. I’m an anxious person - I don’t just up and travel to Africa,” she said.

The church supports people living in Uganda, which is located in the heart of Africa. Last year, the Suttons Bay Congregational Church members purchased a library for the Gayaza Primary School.

Carden plans to travel to Detroit this summer to meet a group of Ugandan students visiting the United States to tour and play soccer. At that time, she will explore how the church can help that school as well.

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