Joyce Jackson is focused on filling the needs of Uganda’s national Baha’i community while she serves there as a pioneer. In her case, that service looks a little different from how Baha’is customarily have envisioned pioneering.
The Tennessee native keeps records and greets guests at the Baha’i National Center in Kampala; she assists with the National Spiritual Assembly’s correspondence, conducts research to fortify its consultations, and does other logistical work as Baha’i activity requires it.
She periodically travels to outlying locales to meet with the country’s three Regional Baha’i Councils. Along the way she learns a lot about the country, its people, and herself.
But most important, Jackson accompanies her fellow Baha’is as they learn to serve the Faith in ever-closer coordination. And accompaniment is what pioneering is all about in today’s Baha’i world.
In short, she serves in ways that make it easier for others to serve.
“I am not needed here to open new territories or to directly teach the Faith,” notes Jackson, who went to work in July 2011 for Uganda’s National Spiritual Assembly. “The Ugandan Baha’i community is sufficiently developed that the role of teaching their fellow Ugandans is their task.”
Of course, she participates in local community-building activities in Kampala. She tutors a study circle and facilitates deepening sessions to help community members internalize the Baha’i writings (in fact, she’s on a committee for that).
Living on the grounds of the Baha’i House of Worship serving Africa is “one of the bounties of this service,” she says. Her opportunities to share the teachings of Baha’u’llah “work best when encountering American, Australian or European visitors to the Temple.”
And the effect on her own character? “I certainly feel I have been completely re-created by making this move to Uganda,” she writes in her blog “G.R.I.T.S. in Kampala” (the acronym stands for “Girl Raised in the South”).
“It was necessary and timely, and I am grateful to God for opening the doors that led me here.”
In the blog she shares stories, pictures and impressions of the people surrounding her in Uganda, not to mention the marvels of the natural world — near her home, on trips through the countryside, on safari in national parks.
She writes about adjusting to life, first as a total “muzungu” or foreigner, then gradually getting used to rhythms of speech and of life in a place with less creature comfort and more direct human contact than the United States.
Jackson observes teaching and the institute process “in full flower” across Uganda. The country’s Baha’is actively and effectively invite their neighbors, friends and acquaintances to participate in core community activities. “In one town just east of Kampala,” she notes, “the junior youth program has over 400 participants!”
Uganda needs her more urgently for tasks related to developing capacities in communication and administration.
One such duty is to “accompany the Regional Baha’i Councils in their development as they continue to learn how to function and to develop human resources in their respective regions,” she says.
This requires a careful balance: to support and “serve in the background” as Ugandan Baha’is build their strengths and capacities, while still sharing experiences and learnings in administration.
Stories in her “G.R.I.T.S.” blog recount such a trip north of Kampala, telling of open-hearted hospitality, the devotion and loyalty of her Baha’i hosts, and the singing that is indispensable to any activity of the Faith.
It’s a far cry from the more obviously heroic tasks needed from many Baha’i pioneers from the 1920s through the 1980s. Baha’is were needed to spread worldwide during those decades and take the teachings of Baha’u’llah to localities — and sometimes whole regions, islands and countries — where they had not been known.
Nowadays, the Universal House of Justice is encouraging pioneers to direct their efforts to clusters and even neighborhoods that are already the focus of systematic efforts to advance the teachings of Baha’u’llah.
The House also encourages individuals to “settle in any area where they feel they can best contribute to the advancement of the Cause.” And in choosing to work for the Ugandan National Spiritual Assembly in a background role, Jackson is part of administrative support for those systematic efforts.
She’s found the experience rewarding in many ways: focusing her sense of mission as a Baha’i, broadening her perspective on the virtues and conditions of people worldwide, and bathing her in a rich set of experiences she could not get any other way.
Reflecting on how swiftly this opportunity was opened to her once she offered to serve the Faith overseas, she can only consider the process “God-driven.”
“Whenever someone has asked me why I chose Uganda to pioneer to, I say, ‘I didn’t choose Uganda. It chose me!’”