Tuiningas in Uganda: Surprised by joy

Diana and Eric TuiningaReading about third-world challenges the Eric & Dianna Tuininga family face as missionaries in Uganda put one’s first-world problems into perspective.

Three days without water would be a crisis in any North American town, but the Tuiningas recently went without city water for three weeks. They once had no power for two weeks. Water and power outages occur on an almost-daily basis. Yet the Tuiningas have been surprised by how much they enjoy their challenging life.

“We came here expecting the worst, so in some sense the joy of living here was unexpected,” they say. “We enjoy being here more than we thought we would.”

By God’s grace, they consistently convey positive aspects about missionary life by focusing on their unity with believers in Christ and by considering their ministry a privilege.

They’ve worked in Uganda for over two years as part of a five-family ministry team serving in Mbale and Karamoja. Rev. Eric Tuininga trains men for ministry at Knox Theological College (KTC), operated by the Orthodox Presbyterian Uganda Mission. Students come from a variety of ecclesiastical and tribal backgrounds in Uganda and Kenya.

Because the need for solid biblical teaching and trained leaders is so acute, Rev. Tuininga views his work as a “great privilege” and a “blessing.” He additionally mentors and encourages the ten village congregations of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church of Uganda.

On a typical school day, Rev. Tuininga leaves by 8:00 AM, picking up some students on the way. After eating lunch with KTC students, he returns home to his many other responsibilities: meeting with people, performing administrative duties, and preparing lessons for KTC, Bible studies, or Sunday school. On most Sunday mornings, he leads worship or Sunday school. A time of prayer and singing held in the missionary compound on Sunday evenings is attended primarily by neighborhood children.

Handling regular household chores like laundry, grocery shopping, cooking, and cleaning require more time and effort in Uganda. In addition to all that, Dianna homeschools the couple’s children and leads a Bible study for women on Friday mornings. Local children playing at the compound in the afternoons provides Dianna with further ministry opportunities. The Tuiningas frequently welcome two young friends to share their evening meal, and help these young people with their home work.

In the two years since the Tuiningas’ arrival, they’ve delighted in God’s goodness on many fronts. Attendance at KTC has increased, and Rev. Tuininga rejoices to witness his students’ spiritual growth.

“Many of these men are already pastors, who have received little or no training,” he says. “It is a great delight to dig into God’s truth together with them and watch them grow.”

The Tuiningas also enjoy the privilege of giving to poor believers and needy churches.

“It is a delight to see the great joy that it brings, and how it brings a real practical benefit to their lives, and shows them the love of Christ, and inspires them to press on in following him,” Rev. Tuininga says. “Some of the churches are in the process of constructing buildings, but none have completed their building project yet.”

church mtgDespite the lack of physical wealth, Christ’s church in Uganda increases in spiritual riches. The Mbale congregation has grown from 30 to about 130. Each of the ten village churches is now served by a trained minister or licentiate. Two small presbyteries that had been estranged have merged into one. The OPCU and another small Reformed denomination have held reconciliation meetings to promote ecclesiastical unity. Two church plants have been established, and Rev. Tuininga recently conducted membership interviews of about 50 people desiring to form the core group of another. Of these, one mother and her two daughters (12 & 19) face intense opposition from their Muslim relatives. The Tuiningas request prayer for them and the other believers in Uganda.

Kachonga OPCU“Please pray for the brothers and sisters here and the work of the theological college,” they say. “Live in an awareness that the body of Christ is one body around the world, and you have many brothers and sisters in nations such as Uganda. Pray for Christ’s kingdom to grow in Uganda. Ministry here is strategic because of the fast population growth and the aggressive influx of Islam and the cults.”

Even though Muslims are currently a minority, Islamic schools proliferate and offer free tuition for children. That’s why the recent establishment of four Christian schools in the area is so crucial.

Ugandan life is very different from living in North America. Poverty is huge. Traffic is chaotic, and infrastructure is poor. Supplies are in short supply, and the largest shopping center is about the size of an American gas station convenience store.

People are very giving and relationship-oriented, which is a joy, but also poses a challenge to personal or family privacy.

“We have compared life in a Ugandan village or town to a church camping trip, where people always wander in and out of each other’s campsites to say, ‘Hi,’ and there is not much privacy,” the Tuiningas say. “In America, it seemed that we needed to work to get people over to our house. Here, we have to work to make sure we have enough time with just our family.”

At missionary school, the Tuiningas were warned that they’d operate at about 60-80 percent energy level, and they’ve found that to be true. Cultural stress and pressing needs take a toll. The family is approached daily with requests that force them to make hard decisions and exercise discernment. And daily living requires more energy.

“Pretty much everything we eat is made from scratch, there is no convenience food for the busy days,” Dianna says. “There are no Wal-Marts—one stop centers—different items must be bought at different stores (produce from the market, medicine from the pharmacy, nails from the hardware store, dry erase markers from a stationary shop, etc.). Daily struggles intensify during extended times of power/water outages—when jerry cans need filling and lifting, and all our laundry needs to be done by hand.”

kids on wallThe good news about the recent water outage is that the Tuininga family is finally diaper-free after thirteen years. In 2007, the family grew from three to six children in less than six months, when two sons were adopted from Liberia and another was born. Two more have been born since then, bringing the total number of Tuininga children to eight.

The children have adjusted well to life in Uganda, even showing more confidence in themselves and their Christian faith.

While the family often struggles to understand aspects of the foreign culture, their Ugandan friends are patient in explaining important information. And although needs are pressing, gifts go much farther in Uganda than in America. Even a small donation can make a profound difference in someone’s life.

The Tuiningas relate that while many things are different in Uganda, the most important aspects of life remain the same. God and His Word and the power of Christ’s blood and the Holy Spirit are the same. People are still sinners who need a Savior.

“Our status as missionaries doesn’t automatically change us into super Christians,” the Tuiningas say. “We are simply beggars showing other beggars, now in another country, where they can buy bread.”

The OPC welcomes ministers for short-term teaching stints at KTC, and young women willing to assist families as missionary associates. More information is available at the OPC website ( on the Foreign Missions page under the Worldwide Outreach tab. For glimpses of the Tuiningas life in Uganda, check out their blog: Adventures in Grace:

The above article by Glenda Mathes appeared on pages 6-8 of the September 24, 2014, issue of Christian Renewal.


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