A tribute to our dear teammate Carole Waller, for her Thanksgiving service in Gulu.
Today, I seek to share a little of the Gulu Carole, no words can fully capture a person, but I hope to give you at a least a glimpse, of the woman who we knew and loved. These words are not just my own, but are sewn together from the threads of many tributes, in particular those from our BMS team but also many of you who shared with me your precious memories of Carole.
It was August 2017 and Carole and Richard had just arrived in Gulu, I was showing them round the house they were staying in, we had not met in person before, but within minutes we were chatting like old friends, joking with each other and Carole was asking what she could do to help. That first impression, of a warm, generous, funny, no-nonsense woman, was not wrong. She was ready to jump in at a moment’s notice to help, support, comfort, uplift. Ready to get her hands dirty, not spectating on the side-lines but giving all of herself to every situation, as long as she had had her morning coffee, that is.
From our very first interactions with Carole and Richard, they emphasised their desire to support us and the team, in whatever way that look liked. We took them at their word. They brought minimal things for themselves to make way in their luggage for various items for other people, something they did every time they travelled! Within days of their arrival in 2017, supporting us looked like being actors in a play I was putting on and helping us move to a new house. It didn’t matter what the request was, if it would help us, they gladly did it. She and Richard embodied servant leadership, they came not be served but to serve.
This servant heart, this willingness to do what needed to be done, to crack on with the task in hand, meant that over the 4 trips to Gulu from August 17 to October 2019, the scope and depth of her involvement and impact were incredible, as is borne witness by all of you, sat here today.
One repeated exhortation, was her fearless championing of people, her readiness to battle for the underdog. She was tenacious in the face of injustice, not just on the large scale rhetoric of “standing up for the poor and marginalised” although she did do that; but also when she thought a person was being ill-treated by another or a group, she would stand up for them. As a team, we witnessed many examples of her fighting for ‘her people’ who were unable or unwilling to do so themselves. But not as an angry force but as one who is filled with determination to see change, as one who had felt loss, pain and injustice first hand but had overcome. Overcome hand in hand with Richard and with her heavenly father.
For me, her support seems too big to summarize, she made my various crazy ideas, become reality. She supported the Speech Therapy Clinic in every way she could, even faithfully committing to learning Ugandan Sign Language. I’d have an idea of something we could do or make, and before I could blink, some beautiful creation would appear. She spent hours upon hours, making stunning and durable resources. To say she got stuck right in would be an understatement!
Carole’s was an incredibly gifted teacher, specialising in children with hearing loss and additional complex needs. This background, meant that she had huge amounts of gifts, knowledge and experience, which was invaluable, not only to me, but with Linda and Val’s child protection work, and with Gulu Globetrotters.
Carole’s heart was that of a teacher; children and staff both flourished under her care. She would come alongside those she saw to be struggling and helped them build their confidence and self-esteem, whether that be a child struggling to read or a teacher overwhelmed. She saw them, she saw their need, not for someone to tell them how to do it, but for someone to champion them, to tell them that they can do it. On behalf on Annabelle, with whom she probably spent more hours than anyone else in Gulu; we join with her in crying and saying “she was my teacher”. Not just in Maths and English but on how to spend a life well, loving strongly, fighting tenaciously and always on the brink of a laugh.
It was that self-proclaimed wicked sense of humour that so many of us will miss. Her ability to see the irony and lighter-side of things, where many did not. She was quick to laugh, to joke, and also to tease, which, where we come from, is another way of saying “I like you”. She could brighten a room, not just with the stroke of her paintbrush, but with a quick quip and wry smile.
Here at UCC, Carole and Richard sought to support Jimmy and Phiona and the students, again, in whatever way they could, painstakingly making our song books, teaching, praying, caring and listening. One of the largest impacts Carole had, was during the student bible study. She and Richard would not just open up the bible with the students, but opened up themselves. And not just with the students but at Tuesday Night Ladies Bible study, too. You would never get a trite answer from Carole, she wouldn’t spout a theology or faith that had ignored the hard and often unanswerable questions of life; instead she would openly share her experience, her vulnerability, her questions, her faith, a faith hard won and fought for, a faith in the goodness and grace of God, even in the face of storms and trials. This honest and refreshing faith was and is inspiring. Lightbulbs would go on as she shared.
For many of us, one of the greatest inspirations about Carole’s life was her beautiful marriage to Richard. To see them journey and adventure life together, to love each other well, to love others well. A marriage that one aspires too, a marriage that has room to be there for other people. A marriage of mutual support and sacrifice. To be parents and grandparents not just to their own children but to whomever God places in their path. Including being surrogate parents for our dear team mate Josie, making her part of their adventure, part of their family.
I could stand here and list all the things that Carole did whilst she was here in Gulu, she did a lot, but it wouldn’t capture her. To capture the essence of this beautiful woman, is to know the Carole who met and saw underneath the surface of people. It’s the interactions she had with us as a community but also with us as individuals, the memories we have of her laughing with us, teasing us, grieving with us, lovingly making gifts for our children, generously listening to us, preciously timed words of encouragement, going the extra mile, demonstrating kindness and simply just being with us.
C.S. Lewis says that friendship “It is the instrument by which God reveals to each of us the beauties of others.” Friendship with Carole, reveals beauty we hadn’t seen for ourselves, it shone lights on things, and drew us to the Creator of All things beautiful.
Our dearest Carole. Your life was a life well lived. A beautiful life. A life that encouraged and inspired the beauty in others. A life that loved because you know that God first loved us. A life that didn’t wait to be lived, that didn’t wait for tomorrow, or a better time, but who took hold of what Christ had taken hold of you for. We thank God for everything He did in you and through you, and we look forward to the day we get to see you again.