The man who worried too much

A trip to Uganda turns out better than my anxieties

John I. Carney
25 min readJul 14, 2022

Singers at a village we visited near the RTRA campus. (Photo by me)

NOTE: I was an individual volunteer for a mission trip sponsored by Raise The Roof Academy. Views expressed here are my own and do not necessarily represent those of RTRA or any of my individual teammates.

Raise The Roof Academy is a little miracle located in a place called Bwandaseku, Uganda. Don’t bother looking on Google Maps. You won’t find it. It’s about 15 miles, but a 30–45 minute drive, north of Masaka.

The school started with 30 children. Now, in its 11th year, it serves 922, ranging in age from 9–14, with some older grades scheduled to be phased in over the next few years. There is also a network of other schools, a child sponsorship program, a “forever family” home for students who have no families, a demonstration farm, a farm-to-table program, and various other outreach programs.

David Ssebulime, a Ugandan ex-pat, met and married an American named Marlene, and the two of them founded the school, which they run from offices at a church in Brentwood, Tennessee. David also serves as pastor of Hillcrest United Methodist Church in Nashville.

Each summer — except for the past two summers, for Obvious Reasons — RTRA takes a group of American volunteers to visit the school and assist with a week of special activities, which this year included a Vacation Bible School program, a women’s seminar, a men’s seminar, and a health clinic — both for RTRA students and for the surrounding community at large.

My name is John I. Carney. From 2003 through 2016, I went on a series of mission trips through a non-denominational group called LEAMIS International Ministries. At the time, I was employed by my local, small-town newspaper, the Shelbyville Times-Gazette, and after each of those trips I wrote a series of stories about my experience. The stories were well-received, and to this day I’m sometimes approached by people in the community asking if I’ve been on any trips lately or if I have any trips coming up.

By the time of my 2016 trip to Sierra Leone, which had been postponed from its original date due to a variety of factors, LEAMIS had shifted its focus and was no longer planning the type of team trip which I’d taken and about which I’d…

John I. Carney

Author of “Dislike: Faith and Dialogue in the Age of Social Media,” available at