The Life of a Missionary Kid
He grew up in a place that had little to nothing to survive on, and found it normal stepping over dead bodies as he walked to school, but he wouldn’t trade his childhood for anything. Jon Holm was born into a family of missionary parents and when he was just 2-years-old, they moved from Chicago to Uganda, Africa.
Ever since they were married, Jon’s mother and father felt a calling to be missionaries overseas. Initially they had their hearts set on moving to India. Sadly, they were unable to get a visa to India so their next option was Africa. They were excited for the next chapter of their lives to begin, but had absolutely no idea what to expect. The next 10 years of their lives would be completely unknown, but that is the path they felt destined to take.
Since Jon was so young when his family made the move, he barely remembers life before living in the third world country. “I slightly remember moving to Uganda because it took us around a month to get there” he said. “We took a boat because flying in 1962 was just too expensive.” He also recovered vague memories of actually moving into the new Africa house, but everything else was a blur to him.
Most of Jon’s memories began around 6-years-old when he started going to school. He explained how Uganda used to be a British colony, so luckily for him a vast majority of the population spoke English. Jon, his brothers and sisters went to a public school in the capital city set up by the British. “Because I was surrounded by so many British people, I developed their British accent.”
The Holm family also lived on the equator so they experienced the sun rising at 7am and setting at 7pm everyday of the year. Jon explained how everyday life for him was pretty basic. “We would wake up, have breakfast, go to school, and would always come home for lunch. Then we would go back to school and after we would either go home and play, or I would go to boy scouts.”
Although life seemed pretty basic, it was not always trouble-free for Jon, his four siblings and their parents. The military in Uganda was not stable and there was minimal control over people’s actions. “We were only controlled by having a curfew. We had to be inside at a certain time because random shootings would happen on the streets late at night. We would drive to school almost everyday and see dead bodies on the street.”
Jon’s parents were constantly living in a state of fear and encountered several sleepless nights. Robberies late at night were particularly common and because of it, Jon’s father had to sleep with a baseball bat. Anytime he would hear an unusual noise, he would run downstairs with the bat and for the most part this would scare them off. Sadly, the family wasn’t always that lucky. “I will never forget when a man stole our car after putting a gun to my mom’s head” Jon stated. “We had no other option but to give the man everything he wanted.” This criminal life constantly displayed to Jon almost seemed natural. He didn’t know any other way of living since he moved to Africa at such a young age.
In 1971, Ida Amin became the president of Uganda and things looked as though they were going to change. Jon shared that, “initially Amin made promises he was going to make the country better and then a couple of years later he claimed he was having dreams from God telling him to make Uganda ‘a black man’s country’”. He started killing people off and kicked several people out of the country. Anyone who threatened him or anyone he felt threatened by, he killed. Jon and his family were no longer safe due to Amin’s sudden outrage. They had no other option but to leave Africa as quickly as possible and not look back.
Since Jon’s family was forced to leave Africa without much warning, Jon wasn’t able to prepare for his new life in America. “At 12-years-old it was overwhelming moving to America. My whole life I was used to surviving on little, so when we moved to America it felt like we were living in luxury.” When Jon started the 7th grade, life became more and more challenging. Not growing up in the American culture made it really difficult for Jon to make friends and to fit in. “Back then we didn’t have the internet so I didn’t know anything about American culture or the history. I also had a British accent and would say things that kids didn’t understand. I was constantly being laughed at and made fun of. They would say jokes and quote things and I had to pretend like I knew what they were talking about.” He claims that it was hard enough already being in that ‘awkward’ stage in life, but not knowing the lingo, activities and culture around him made it all the worse.
It took Jon a couple of years to adjust to living in America, but by high school he felt as though he finally belonged in his new, luxurious life. He has yet to go back to Uganda, but hopes to get back there soon and visit his brother who has spent most of his life there. “I left a part of me in Uganda. I long to see how it has changed and am eager to go back to the place I used to call my home.”
Now, 38 years later, he sees growing up overseas as a life-changing experience and although it was hard to bear at times, he wouldn’t trade it for anything. “Growing up overseas gives you a global perspective. Since I didn’t grow up in America, I developed more of an understanding of what was going on in other countries. When moving to America I realized how privileged I am to live here because most third world countries don’t have health insurance, food, clothing or much of anything to fall back on. There’s not a day that goes by where I don’t feel safe here, and that is something I will forever be grateful for.”