Welcome home: Much-loved Ripon couple back after two years of volunteering in Uganda

John and Cathie Rutter at their farewell do.
John and Cathie Rutter at their farewell do.

They're back - after two life-changing years of living and teaching in Uganda, much-loved Ripon residents Cathie and John Rutter have returned to Ripon.

So strong is the respect and admiration from those they have helped, that Cathie and John's farewell event lasted six hours - with no less than 11 speeches.

John teaching in the classroom which was the "living room" of their house.

John teaching in the classroom which was the "living room" of their house.

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It was through the Church Mission Society that the Rutters flew out to Kajo-Keji Christian College, where John taught biblical studies and preached, and Cathie worked for the principal and helped out in the diocesan office - as well as doing some preaching, and working with John to spearhead other projects for the college.

In leaving Uganda, the Rutters have felt a deep sense of bereavement, a sadness at leaving behind friends and those who have depended on their support over the last two years.

Moving back to Ripon, where they had previously lived for 36 years, Cathie and John feel that their whole perspective on life has changed, and their experiences mean that they will always value the small things and never take anything for granted.

Cathie with some of the pastors wives, holding gifts donated by Holy'Trinity Ripon.

Cathie with some of the pastors wives, holding gifts donated by Holy'Trinity Ripon.

The couple were originally due to live in South Sudan, but Kajo-Keji College had to be relocated to Moyo in Uganda due to ongoing violence and conflict.

Cathie said: "We saw our time in Moyo very much as a bridge - the start of a new journey for the college. It had fled from the violence in South Sudan and moved to Moyo. Would it survive? There were many doubts, inadequate building and facilities, and few staff. We arrived, and soon afterwards the semester started with just 21 students.

"During the four semesters we were there, we travelled with the college community over that bridge to a new place - more students, 107 in total when we left, which included in-service business admin and in-service education, as well as the full time theology students. We had more buildings, adequate funding, more staff, and better administrative and financial systems.

"The college is still in Moyo, and still longing to get back to South Sudan when peace allows, but is at least a functioning, even flourishing institution. And we were a part of that - two players in the process that bridged the gap. Now we feel it is time to pass the baton onto others. We leave with a deep sadness, knowing there are many friends we will never see again, but also with a sense that we have fulfilled the purpose we were called to."

A staff photo outside Cathie and John's house.

A staff photo outside Cathie and John's house.

Their time at the college pushed Cathie and John to do things they've never done before, and strengthened their Christian faith.

John, who has served as a minister at St John The Baptist Church and taught at St Aidan's High School for 21 years, said: "Perhaps the main difference teaching there was lack of educational background - many of them had very limited education, because the schools in South Sudan have been so disrupted by war. But the desire to learn was huge."

Memories of the warmth and kindness shown by those they met will stay with Cathie and John forever, and the bonds they formed are like a family's.

Cathie said: "The way we treated them and related to them meant they regarded us as kind of their mum and dad. And you can't abandon your children, some of them we have a responsibility to keep in touch with."

The generosity and support shown by the Ripon community throughout their time in Uganda has meant a lot to the Rutters - Ripon residents and other kind-hearted donors have helped them to generate enough money to sponsor students at the college.

Spending quality time with family is a key priority for Cathie and John now that they have moved back to Ripon, but inevitably it will take some time to adjust after experiencing a completely different way of life.