Ethan Oehler and his friend Esther near Kampala, Uganda in Africa

Ethan Oehler and his friend Esther near Kampala, Uganda in Africa

One of the best aspects of owning Lighten Up Gear is getting to know my customers. I love that God can connect people together based on common interests…starting with Jesus and going from there. When I first met Ethan, it was actually on Twitter and we immediately struck up a conversation about Uganda. Ever since then we’ve kept in touch, and when I learned about his upcoming trip to Uganda next summer, I knew I wanted to help.

Thankfully he agreed to an interview, so readers…meet Ethan.

Erik Carlson (Lighten Up Gear): Thanks so much for stepping out in faith and agreeing to this interview. Why don’t you tell the Lighten Up Gear readers more about yourself.

Ethan Oehler: My name is Ethan Oehler, and I am a freshman at Corban University in Salem, Oregon. I actually grew up in Salem so to have the chance to go to college in the same town I grew up in while growing everyday in my walk with Christ has been a true blessing. I am an Exercise Science major with hopes to become an athletic trainer. Right now I am looking into a high school athletic training position, but if I am blessed with other opportunities at the college or professional sports level I would not be opposed. The cool thing about Corban University is that you automatically get a minor in Bible as well because of the courses they have you take over your four years. This could mean that I may go into some ministry while using the medical skills I have learned here. I am keeping my door open to God and what He wants to use me for.

Erik: We both have a mutual love for the country of Uganda. Why’d you decide to visit Uganda 2 years ago and what did you do on your trip?


Ethan Oehler playing with his friend Esther in Uganda, Africa

Ethan Oehler playing with his friend Esther in Uganda, Africa

Ethan: The first trip to Uganda was actually started in Ensenada, Baja California, Mexico. My youth group had taken a mission trip over spring break to build a house for a family in need and once we had gotten back from the trip a couple at my church had just returned from their second trip to Uganda. My family and the couple were close and so over lunch one Sunday we shared about our times in the different countries. That afternoon something stirred in me, but I wasn’t convinced that God was telling me that I was supposed to go to Uganda yet. However, the call was soon to be heard. Two weeks later my pastor was giving a sermon about boasting using scripture from James. When he talked about James 4:17 something clicked. The verse reads, “Anyone, then, who knows the good he ought to do and doesn’t do it, sins.” I knew right then that if I didn’t go to Uganda I would be disobeying God’s calling for me. Soon after, we set up a team with the couple, who had already visited Uganda and were willing to lead the group. Now I’m getting ready to go back to Africa for my third trip.

Erik: What were some of your favorite memories from your trip?

Ethan: Choosing a memory from Uganda is surprisingly easy for me. It would be when I first met Esther on my first trip. I didn’t choose for Esther to be the one child that I would make a special bond with, she chose me. I stepped off the bus once we arrived at the orphanage and walked through the gates and the next thing I knew there was a little hand grasping my fingers. I looked down into a beautiful little girl’s face and asked for her name and she told me. That was the extent of our conversation. But that was all I needed to fall in love with her and not want to leave her at the orphanage. Esther is five years old and luckily is not an orphan. Her mother works in the orphanage so that is why she is in the compound Whenever I looked into her eyes, her face would light up and she would give me a giant smile that made my heart melt. That smile really came out when I picked her up by her arms and swung her around in circles or just picked her up with her hands latched on my wrists. This little game, that we would consider nothing, made her day and maybe even her week.

Another memory I have of Uganda is of the staff that I met at the compound that we were staying at. Each one of them soon became family. One of the young men I met, who was in the video that got the rest of my family to go on the trip, I now consider my older brother. Being able to make these relationships is truly amazing because when you think you are pouring into their lives and serving them, they are actually pouring into you and blessing you. Leaving Africa every time is ridiculously difficult because you truly feel like you are leaving family behind.

Ethan and Shane Oehler and garden workers in Uganda, Africa

Ethan and Shane Oehler and garden workers in Uganda, Africa

Erik: I understand you’re heading back to Uganda next summer. What will the focus of your trip be?

Ethan: The focus of our trips is relational ministry. Our team will go into the village and pray for the elderly when we visit them or bring them blankets or mosquito nets. We also do prison ministry, market ministry, and we will visit the orphanage and play with the kids there. My first trip we did a four-day VBS program for the younger kids in the village, but this time I think we are going to try to reach out to the teens and young adults in the village because not a lot gets done for them. Pray that those kids will have softened hearts and be open to the activities we offer to them and to Jesus.

Erik: With the recent Ebola outbreak, do you and your team have any safety or health concerns?

Ethan: No. Uganda is closer to the Eastern side of Africa where there have been no reports of Ebola yet. Also the compound where we stay has a health clinic on site so if anything does go wrong and anyone does get sick we can get them treated immediately.

Erik: Our readers and customers, who we call “LUG Nuts”, are super generous. If they wanted to help support you on your trip, where could they send money?

Ethan: If people wanted to donate, they can go to ShowMercy.org/SMI/ and click on the “DONATE” button. On the next page you will click on “MISSIONS”. This will take you to another page with 4 options. Click on “MISSIONS” again (the one that says Short Term Team Members and Interns underneath). Once here you can choose the amount you want to give and who you want to give it to. My fund is called “Oehler Family (Salt Creek 2015)”. Next hit “ADD TO CART” and then you can checkout and fill out the information needed. My family and I thank you for your generous giving and allowing us to all go back to Uganda for the third time! 🙂

Erik: I’ve always appreciated your support and encouragement of Lighten Up Gear. Before we go, what’s your favorite Lighten Up Gear t-shirt?

Ethan: Currently I have the OBEY YHWH and YHWH Lion t-shirts. My favorite between these two would probably have to be the OBEY YHWH. I love how it is a spin off of a common design and the simplicity of the shirt.

Lastly, I want to thank Erik for allowing me to do this and to tell you all a little bit about me and my story with Uganda! I am sure once I get back I will have pictures – with me wearing Lighten Up Gear of course 😉 – and stories to tell if you all wanted a follow up interview! Thanks again!

Erik Carlson, is the founder of Lighten Up Gear and Bald Tees. By day, he manages the digital marketing efforts of a large manufacturing brand. By night, he’s dreaming up shirt designs, playing the guitar and singing. And 24/7/365 he’s following Christ and loving on his wife and 3 children.

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(Feature image by GallinoStudios.com)

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