“Goff” is a verb. It is the act of turning anything one can imagine into a caper.
I have never had even one dull moment with Bob Goff. Time spent with Bob never fails to make me laugh, cry, and think. The past few days have fit the pattern perfectly.
On Thursday morning, I left Kampala at 5:00 a.m. heading north to Masindi where I was to meet up with Bob and a crew of others from the United States. Bob and company had been in Gulu for several days and were making their way back down to Kampala via Masindi. I needed to be in Masindi anyway for an important meeting in conjunction with a legal guardianship matter that has gotten hung up in the system.
The drive to Masindi was more emotional than I expected it to be. As I rode the three hours under the cover of darkness, my mind drifted back to January of 2010, when I traveled the same road at about the same time. Shortly thereafter, I met Henry and fell deeply in love with a country and with the idea of endeavoring to improve an underdeveloped criminal justice system.
As we pulled into the parking lot of the High Court – the place Henry was vindicated in one case, then convicted in another – all of the emotions associated with this town, both good and bad, flooded back. I had a chance to meet with the judge who convicted Henry nearly two years ago, and the other judge who sentenced him to probation. I had the opportunity to update the sentencing judge on Henry, and he was thrilled to hear that Henry was thriving. The judge who convicted him has no idea that I will soon be seeking to overturn this conviction in the court of appeals. This judge is a good man, a really good man, but he got this one wrong and I intend to prove it. As you might expect, he and I did not discuss Henry at all. The meeting about the legal guardianship matter went as well as hoped, and there will likely be a new hearing on this case early next week. I will speak more freely about this once things move into the public phase.
After the legal guardianship meeting, I met up with Bob’s crew again (I had a chance to hang out with this team at the Cornerstone House for former child prostitutes earlier in the week. You can read Joline’s and Jessica’s posts about this experience here and here, respectively). The Goff crew includes pastors from Rancho Santa Fe and Portland, a doctor from San Diego, a school teacher from Seattle, a couple guys who work in missions for a church in Atlanta, a photographer from Austin, a writer from Irvine, a father and daughter from Nashville, an attorney from Pittsburgh, a missionary from another part of Africa, and Hero’s surrogate father during his stay in Southern California for his surgery (I had gotten to know (and pray with) Ted Worrell while we waited together for Hero to emerge from his reconstructive surgery late last year). Those in this crew have three things in common – a deep and abiding love for God, a desire to follow the example of Jesus, and some connection to Bob Goff.
From the courthouse, we all traveled out to the third meeting of witch doctors Bob has convened in the past few months. I was with him for the first one in November that was held in Mukono and it was surreal. The second such meeting took place in Gulu earlier this week – I wasn’t able to attend this one, but I am told it ended with Bob washing feet. This third one was in Masindi, and the location was not accidental.
Masindi is where then eight year-old Hero was drugged, dragged, hacked, and left for dead. By the grace of God, Masindi is also where Hero fought for his life, identified his assailant, and testified in the trial that convicted the witch doctor. Hero’s case is well known by everyone in the area and was the topic of much of the discussion. At this conference, like the others, the witch doctors were put on notice that the relatively new law in trafficking in body parts carries with it the death penalty and it will be relentlessly prosecuted.
Hero’s mom still lives in Masindi and wasn’t able to get to Kampala to welcome Hero back to Uganda when he landed last weekend. In fact, Ted Worrell, with whom Hero lived in the United States, hadn’t ever met Hero’s mom (though they had spoken on the phone) and was eager to do so. During one of the breaks in the conference, I caught a blur of a blue dress out of the corner of my eye as the woman wearing it gave me a bear hug. Ugandans are huggers by nature, as am I, so I hugged back. As we released our embrace, I realized that it was Hero’s mom. We had spent a couple days together in November before Hero left and had gotten to be friends. I gave her another hug, looked around until I found what I was looking for, and then led her by the hand over to introduce her to someone.
“Ted, I would like you to meet someone very special. This is Hero’s mom.” My voice cracked and faded as I explained to Hero’s mom who Ted was. Tears, hugs, and snot bubbles ensued.
And that was just me.
They were both crying also. Hero’s mom dropped to her knees and thanked him through her sobs of gratitude for being the father to Hero that he never had. (Hero still refers to Ted as “daddy.”) Ted pulled her to her feet and thanked her for the opportunity he and his family had to be a part of Hero’s life. It was quite a touching moment.
Also at the witch doctor conference was a man named William, who was the probation officer/warden at the Remand Home where Henry had lived for nearly two years. William and Henry had gotten to be close, and I was pleased to be able to update him on Henry’s new life. Unfortunately, William informed me that the Remand Home had filled up again and we discussed the possibility of another team of lawyers traveling to Masindi to prepare the cases for trial.
That afternoon, we hung out with the High Court judge in Masindi (discussed above) at his house. We had the opportunity to pray for and with him as he seeks to deliver justice to Ugandans.
That evening (Thursday), we traveled halfway back to Kampala and stayed at a ranch owned and operated by Cornerstone. I wish I had more time to write about how special that place is (and the American woman named Maggie who runs it), but suffice it to say that food and the fellowship were both outstanding. Maggie is throwing lots and lots of starfish who have washed up on shore.
On Friday morning, Bob, John Niemeyer (Restore’s Country Director and one of my favorite people in the world), the two pastors, and I got up early and drove back to Kampala. More specifically, we drove to Luzira – the maximum security prison where the witch doctor who dismembered Hero is serving a fifty-year sentence. Margaret, a court registrar who is also a pastor, met us there.
Last time I was here in November, Bob, Margaret, and I went to visit the witch doctor in prison. During that visit, the witch doctor surrendered his life to Jesus. If you haven’t read that story, I encourage you to do so now. Here it is. Notwithstanding the fact that I wrote it, it is well worth the read and will prepare you for my next post tomorrow, when I describe all the Goffing that happened during this unforgettable visit.