Many of you have seen or at least heard about the controversial film called “Kony 2012.” If you don’t know anything about Joseph Kony and the terror his Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) unleashed on northern Uganda for 20 years, you might want to check out the video and get informed. Click on this link if you want to watch “Kony 2012 Part 2″ http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c_Ue6REkeTA. A lot of people have criticized the filmakers because Kony is old news; he has not been active in Uganda for the past few years. Why should we worry about him? Well, the people of Gulu and the surrounding area lived in terror for years and are now suffering the aftermath of countless murders, abductions, mutalations, and torture.
When I found out that Gulu was one of the cities where we would do a medical mission trip with the Gregston family, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I had heard so much about the damage done by the LRA in that area that I sort of expected to see a lot of disfigured or injured people. The week before going to Gulu, I had seen an article in the newspaper about a married couple who had overcome adversity. The bride had been one of the LRA’s victims; her nose and lips had been cut off and she was forced to eat them. She was so ashamed of her appearance that she didn’t believe she deserved to have someone love her, let alone marry her. Her groom patiently courted her until she finally trusted that his love for her was real. Many women are still living in shame for having parts cut off, or worse, done to them.
In Gulu, we did not see many people with scars on the outside, but we knew the scars were there on the inside. Everyone there has suffered directly or indirectly – lost loved ones, lived in terror, were forced into hiding every night to avoid abduction, or were forced into the LRA as soldiers or sex slaves . . . the list is too long and gruesome. Gulu is now a peaceful place and the people we met were joyful and filled with hope. They no longer live in fear. There are many great organizations in Gulu that are helping the people rebuild their shattered lives.
One such organization is St. Monica’s, which is run by Sister Rosemary. Women are accepted “as they are” and are given a home for themselves and their children, vocational training (cooking and dressmaking), and hope for the future. Some of these women were former LRA sex slaves (a couple of them were wives of Kony – it is believed that he had more than 80 wives). Some of these women were not connected to the LRA, but were simply living in poverty and needed help learning how to support their children. But at St. Monica’s, the focus is not on their past, but on their future. As we toured the campus, Sister Rosemary showed us the daycare facilities (where the children stay while their mothers attend class), the playground, and the medical clinic (where the women and children, as well as community members outside the school, can come for care for a very small fee). She also showed us the temporary shelter (large metal shipping containers) where hundreds of “invisible children” sought refuge nightly to avoid abduction. This was just one of the many places children hid each night during the years of terror.
While in Gulu, we also visited the Gulu Referral Hospital, to help clean up the grounds (pick up trash) and minister to the patients. It was such a blessing to be able to pray with the patients I visited. When we entered the Medical Ward, we saw the hallways, which were used as another hiding place for the “night commuters.”
Restore Leadership Academy is leading the way in education in northern Uganda for secondary students. This young school was started by Bob Goff to give kids a chance to restore their lives after living through the LRA years. Many students are being sponsored through Restore International. We had been looking forward to visiting for over two years. This was Henry’s school. He has already graduated, but his younger brother Joseph is still there, so we got to meet him for the first time. We had met the rest of Henry’s family in Hoima in February, but Joseph was already beginning another school year. So it was cool to meet the final member of Henry’s family. It is remarkable to see how much alike they are in speech and expression. After seeing Henry’s and Joseph’s photos on our fireplace mantle for years, it has been amazing to see them in person in Uganda.
We spent two and a half days at Gulu Bible Community Church doing health screenings for school children. These kids are too young to remember Kony, but I’m sure they have been told about him. Perhaps they have older siblings who know what it’s like to fear that you will be abducted in the night. But the kids we saw live in a peaceful Gulu. They are not afraid. They do not have to hide at night. They are full of hope for the future.
After our first day of screenings, we visited with Sandra, who is about Jennifer’s age. She speaks english very well and is learning french. This beautiful, bright young girl hopes to be a lawyer someday. Sandra is the future of Gulu.
I left Gulu feeling encouraged that hope is being restored to the people and there is a new generation growing up in peace and safety. But we must never forget what Joseph Kony did to Uganda. He must be brought to justice. The LRA is currently active in other African countries near Uganda. So when you hear about Kony and Invisible Children, don’t scoff and say that’s old news. “Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” – George Santayana