Thursday, February 22, 2018

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I Met Jesus in Kitgum, Part 1 of 2

by Jeff Gunther

in Missions,Spirituality

I met Jesus in Kitgum. Her name is Sandy. I don’t know what she looks like, but I’ll never forget the sound of her voice.

Four years ago, my friend David Collins, founder of Canadian Food for the Hungry, invited me to join him and small group of adventurers on a Vision Trip to Uganda.

Uganda is in east Africa. The northern part of the country has been ravaged by an ongoing, brutal, and senseless civil war. After arriving by airplane and spending a few days in the capital city of Kampala, we boarded a much smaller aircraft and headed north to Kitgum.

Kitgum is a tiny dusty town just south of the Sudan border. Home to numerous relief agencies, it’s a bit of a safe haven for victims of a war that has recruited thousands of children and forced them to serve as soldiers, porters, or looters.

Just before dark, we settled into our accommodations – a sagging mattress, a torn mosquito net, well-worn furniture, and a cold shower. I was a little apprehensive about sleeping in that room, but it was far better than what we would witness the next day.

In the morning, as we piled into our van, we heard rumours of recent ambushes on the route we’d be travelling. For the price of a case of cookies, we were in good hands – eight armed guards rode in the truck ahead of us.

That day, we visited two IDP camps and interviewed three brave survivors. IDP stands for Internally Displaced Peoples. These are like refugees – in their own country – who have been moved from homes scattered throughout the countryside in an effort to avoid attack from rebel forces. The theory is that there’s safety in numbers. The problem is that it’s almost impossible for these people to support themselves in camps.

One of the camps we visited was Padibe. A fire had recently torn through this camp, devouring the grass roofs of tiny huts that provide shelter. These people had lost everything – and then lost that too!

At Padibe, we heard from a young woman – now in her mid-twenties. Guilt and fear prevented her from speaking in much more than a faint whisper. Through a translator she told us how, as an adolescent, she was walking with three other girls from her village, on their way to work in a field, when they were ambushed by rebel soldiers. The soldiers warned them not to show fear, and in a twisted attempt to prove their point, shot and killed two other children in front of them. All four girls were terrified. Their punishment was that this young woman and one of her friends were ordered to beat the other two girls to death. From the lips of the translator we hear three dreadful words: “…and we did.”

The survivors were taken to a nearby rebel camp. But in the middle of the night, the beaten girls regained consciousness and crawled toward the sound of voices, looking for help. Our survivor and her friend were told to finish the job – “…and we did.”

For over twenty years, children have been abducted and forced to do unthinkable things. Girls are recruited as porters, looters, and concubines. Ten year old boys are lined up across from one another, given guns, and told to shoot the boy across from them. Those who survive become soldiers; those who don’t are called cowards. The threat is always the same: “After what you did, you can never go back.”

The broken young woman addressing us in the IDP camp eventually escaped during a raid and hid two nights in the bush before arriving in Kitgum.

But that’s not my story. My story involves another young girl: Sandy…

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