Sunday, April 04, 2010

tales out of africa

I took Greg's suit and dress shirt to the cleaners yesterday. Even though he'd only worn the shirt twice, the collar was deeply stained by his sweat and the red African earth.

"Hmmm, we don't have much luck removing spray-on tan," the owner clucked, shaking his head over the soiled collar.

"It's not spray-on tan," I assured him. "Just good old African dirt."

"We don't see much of that here," he replied, peering at the rumpled garment with a little more enthusiasm. "Let's see what we can do . . ."

Just as the African dirt clings to our clothing, the memories of Africa stick close to our hearts. I've written about the exotic tapestry of sights and sounds and smells we encountered on our brief visit. But I have yet to tell you the unforgettable stories we heard.

They were tragic tales for the most part. Children orphaned by AIDs or war. Boys and girls abducted from their peaceful villages and forced into a demonic army led by an insane commander. Young adults who survived their captivity by numbing their hearts and minds and becoming ruthless killers themselves.

I don't have the time--or the heart--to tell you all the stories. But here are a few that haunt me. One little girl, who now lives at the Uganda Jesus Village in Kampala, was abducted along with her family by the LRA (the Lord's Resistance Army, led by Joseph Kony). At age five, she was forced to watch as the rebels--some not much older than she was--chopped her mother into pieces with machetes. Her captors made her gather up the severed body parts and pile them in a wheelbarrow. She was then ordered to bury her mother's bloody remains in the jungle.

You can only wonder what she dreams about at night . . .

And then there's Jennifer. Jennifer (who oversees the UJV with her husband, Cameron) lost both her parents to the rebels and was kidnapped herself when she was nine. She quickly learned that to survive, she had to be more arrogant and ruthless than the other kids. That little nine-year-old girl, who'd grown up in a loving and educated family, soon figured out that she had to kill or be killed.

After enduring the horrors of the rebel camp for a year, Jennifer and about 20 other girls tried to escape. That tale in itself is harrowing; at one point the girls (now only a handful) were recaptured by a neighboring band of LRA soldiers. They radioed the camp the girls had escaped from and were told to keep the children alive and return them. They would be used as an "object lesson" to encourage the other children in the camp not to try and escape.

Because she'd witnessed it before, Jennifer knew exactly what that gruesome lesson entailed. Each runaway would be slowly hacked into pieces with an axe--starting with their hands and feet and ending with decapitation. Unable to sleep that night, Jennifer--with bound hands and feet--slowly inched her way into the dense jungle and was followed by the other captives. They struggled silently through the thorny underbrush, painfully crawling on their knees and elbows for many hours. Then Jennifer cut her ropes using sharp rocks and set the other girls free as well.

They had several more brushes with LRA and death before they reached safety and eventually returned to what was left of their villages. She was raised by relatives and World Vision played a major role in her restoration and education.

Fifteen years later, Jennifer is finally able to talk about her hellish experience in the rebel's camp.

She told me that sharing her story with the UJV kids has been a big part of her healing process--and I know Jennifer plays a huge role in their redemption. She understands the despair of their past but offers them hope for the future.

"You have to have hope," she often told me.

I wish you could meet Jennifer. She is beautiful and funny and filled with the love of Christ. There's not a trace of bitterness in her; she forgave her tormentors a long time ago. She's a walking example of someone who has allowed the joy of the Lord to be her strength.

To know more about UJV, visit their website.

And yes, those are pictures of Candyce and her team on the home page :)