We see the hope and potential in every young person

LIFE.HOPE.PEACE

In Canada, if a child goes missing, we will not stop until they are found. Until there are answers. Police, family, investigators, news anchors. Helicopters, search squads, everyone. Parents don’t sleep. People who never pray suddenly have the urge. It is tragic and everyone knows and everyone is affected.

But in Northern Uganda, for some twenty odd years over 30000 children plus women were abducted. Snatched from their homes in the middle of the night and made to do unthinkable things. Both women and children alike were forced to become soldiers by Kony and the LRA. Nearly EVERY family in Acholi and Langi have been affected, with their children fleeing from the villages into towns to hide for fear of being taken. Kabiza Jon says in his 2005 article “Boys and girls are turned into ruthless killers who no longer feel, but are numbed within, and their souls become seared by the atrocities they have seen and in which they have been forced to participate.”

And for years nobody knew. The rest of the world kept going. There was very little that police could do to stop the LRA and there certainly wasn’t much news coverage until it had almost ended. Families that were torn, grieved without hope of ever finding answers.

This Lord’s Resistance Army is led by Joseph Kony, a former altar boy, self-styled mystic, demonically inspired medium, ruthless leader, and merciless person who has brought Northern Uganda to a virtual standstill. People are frozen in fear, commerce has become non-existent, fields go fallow, villages have been decimated, and children have grown up without a future or hope. There is no peace from Lira to Gulu and all points in-between.” says Jon.

No life.

No hope.

No peace.

And this is what I think as we come to the end of our 8 hour journey to Laminadera Children’s Village in Gulu.

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I looked out the window at the beautiful blue sky and the lush green landscape that was once filled with the sound, smell and smoke of gunfire. That felt the pounding of thousands of tiny frightened feet clamoring for safety. If those streets could talk. If those trees and bushes could tell the stories….

And now – no sign of the horrific war that finally ended in 2008 – the same year that Watoto started Laminadera Village.

Upon arriving at the village, I was instantly overwhelmed.

We were greeted by hundreds of smiling children and swept off to our new homes and I felt SO welcomed and at home. More than any other place I’ve been since I arrived here.

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All the children running to meet us as we pulled into the village

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This precious child, Jackson, is the best! We bonded immediately – possibly because of his very canadian shirt… I taught him the Canadian National Anthem 🙂

And when I reflect on why – it is because of their love. They even call their village “Laminadera loves!” And it could not be more true. God has been trying to teach me so much about love and here He gave me a small glimpse of what that should look like and it undid me. Humbled me to a place where I just didn’t feel worthy but mostly I just wanted to love like they loved. To accept as they accepted. To welcome as they welcomed.

To live as they live.

The family I stayed with was an absolute blast! My mother had been in the village for only a year and she had 8 children – most of which were under the age of 7. The children spoke nearly perfect English and we had so much fun singing and dancing and playing together during the few moments that I was home.

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Dancing and singing with my family

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My mamma and a few of her kids just moments before she had to rush off to take the youngest to the hospital for surgery

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But the one who impacted me most was mamma. She sat with us one day and began to tell us how she came to be a mother in Watoto and I was absolutely blown away by her testimony.

She had been living in Kampala near a market where last year’s 360 class did a work project. She saw them and decided to check out the church. Several years later she was telling a friend that she has this strong sense that she would not be living in Kampala in a year from that time – she didn’t know where she was going, she just had a strong sense that God was taking her somewhere else. Then she learned about the Watoto children’s villages and applied to be a mother, never dreaming they would send her to Gulu.

Much to her surprise, when they found out she could speak the language from the north they asked if she would go and she said yes. She packed up her life and moved to Gulu, Laminadera village, to be a mom to children who are nine times out of ten a product or a victim of the war.

But that wasn’t all.

We would later learn that she was in fact originally from Gulu herself. She was among the women captured by Kony and his men and taken into the bush where she lived for a few years. She was being forced to be Kony’s 6th wife when God miraculously changed the heart of one of the men who convinced them to just let her go and work in the bush. Still not a good scenerio, but the lesser of the two evils. She talked of her life in the bush and I listened with my jaw dropping. Saying many of the same things I had read in my research of the war.

And then I escaped.”

I think she is one of the strongest, most beautiful women I have met – and I have met a LOT. She escaped and ran back to Kampala and by the grace of God they never found her.

When I moved to the village, as soon as we drove to Gulu town, I burst into tears. ‘I know this place! I spent years in these bushes. I know this place!’ And here I was, back again, and I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. People are now starting to come back to Gulu. They walk freely in the streets. Most of the signs of war are gone, and there is peace. God is just so good. I am so thankful. He is so good. So good!”

Inexpressible peace. Exactly what I felt from the moment I stepped onto that village.

Unfathomable redemption. That God would redeem her story in such away that she was rescued to rescue others.

And when I stood in a converted community centre where once thousands of children hid in fear but has now been changed into a place of hope. Living Hope. A program founded by Watoto that takes these vulnerable, uneducated women who were once torn by that same war and gives them back their dignity, skills and education. Their life, hope and peace.

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The room that once held thousands of frightened children, night after night

And I marveled at that fact, and still cannot wrap my head around it. It nearly draws me to tears and I struggle to find words to describe.

The life.

The hope.

The peace.

Gulu is a place resurrected. Redeemed.

A place of peace. The peace that comes only from knowing a time of great pain.

And I am reminded of this over and over again.

In the stillness and quiet. In every child’s face. Every beautiful smile. Every mother’s GENUINE warm hug. Every story.

Kony’s own biological daughter is a child in Watoto. Growing up in a place where she gets to experience Jesus. Where she gets to break the generational curses of her father and be a living testimony. Living hope!

Talk about changing somebody’s story.

Talk about redemption!

So I left Gulu with a renewed hope that God is still at work.

That God LOVES to take messes and turn things around.

He LOVES the impossible because there He is made most famous.

But mostly I want to be part of those kinds of stories.

I want to LIVE as though I have been redeemed and restored, not just know it in my head.

I want my life to emulate so much LIFE, and HOPE, and PEACE.

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For I am still confident of this;

That I will see the GOODNESS of the Lord in the land of the living.

WAIT FOR THE LORD.

BE STRONG and

TAKE HEART and
WAIT for the Lord.”

Psalm 27:13

Source for quotes by Kabiza Jon http://kabiza.com/Lira-Children-Kony-Rebels.htm

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The twins in my house

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One of the brothers

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My darling 360 roommate — Bena. LOVED getting to know her better!

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The church in the village

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Ugandan tradition for birthdays… douse people with water – ALL DAY

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Part of our building work project

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Jackson, Paska and Shell – these kids are the best!

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walking our supper to the place of slaughter!

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made my very own bacon – right off the pig!

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cooking all the meat – 3 pigs, a goat and a chicken

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Serving in children’s church – talk about chaos!

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All of the kids in my house 🙂 LOVE THEM to death!

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The two oldest sisters in the house sporting the earrings I gave the for letting us room with them

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This lady is absolutely fabulous! IT takes only seconds to fall in love with her! So blessed to have met her

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SAFARI!! pictures OUTSIDE the car – livin on the edge

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our whole class!

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Work Project at Gulu Baby’s home

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Comments

  1. Sue Streicher says:

    Hello Twila:
    Good to catch up with your life again! God bless as you continue to serve Him in Africa!! May the Lord continue to fill you with His Holy Spirit and strengthen you for each day!
    Love all the Streichers

  2. twilaerb says:

    Thank you so much Sue! Glad you found me on here and yes, please continue to pray for guidance and wisdom and for me to LISTEN each day 🙂 Trust you are blessed in your ministry at home.

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