It has been a whirlwind of travel these last few weeks! I have traveled across most of the country of Uganda and have met so many amazing people and heard their incredible stories. This trip really has been so much more than I possibly could have asked for, and I am so grateful for the time that I have been blessed to spend here.
After getting back from Zimbabwe I immediately headed out for Northern Uganda. The people of the north are some of my favorite in the world. They are made up mostly of the Acholi and Langi tribes, and they are some of the most resilient and loving people you will ever meet. They have endured some of the most unthinkable tragedies, and yet their hope and joy is unmatched. I started out in the town of Lira, which lies just north of Lake Kyoga. There is a friend of mine in Austin who is from Lira, and she insisted on me visiting her family while there. I stayed in a home with about 10 ladies, and boy did they take care of me! I felt like I was staying at a 5-star resort. They cooked insane amounts of delicious food for me, they washed my clothes, and I had a really nice bed and bathroom to keep me comfortable (most of the rest of my time here I have slept on floors and used “squatty potties”). It was wonderful to be able to spend some time just soaking in the culture. We got to sit around each day and listen to some of the elders of the community tell stories of what their people have been through, some stories even coming from pre-colonization It truly was a blessed time!
I then headed up to Kitgum, which is near the Southern Sudan border. I stayed with my friend Richard Akena and got to see some of the amazing work that he is doing for his community. Richard was a former LRA rebel, and ever since his escape he has given his life to care for those who have been afflicted by the war and its effects. He runs a school/orphanage that cares for around 100 children. They also run a vocational trainging program for the community which offers courses of brick making/laying, carpentry, sewing, and hairdressing. They are also helping local farmers to cultivate the land and find outlets to sell their products.
After Kitgum, I took a very dusty ride over to Gulu town (about 60km). I spent much of my time in Gulu in 2010 and it has always held much of my heart and soul. I stayed with an old friend, Mama Caroline, who was on the original board for our Third Hope project. She is an incredible woman who has endured every challenge faced by her people. From exile to death of relatives during the war, nothing has stopped her from stepping up and leading her people in hope and healing. She currently leads a group that cares for over 20,000 Acholi women who were widowed by the war. Her reach of leadership and inspiration is incredibly vast and I am so excited to be able to begin working alongside and supporting the amazing work she is already doing. While in Gulu, I also got to go and visit the Third Hope Africa rehabilitation center for former child soliders. This is something that I got to be a part of dreaming up while I was here 3 years ago, and so many of you gave to see that dream come to be. There were many confusions and complications in the work, and when I left I felt a lot of disappointment and shame that my time and your support may have gone to waste. But, because of the faithfulness and diligence of those at Third Hope Africa, barriers have been overcome and the center has finally become a reality. I cannot wait to see how God uses that place to bless the people of Northern Uganda.
The next leg of my journey brought me to the land of Bundibugyo, in Western Uganda near the border with DR Congo. Here is, in my opinion, the most beautiful land of all of Uganda. As you approach the Rwenzori mountains you are surrounded by tea fields as far as the eye can see. You take the long road up and around the mountain and slope down into the Semiliki national forest. The canopy is dense and many species of monkey can be found jumping from tree to tree. Many don’t know, but this area was also devastated by years of war. In the late ’90s, the town was invaded by a Congolese rebel army called the Allied Democratic Forces, or ADF. Their tactics were much like that of the LRA; killing, raping, pillaging, abducting. Many people fled to the mountains and others were forced to live in displacement camps for over 5 years. Once the war had settled and there was peace, the people returned to find their entire community destroyed. Many wanted to wait until aid from the West arrived, but one man arose and led his people to begin rebuilding their community together. This man, Bishop Hannington Bahemuka, is the reason why I came back to Uganda; to learn more about the work he has done/is doing and how we as a people can come alongside him to join in and support his work. He united his people and each gave what little they had left until every school, church, and home was rebuilt. His is an incredibly heroic and inspiring story. He now leads over 30 churches, runs 2 schools, and takes care of over 150 orphans. Very soon we will begin supporting some of his projects and help him in furthering the recovery and renewal of his community.
I leave tomorrow on a plane to Haiti where I will meet up with a team from New City Church and Help One Now. I cannot wait to see what God has in store for our time there, but it will be hard to leave this wonderful place again. Life here is so simple, and full of joy and content. These people have become so much a part of who I am today, and my time here is just not enough to show them the gratitude due for their generous hearts and loving spirits. Thats why we have to keep pushing on in the work, keep fighting for their justice and equality. Though I am sad to go, I really do feel at peace about the time here and that I have gained the vision and clarity I so desired for the road ahead. Thanks so much to all who made this trip possible and all who have prayed for me along the way…..keep your ears out for some awesome opportunities coming soon to continue to partner with and work alongside these wonderful people!