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I've learned that an email sent from Uganda describing my time in the war zone actually never made it to you all I guess it's still floating around in cyberspace somewhere. Sorry about that! At the risk of infringing on the emails that you're continuing to receive from those who are still in Uganda (and because I'm getting lots of calls every day asking about this!), I thought maybe I should hit the highlights of my trip away from the team.
Some of you may know that after the team arrived and settled in at Canaan, I then headed north to spend about a week in the Ugandan war zone. My main goal was to try to get a few orphans out of the war zone, and back down safely to Canaan.
In case it wasn't clear from the earlier emails, we were successful in bringing three children back - two boys and a girl - Morris (age 9), Bosco (age 7), and Brenda (supposedly age 4, but she seems younger than that to me). This "extraction" was as tricky as I thought it might be, but for very different reasons. You'll forgive me if I don¹t go into great detail, but there's a need to protect several Ugandans who were crucial in the process of getting these children out. What I can say is that without the help of these loving people, there is absolutely no way this could have been pulled off.
When some Ugandan authorities learned that I was interested in getting orphans out of the war zone, their initial concern was that I was attempting to take the children for "sacrifice" something still practiced in Uganda. Once they understood that I wasn't out to harm or sell the orphans, I probably could've gotten permission to take 10,000, if we'd had the room.
Identifying which children to take was just as difficult as you would think it would be. Compiling a list of children most desperately "in need" was hard enough; trimming that list down to three (the maximum number we could take for several reasons) was something I never, ever want to do again. That said, I'm convinced that Morris, Bosco, and Brenda were the three that God would have us rescue this time.
Regarding the war zone itself, it is still a dangerous place. My first night there, rebels killed a man across the street from where I was staying (he was supposedly targeted by the rebels, labeled as a "traitor"). Although I never saw any active rebels (I did talk to several former rebel leaders), their presence was very evident. As an example (if you have a soft heart, please skip the rest of this paragraph), the first child we identified as a "possibility" to bring back was a little girl under the age of two whose parents had been killed with machetes by the rebels. The girl was found in her hut, alive, trying to nurse on her dead mother. She immediately became #1 on our list and we moved as quickly as possible, but at the same time I learned we could get permission to take her, I learned she had just died.
While in the war zone, I had a chance to visit three different IDP (internally displaced people) camps. These are camps set up by the Ugandan government as "safe zones" very crowded areas that are protected by the Ugandan army. The camps I visited had anywhere from 17,000 to 30,000 people. Although the conditions there are deplorable, I met a pastor who was genuinely thrilled that God has seen to set up these camps. "Aren't they wonderful?" he kept asking me. I have to admit that at first I didn't really see anything all that "wonderful". Then he explained: "I've been a pastor in this area for all of my life, wanting to reach these people. They've practiced animism, infant sacrifice and many other things for centuries. But because they're all spread out in the jungle and bush across this region, there's no way I could find them, much less talk to them about God's love. But see what's happened? God has brought them all in one place where I can preach to them!" Talk about having a different perspective!
I also got to spend time with "night commuters". These are children living in the outlying bush areas, who walk into town each night (up to a 2-hour walk each way) looking for a safe place to sleep. The first night commuter camp I visited held 220 girls, all happy as clams to be there, singing and praising God the entire time. The next night, I was asked if I wanted to visit a "real" night commuter's camp. Hmmm...I thought I already had, but agreed. This time I was taken to an outlying area, where several very large tents were set up. This particular night there were 3,751 children staying in these tents. Even while I was staring at this sea of children, I refused to believe what I was seeing. And once again, the children were being cared for and nurtured by Ugandan Christians, doing the best that they could do to help. Despite the fact that no meals are served at these camps (meaning none of the children ever get dinner or breakfast), these kids sang praise songs with more energy than I could ever muster, well into the night.
Finally, I got some pretty good video of all of this. In addition to footage of the IDP camps, night commuters, Gulu, etc., I taped interviews with the head Gulu government official, three teens and two young children who'd been formerly abducted by the LRA, two former LRA high-ranking officers, and best of all, a long interview with Betty Bigombe, who is the only negotiator between the Ugandan government and the LRA (she has meet with rebel leader/terrorist/cannibal/ Joseph Kony 12 different times). Stay tuned to see what happens with these videotapes.
Our trip out of the zone was flawless. We told the various village chiefs to have the children ready to be picked up, along with all their belongings packed up and ready to go. (Their belongings turned out to consist of only the clothes they were wearing, with one exception. Brenda had brought her toy with her a bottle cap from a Fanta orange drink.) We picked up each of the three children (who did not know each other before that morning), and made a "run for the border" with several necessary documents in our possession (some of them actually legitimate).
And you know most of the rest of the story. As you read the emails from Uganda, it's clear that these three new ones are settling in. They will undoubtedly have a big adjustment to make in the coming months. Pray that God will continue to bless these three as they continue in their new lives. So many things for them to adjust to 3 meals a day, clean clothes, clean water, mosquito nets, medical care, a new school, and most of all, God's love exemplified by all those around them.
Thanks again for all of your love, support, and especially prayers. I have never felt so prayed for in my entire life as I did while up in the war zone. Again, thank you all!
I live in US and even in the worst ghetto and trailer parks there is some sense of reason. People still watch over children here. There are horrible things that happen here to children but we are constantly working to eradicate that.