Sunday, January 18, 2009

Caught in the crossfire of bullets they only wanted to survive it. To outrun the cycle of war, rape, and the blaze of huts as they were destroyed. They promised them safety. A future. Maybe even a marriage. A truck out of hell, out of the heart of darkness. But it would cost them something. Just a body. Just a soul. Just a life.

When the Ugandan People's Defense Force (UPDF) rolled out of Congo in a billow of dust and sand it took the beautiful, fair-skinned Congolese women with it. Traded one hell for another. Dropped them off in Gulu, spirits broken and penniless. Some pregnant. Some unwell. And unable to speak the language. Soldiers sworn to protect a country, taking what they can and discarding the remains at the border.

What choice did they have really? Refugees in a nation that didn't want them. Branded for lack of speech.
They live in a place called Kisubi, a section of Gulu where the compound is full of slapstick rooms and the air smells of urine.
Where everyone knows who they are and why they live there. There are 4 other communities just like it in Gulu alone.

Sell their body to the highest bidder and hope they can convince him to wear a condom. Out of the twenty of them with painted faces and styled hair, I can see the disease in some of them. The disease that hollows out their eyes and makes them thin. Where a woman of 26 can look like she's 40. While their children play with plastic bags.

But they are a family.
Live together or die alone.
They share food and when one grows too sick to move they take up a collection to get her to the hospital. They take care of each other.
THey never wanted this life but when I ask them if they ever think of going home they say,
"There is nothing to go back to."
Families dead. Homes burned down.
And all they want are English classes.
They want to learn a language that will make them less
They want to leave this life.
Just a single chance to start over.

Here, in the day in day out encyclopedia of need and takers who bleed you dry, compassion is hard to come by.
But I sit there crying. Because in the middle of it all, they are singing worship songs in Swahili.
And it's something I understand.

I don't know what tomorrow will bring. I still dream dreams too big for me. Offering English classes. Offering a home.

Because they taught me to see again.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Operation Lightning Thunder which was launched by the Ugandan government to bring in the LRA has created a backlash of rapes, murders, and kidnappings. Read more. And respond.

Please continue to pray for the safety of girls and children still in the bush. And pray that we have a chance to minister to those who come out.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Sometimes we wonder why we do what we do.

Things get tough. Doing it on your own with little to affirm you. Life is not perfect in a family of 18 where fights can start over who left the bicycle out or who drank the last of the water. Sometimes it seems the problems outweigh the solutions, the failures outnumber the successes and the thought of losing even one of these lives you've poured the last 6 months into...seems crushing.

Times like this you need a talisman. You need a reason. A reason to stay and keep fighting against the tidal wave of kids who are killing me with medical bills and girls who still need to grow. People keep telling me I should do orphans because they're easier. Kids are not as hard as teenage girls. Yeah, we got drama.

And then I picked up my camera. I had left it while I went on a short break and the girls hijacked it and went nuts as you can imagine. I was told they took a "few" pictures. Try 174.
So as I was flipping through the endless montage of heads cut off and out of focus shots of babies walking and babies eating, and girls cooking and girls eating....I stumbled across a few videos they made (unknowingly because they weren't quite sure how to operate my very sophisticated machinery)
The girls were dancing and the children were bopping up and down in their own discombobulated dance trying to copy their mothers. They were laughing. And hugging. And cracking jokes by putting pillows underneath their shirts like they were pregnant (this last one slightly less humorous for me :)

But all the struck me. This is why I do it. That laugh. That laugh that is no longer a stricken face, a stifled sob. Life giving them a reason to dance and not dig through garbage. It's a single acknowledgement that my existence here has some value. And that somehow, while I may not always see it, while I may not always get to reap the benefits of it---lives are being changed. It is these relationships that keep me here. They keep me here after walking away from big NGO's with lots more money to spend on internet that works and buildings I wish I could use to put my girls into school. With child care.

It is the fact that every night we sit around and talk like a family. Complete with inside jokes. And while some days it feels like a lot of work. There are the days when it feels like home.

And it is enough.