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Northern Uganda: Church in a War-Zone

By worldview
Created 7 Nov 2006 - 12:08
Helicopter gunship flies overhead during our church gathering. Click here on the photograph to see the video [0]
The War Drags On: Not very far from this village, 5 kms from Lira, some of the worst atrocities of war have been committed. The cruelty and murderous barbarity of the LRA rebels defies belief, and yet here among these villagers we find genuine warmth, hospitality, generosity, gentleness, joy and faith. One can't help but think that these people are victims of a great evil that has conspired against them - as if an evil spiritual force, perhaps further incited to hatred by the very purity and vulnerability of these people, has amassed forces from hell bent on their destruction.

When one looks at the political circumstances that surround this war additional layers of complexity emerge. Many believe that the LRA rebels have been supported by the northern Sudanese government in retaliation for Uganda's support for the SPLA forces in Southern Sudan. Others believe that the Ugandan government's resolve to end the conflict has not been genuine because of northern Uganda's poor electoral support for President Museveni - that northern Uganda is being permitted to suffer as punishment for not supporting the President. Whatever the case, after 17 years of heartless terrorism we are left to wonder why the Ugandan government and the International Community seem to have done so very little to hasten a final resolution to this conflict. Conservative estimates put the number of children kidnapped by the LRA during this period of conflict as high as 40,000. Children are kidnapped and forced at gunpoint to commit unspeakable atrocities, sometimes even to murder their own parents or siblings. Boys are forcibly taken as soldiers and girls as young wives for the rebels. The majority of schools in the northern region have been burned, along with tens of thousands of homes, the result being that the war will have a long term effect on the education of children in the region - the effects of which will be felt for generations.

Over a million people have been displaced from their homes and villages, either due to direct attack or the threat of it, and have been forced to live under pressure in IDP (Internally Displaced People) Camps. In the camps life is very difficult and the people suffer from malnutrition and disease. Inside the IDP Camps social diseases also thrive. Children growing up in these camps are deprived of the healthy life they would normally enjoy at home. Instead of learning how to cultivate their fields and harvest their crops, they are learning how to survive on handouts. Where hope is scarce and poverty rampant, prostitution and sexual immorality also abound. Incidents of HIV and other STDs are on the rise. Ironically the surrounding land is extremely fertile and productive and the only thing preventing the people from returning to their homes and producing their own food is the lack of security. This is a crisis not due to drought, flooding or any other natural cause - this humanitarian crisis can be attributed entirely to the governance (or lack thereof) of the region.

Light Shines in the Darkness
Despite all these depressing factors, rays of faith and hope shine through. One group of believers in this area have responded creatively to this crisis by opening their homes to their fellow believers coming from other regions so that they don't have to live in the squalid and confined conditions of the IDP camps or the overcrowding of the nearby town. Together they have constructed accommodation for incoming families and they communally work the surrounding fields to produce and abundance of food. They gather for prayer and worship and explore ways that they can minister to the people around them who are living in fear. Many gave testimonies of how God has protected and provided for them during this difficult time and have been looking with faith at how God is at work redemptively in these terrible circumstances. Upon our arrival we visited a brother whose home was the location for a large gathering while we were there. He told us how God had told him ahead of time that the rebels were coming and that he should sell his home and relocate closer to Lira. Even though the rebels have ventured closer to Lira, he says that God has promised him that he doesn't need to move again and the he and his family will be safe.

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