Friday, July 24, 2009

"Suffering isn't the islands, but the seas"

As I said in my last post, I was away from the orphanage for about five days I traveled north with the TTW GUTS team to Adak in the region of Gulu and west to Paraa/Murchison Falls.

In Adak, TTWU runs The Dream Center which is located next to a camp hosting many of the Acholi people displaced because of the war. At the camp they live in their community of clay and straw huts. We joined them in living in such huts for the three days we were in Adak. Because camp life is very laid-back, we did little but sit and pray with the people. However, we did help in the fields of one of The Dream Center's students as we picked peanuts.

During a campfire on our last night in Adak, I had the opportunity to speak with Michael, one of center's students. As he was roasting the head of the goat we had eaten for supper, he shared with me his life story. Although the rebels never kidnapped him, his sister and four brothers were. The rebels killed all four of his brothers but his sister escaped during an attempted air raid (she trecked 120 kilometers in two days!). When the rebels came to his village and kidnapped his siblings, Michael feigned death. He thinks "God took his vital signs" because they grabbed his head and banged it on the ground yelling at him to wake up but when he continued to "play dead" they left him there. When he woke the next morning, he found his parents, who survived, and they sent him to the town for safety.

Two things struck me most about our conversation. First, he shared some of the most heart-wrenching stories I have ever heard with such matter-of-factness. War, tragedy, suffering, death are all integral and even ordinary aspects of his life and he spoke of it as Americans would of sports or the weather, not 9/11 or Columbine. For him, suffering "isn't the islands, but the seas" (Wolterstorff). Although I have noticed the same common-place attitude towards war with the children at SMK, grief still wells within them and manifests itself in their tears where the Acholi people seem to be almost emotionless. Secondly, I never noticed how holistic the effects of a war are. When I asked him what he found to be the biggest problem in the North he said the destruction of the family and the lack of education which both stem from the LRA's atrocities against the Acholi people. Because the LRA destroyed many families and stripped countless children from traditional development and immersed them in a culture of violence, many young men rape younger women throughout the camps which spreads child pregnancies and HIV. Furthermore, because many children were kidnapped and forced to fight and others displaced from their villages, the majority of the young adults lack the education and thus skills needed to make money and sustain their families. This is where the Dream Center comes in. The Dream Center provides students with a range of practical skils in order to make a living and provide for their families. Recently, over fifty students graduated as tailors and were provided with their own sewing machines to begin their business. Presently, they are training twenty-five men in brick laying and concrete practice, a class of which Michael is a member. As the students learn basic skills, staff members also share the gospel and disciple those students who follow Christ. They ultimately seek to develop the community as they provide for the needs of the community.

In addition to attempting to understand the sufferings of the people, we also joined with them in their joys as we talked and ate together over campfires. On the last night, the men stayed out and we shared proverbs from our two cultures and then guessed what they meant. It was so much fun. These aspects of camplife I enjoyed--the sharing and enjoying each other. However, it's good to be home at the orphanage as I can't wait to spend my last week with the kids.

After Gulu, we went to Paraa which is in Western Uganda. There we had two relaxing days of safari. We saw everything from lions to hippos to crocs to giraffes to elephants. It was beautiful and a great two days of rest.

Thanks again for all that you have done to send me here. I appreciate your love and prayers. Look forward to seeing everyone soon!


Cathy said...

Hi Ben,

We enjoy reading your blog weekly and can't wait to hear all about your trip when you get back.

It's an amazing experience.

Have fun this last week you are there. We will be praying for your safe return to the US.

Cathy and Michael Eng

A.R.Calo said...

Your blog is so informative--and staggering. May we learn to pray passionately for those whose lives are so drastically altered.
Glad you had some rest.
Praying for the rest of your time there as well as happy reunion with family and friends.
A. Calo

Justin said...

Hey Ben,

This is a very, very interesting post. I too was struck by the apparent 'emotionlessness' of the people of the North when we visited during the spring. They approach their suffering with such a matter-of-fact attitude... it's shocking. They really have experienced seas of suffering.

Actually, there's an excellent book on this very subject (the lifestyle of hardship in N. Uganda): Living in Bad Surroundings. I think Jesse and Andrea know about it. Anyhow, you should check it out sometime.

As always, I am extremely happy for you - and extremely jealous!

God bless,
Justin Tyvoll

Ben said...

Thank you all! Look forward to seeing you.

Justin, I will take a look.