I was in and out of Uganda in 57 hours… but it was as magical to me as a weekend at Disney World. You have to know that the first time I landed in Uganda was in 2006. It was at the height of peace talks between the LRA and the Ugandan government. For a girl who had studied conflict resolution and community rebuilding, it was a dream to spend a week in northern Uganda – in Gulu. During that trip in 2006, I spent the week hearing and witnessing first hand what war does to a person. I was with women abducted by child soldiers and forced to be army wives. I saw children walking down dusty streets missing limbs taken by rebel soldiers. I spent the night with 2 of Joseph Kony’s wives and the youngest of his children hearing about life in the bush.
This time around, this Uganda I experienced was a completely different place. This Gulu was filled with life and laughter – not fear and death. This Gulu had boys and girls running to school, not away from soldiers. This Gulu had economic activity and buildings, not refugee camps and World Food Program deliveries.
The difference comes from several things – but our emphasis is education. I spent my days with the men and women in our Common Ground Academy. They were sharing what they were learning, how they were wrestling with this information, and what they were doing with it. These leaders are pastors in their churches, program directors for local orphanages and community schools, and visionaries looking to make Gulu better than the 2006 version. They were completing our 2-year program and sharing about how the Bible was impacting everything. They were talking about their growing confidence to preach the Gospel, how they addressed the injustices they saw in their neighborhoods, and the solutions their neighborhoods were using to solve their own needs.
This Gulu was filled with men and women who have learned how quickly life can unravel and have learned the ways to rebuild and put it back together – stronger than before. These women were pulling out data they had collected about literacy rates in their neighborhoods and sharing with me their plans to teach English to their children – so that their children can live a better life than they have. These leaders were explaining that before this education, they felt the burden of making their churches and neighborhoods stronger on their own. And now, they know how to engage their neighbors and church members so that the plans and solutions they put their hands to are owned by every member of their community. This ownership and sacrifice ensures the success and sustainability of their efforts. And with pride on their faces, they were showing me the work of their hands.
If I ever need a reminder that education and the Gospel can rebuild people and places, Uganda is my reminder. It works. In 10 years time, life can be rebuilt. Hearts and stories can be healed. Momentum can swing from fear and silence to laughter and the hum of activity. In 57 hours I saw the hope of what can be – not just for Uganda or Africa, but for us all.