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Gulu . . . Looking Back

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The Gulu Schoolchildren Statue

Gulu in the Rear View Mirror

 

We drive through the dusty main street of Gulu, Uganda.

Heading south.

Tired but happy after two weeks of Up Country travel.

Leaving the land of cold showers and hot cokes for the relative comfort of our home along Lake Victoria.

I feel a tinge of sadness.

Will I ever be in Gulu again?

 

It’s the town I cannot get out of my mind.

The home of the Acholi people.

The place where the reviled LRA sprung from.

That’s the Lord’s Resistance Army.

The most misnamed rebel army in history.

Gulu is where Joseph Kony began his reign or terror that slithered like a long snake across northern Uganda, South Sudan, Congo, and the Central African Republic, aka CAR.

That snake is in its death throes in the thick jungles of CAR.

Kony, reportedly dying, has less than a hundred followers left.

They’re being hunted like animals by the Ugandan army, American special forces, and CAR’s Seleka militia.

It’s only a matter of time before Kony’s reign and life ends.

The violent fate of other villains—Saddam, Gaddafi, Bin Laden, Hitler—awaits him.

 

But Kony isn’t the reason I feel a connection with Gulu.

It’s the Acholi people.

I’ve come to love them.

I’ve seen their resilience.

I’ve witnessed their resolve not to allow hate and violence to rule their region.

 

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I picked up a newspaper last week that brought it all home to me.

An article astounded me.

It was an amazing story.

A story of forgiveness.

Eighty former LRA rebels being welcomed back into Acholi society in a ritualistic ceremony.

Read the fascinating article detailing this cleansing ritual to welcome the rebels back into Acholi community.

 

JD Hull at Sankofa Cafe in Gulu, Uganda
JD Hull at Sankofa Cafe in Gulu, Uganda

I thought about Gulu’s Sankofa Café.

Home of the best pizza in Uganda.

Even it’s name has meaning in this region.

Sankofa means “Let us not forget.”

 

The forgiveness.

Africans know how to hate.

Think Rwanda.

But they also have vast reserves of grace and forgiveness.

I can’t quite understand the juxtaposition of it.

 

As we drive through Gulu, the city that I can’t forget, I think about the man that’s been on my mind.

His name is Dominic Ongwen.

He was in the news recently. You can read about him at http://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-30906019

He is Kony’s right hand man in the LRA.

He’s now at the Hague, Netherlands.

Awaiting trial before the International Criminal Court.  He’s charged with murder and kidnapping.

Part of the cycle of child kidnapping, mutilation of limbs, sexual slavery of young girls.

Violence for the sake of violence.

 

Dominic Ongwen after his capture in CAR.
Dominic Ongwen after his capture in CAR.

Ongwen will now have to account for his actions.

But I can’t get over the details at the end of the BBC article on his capture,

“At age ten on his way to school, he was kidnapped by the LRA.”

 

How did a young boy become an unrepentant killer?

What would’ve happened if he’d missed school that day.

Or chosen a different road on the day of his capture.

Walked right at the previous intersection instead of left.

How different would his life have been?

Why did he become a part of the problem instead of finding a way to escape and return to some semblance of a positive life?

What/when was his choice to become a cruel killer?

I don’t know.

I wish God would show me.

I believe strongly in providence.

I rest on the sovereignity of God.

At the same time, I don’t understand.

I recall the wisdom of Spurgeon, a man of God who still wrestled with questions like this:

God is too kind to be cruel

And too strong to be weak.

So when I cannot trace his hand,

I choose to trust his heart.

 

Maybe Dominic’s upcoming trial will shed light on the paths he chose to follow.

 

 


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Back in Gulu

We weave in and out of the mass of motorcycles, bicycles, big trucks, and hundreds of brightly dressed schoolchildren marching to school.

They are the children and grandchildren of those who suffered at the hands of the LRA.

 

May we not forget.

May they live in peace.

May they know the peace and fulfilment that Isa the Prince of Peace, whom I call Jesus Christ, freely gives.

 

 

I glance in the rear view mirror.

I probably won’t be here again.

 

Goodbye Gulu.

Sankofa Gulu.

I promise. I will not forget.

Gulu Sunset
Gulu Sunset

About Curt Iles

I write to have influence and impact through well-told stories of my Louisiana and African sojourn.

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