World Challenge partners in Uganda are working to help those who have escaped Kony’s reign of terror find healing and new life in Christ.
Esther was abducted by the Lord’s Resistance Army in 1994. Three years before, Joseph Kony had launched his brutal campaign supposedly to defend Acholi tribal rights in Northern Uganda, leaving a wake of thousands murdered or mutilated.
As the Ugandan and world governments began cracking down on Kony and his band of terrorists, the LRA began kidnapping children to fight their war.
Girls were given the ‘option’ to become human pack mules and bush wives to LRA officers or else be raped and then cut to pieces with machetes. Many, like Esther, chose to survive in hope that they might eventually escape the horror.
As the LRA army fled the Ugandan military and UN soldiers, girls were forced to carry heavy loads over incredible distances. These bags of food and supplies were so heavy that they broke or dislocated bones in Esther’s wrists.
The Ongoing Nightmare
The Ugandan government offered LRA escapees some aid. These young adults who’d lived for years in the bush under inhuman conditions were given three months of counseling, a mattress, a bar of soap and a change of clothes.
Most of those given government assistance were young men. Officials excused their exclusion of the women by saying that they had gone voluntarily with the rebels.
One woman and ex-LRA soldier indignantly responded, “I didn’t wish to join the LRA. I was abducted.” Taken when she was nine years old, she was deemed old enough to become one of the other solders’ wives when she was 14. “I was given to a man about 60 years old. When I refused to be his wife, I was beaten terribly. I was bleeding from the ears, nose and mouth. When I recovered, I was taken back to the same old man. I had no option.”
Another woman who was kidnapped by the LRA recalled having to carry heavy bags of rice for miles. When she dropped one, a soldier stabbed her in the chest with a bayonet multiple times.
The nightmare wasn’t finished when she escaped either. Her husband said that she was a “rebel wife” now and refused to let her return home.
In this regard, Esther was luckier; she was able to marry and was at least semi-accepted back into her community. Her husband, however, died and left her with their eight children to feed and care for on her own.
After that, she battled to care for her family, despite the chronic pain in her wrists and other health issues as a result of her torment in the LRA. She spent years sick without any help, struggling to find food and money to send her children to school.
Acceptance in a New Family
A neighborhood evangelism group introduced Esther to Calvary Chapel Gulu, World Challenge’s partners in that area.
Unlike many people who shun LRA escapees, the group accepted Esther and introduced her to the leaders of their widows ministry. World Challenge sponsors widows through our partners, so they carefully considered Esther’s situation and offered her a spot in the program.
She began receiving food packages to help her and her children in addition to counseling with the church’s pastors.
Although most Ugandans are nominally Christian, many have limited knowledge of the Bible. Esther knew very little about Jesus and how salvation should impact believers’ lives. She began learning and maturing in her walk with Christ even as she was finally able to share her story with the widows group, a circle of ladies in similar circumstances, living tough lives.
“This ministry has greatly impacted my life,” she told our partners. “Every Friday afternoon, my group of widows meet to pray and go through the discipleship book with our leader. This group has become family to me.”
Recently, she fell and broke a bone in one of her hands. The old injuries compounded with the new, but her church family banded around her to help.
“This widows program and Calvary Chapel Gulu has changed my children and my life for the better,” Esther said. Now she has friends and people around her as she rebuilds her life and helps her children find their place in the world. More than anything she has peace that God will not leave her alone to face the hardships of life.