Driving on the boda at night through Gulu town, it is pitch black. The driver swerves to avoid a drunk man crossing the road. He stops and stares at us as if to say ‘how dare you drive on the road?’ The light shines barely enough to see also small figures as we pass—young children walking somewhere, maybe nowhere.

I am reminded of what has occurred in this very place over a few short years ago when thousands of children flooded Gulu from all the surrounding villages, walking 8 miles or more each way just to sleep on a shop veranda or even along the street, anywhere at all to avoid being abducted in the middle of the night by the rebels. Racing back from school to gather a piece of bread and a blanket if they are lucky, they made the march to town every evening before dark. They tried to get to town as early as possible to secure a good spot. Crowded together in small spaces, the children slept a few hours and then awoke before the sun rose in order to make the long trek back home to go to school and do it all over again..every single day for fear of their lives.

Even the trek to town was dangerous for the young girls as men preyed on them, ready to take them at any moment and no one to protect them. It was a time without safety and without justice. There was no room for sympathy either as everyone was facing the same struggles. One girl told me this conversation with her mother: “You were raped? Sorry, me too…..so how was school?”

Again as the school children line up to have their pictures taken the next day, holding onto the person in front of them, I am again reminded of what could have been for these little ones and what was for children their age a few years sooner. Innocent children as young as age 5 captured and lined up and tied to the child in front of them as they are forced to march hundreds of miles and taught to be dangerous soldiers. I recall the countless stories I’ve heard over the last year and a half and I am disturbed by these thoughts, but I can’t stop myself from thinking them. But I only heard them...I cannot imagine living them.

Things have changed in Gulu town since the rebel army left Uganda in 2006, but the people cannot forget and many struggle to move on. The city is now beginning to be rebuilt, but the people from the villages are the ones who suffered the most. Poverty inhabits every corner of this place and so does disease as the number of people affected by HIV/AIDS only continues to grow, leaving behind new generations of sick and orphaned children.

Coming back to Uganda has been such a happy and affirming experience for me, but it also brings back unpleasant reminders of the problems the Acholi people have faced, for it is the very reason I am here. Yet through the optimism and resiliency of the Ugandan people I am also renewed in my passion to continue working for change in this great place and take comfort in God’s control.

I have told you all these things so that you may have peace in Me. In the world you will have much trouble. But take hope! I have power over the world!” (John 16:33)