On January 18, 2004, my last Sunday in Soroti, Uganda, I attended Pastor Joseph’s Baptist Church. Joseph was a youth pastor, and this was his preaching day. This 2nd service had about 500 attendees... some from this town and many from the refugee camps, especially those from the church grounds.
Joseph had become one of my Ugandan sons during my weeks in this town. He and his wife and their little girls were a lovely family. I felt very blessed when he invited me to church. One of the reasons he asked me that day was so I could share about the ministry I was involved in and how we had helped many of their families. I was beautifully received by them and treated like a well-loved queen.
Towards the end of the service something happened. A man stood and began talking. I didn’t understand, since he was speaking only in their tribal language, but I could see that people were overwhelmed both with sadness and with joy. Since Pauline, their nurse and my Soroti friend and helper, was sitting next to me and could interpret, I gradually got the story.
He had escaped from the LRA -- Joseph Kony's Lord's Resistance Army. He had not, yet, been able to get back to his family, but he had heard that his wife, who was in labor when the invasion occurred, was OK and had safely delivered their fourth baby, a girl. His brother, who had been kidnapped at the same time as he was, had not been found or heard from at this time. This man was standing near the back of the church, so I could only see him at that distance and he didn’t appear differently than most of the others. I arranged with Pauline to ask him to meet with us after the service, so I could ask some questions.
That’s when life changed...again...my heart overwhelmed.
His name was Alex. He was 37. When he and his brother were grabbed by the rebels they were told that they must carry the heavy weapon stands and if they dropped them or damaged them in any way Alex and his brother would be killed. They carried them... all around the area, in and out of the forests, up and down the hills, across the streams. Constantly. No break times whatsoever.
Their rebel captain was particularly evil. He came to a point where he decided he would murder Alex. He demanded the other rebels to beat Alex until he died. The captain wanted to make him an example of how he could run the show. They obeyed and beat him with their rifles and other weapons. He fell, and while collapsed, he definitely appeared dead. Then, a few minutes later, he shocked them. He stood up straight. He told me he knew it was the Lord who had healed him and given him strength.
A few days later the captain made Alex’ death another requirement. So, this time, he was to be hit with their machetes. They whacked his head and other parts of his body. Alex had large cuts and was bleeding to death. And he collapsed. The rebels were certain this was finished.
Very shortly thereafter, he stood up. He had again been healed. Amazingly, the Lord had made him strong and capable of standing tall.
The captain was furious. He immediately told the others to kill him. They said, “No.” He said, “I am your captain. You do what I tell you to do.” Again they said, “No.” He said,”Then I will kill him.” They said, “He has come back to life two times. If you kill him, we will kill you.”
No one touched him again. Shortly after, he somehow escaped.
While trying to reach a safe place, Alex was captured by the Ugandan Army, considered to be one of the LRA, because of his age. Local villagers, however, recognized him as someone from their area and defended him, so he was freed.
It had been some weeks since this had occurred. He was staying in Soroti at a local camp, because in his village area there was the risk of capture. Always, if someone who had escaped was recaptured, they would automatically be killed as an object lesson for others. So,even though Alex knew the Lord had brought him back to life twice, he didn’t want to face that danger again. He also didn’t want to stop being a husband and father.
I would love to go to the Soroti area and check up on Alex. He smiled so much. He was so happy. [This in spite of the fact that the back of his head was covered with scars from the machetes and two toes had been chopped off when his feet had become infected. Those photos wouldn't please you, believe me!]
It was one of the most important interviews I ever did in Soroti. What stood out at me with him and some of the others: they were Christians who had been forced to see and face events 99.9% of us never have, and, possibly, never will.
However, if life changes for us, too, in a manner similar to what Alex "walked" through, how would we act or react? I often wonder.