It was one hot early afternoon, and Jill and I needed to get over to the children’s camp. We hid her purse and my backpack in the office and pocketed a few shillings for our “drivers”.
I tracked down our frequently used “boda-boda” guys. They were only about ½ block from the office building. It always made some of the hanger-outers to grin when these not-young white ladies climbed onto the bicycle passenger seats, sitting side-saddled. The camp was only a mile or so away, so wouldn’t take long, but the rough trails and mechanically unfancy bikes made the ride pretty intense; too easy to slide off.
When we reached the camp, it was quiet. Most of the kids were in the back part eating. With the heat increasing, the rebels had begun to back off, so danger was reducing and many other kids had left the camp and were going to the IDP camps or villages to be with their parents.
Jill and I were certain we were at the camp for a reason. God had called us there, and we knew it. We just didn’t know why. Then, two people were dropped into our lives: an older woman and a teenage girl. Both broke our hearts.
After being there for a few minutes, we saw a lady walking across the yard, looking as if she was ready to head out, but with a heavy sigh. We called her over to the porch, out of the sun, and asked what she was doing and where she was from.
Her name was Madesta. She was a widow probably in her 50s. She had been staying at a refugee camp many miles outside of Soroti. Madesta had walked several miles on a dirt road to a main highway, had been able to pay a small amount to be on a bus; she had made it to Soroti the day before. Her reason? She had several older married daughters, but her youngest child, Tino Betty, 13, had been abducted on June 15, exactly 6 months earlier. Madesta had not been home at the time; she was caring for another daughter in a hospital. While she was away from home, the villagers became frightened and started running. A great number of people had crammed themselves into a home for safety. Suddenly, the rebels came from no where, invaded the house, and her daughter was one of many who were abducted. When Madesta came to the camp to check up and find out if Betty was there, she had seen several kids from her area and they gave her their information; the last time Betty was seen by them, she was in the Kitgum area, about 75 miles away, preparing food for the commanders.
Jill and I were just heart-whelmed for Madesta. The three of us simply prayed together. As she was ready to leave she said, “God gave me that child; He will bring her back.” Jill and I felt a bit upset that we had not brought enough shillings to be certain Madesta could have an easier ride to the camp.
Of course, I’ve never heard the results. But Madesta truly touched my heart.
After she left, Jill and I split up and wandered to different parts of the camp to check on various kids. We had a short while before the bikers were coming back for us. I was pretty casual, if you can imagine that. Saw kids I’d talked to before, gave hugs, and jumped in and played dodge ball with them. They laughed and screamed hysterically; they didn’t expect that kind of action from a “old” white lady. Even the guards were laughing.
When I saw Jill, it changed again. She was teary. She had seen a teenager sitting aside, against a wall. No one around her. Looked very sad. What she learned through questions and interpretation was just blunt, not a lot of detail. But enough to break a heart.
Jennifer was 16. In June, the rebels were attacking her village and she and another child were caught; the other child escaped. The group went to the border of Sudan, about 225 miles away, and then walked back down. Jennifer and the others were forced to carry luggage, were beaten. During the march, the rebels killed tired children. Jennifer was forced to watch while children were killed, and once she had been forced to kill a child who had been re-captured. The only blessing: she was not raped.
She had escaped into some bush and 2 days later was found by an old woman who took her to army barracks in Lira. She had been shifted to Soroti, 60 miles away. Jennifer had still not heard about her parents.
When Jill took me over to see her, she pointed out a type of abscess on Jennifer’s leg which was very infected and painful; she was being taken to the hospital that day for treatment.
Then our bikers arrived and we needed to get back downtown to the office and help pastors and others in need.
Yes, it had been a hot day. But our hearts were hotter than the weather could ever have been – our hearts were buried at the camp... again.