Beyond the Bushes
In Uganda there are days that children disappear into the bushes and they do not return. In fact, the world bank report estimates that during the Ugandan civil war from 1986-2006, more than“66,000 children and youth are thought to have beenforcibly abducted and recruited into the Ugandan guerilla militia known as the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) in its two-decade long insurgency in the Northern region of Uganda.” Under the guise of Christianity, Joseph Kony and his rebels have stolen, raped, tortured, and destroyed for decades.
Jane Ekayu is tall and strikingly beautiful. Her smile is warm and welcoming, exploding any cultural barriers. When you speak to her she laughs easily and listens gently. And when she tenderly holds your face in her strong, soft hands and tells you of a God who dares us to forgive deeply, it is almost impossible to believe that these same hands pulled apart the bushes and brush in her North Ugandan village to run for her life from LRA abductors.
When tragedy like the bombing last month in Boston hits, I always tell my children that when everything seems dark it is important for us to look for the light. In Northern Uganda, Jane Ekayu is waving that light in her strong and graceful arms. She is an angel of peace in a world who has known more than its share of tears and destruction.
Look For the Light
Not every Ugandan child who disappears into the bushes stays gone. Sometimes they return, bloody and broken and terrified, debilitated by the scars of a war they never chose.
In 2004, Jane Ekayu heard about the Rachele Rehabilitation Centre Lira on a radio program and knew it was time to act. For the next few years, Jane worked at the centre as a full-time social worker, spending time as child trauma therapist and a human rights advocate for children who had escaped or been released from the LRA and Joseph Kony. There, she held little boys who had been forced to kill their own family members. She wiped tears from the eyes of adolescent girls who had lived for years at the sexual slaves of the LRA commanders. She studied drawings of the little ones who had watched as their parents were tortured and murdered. Day after day as Jane walked beside these children, soldiers of a war that had stolen their childhood, she spoke to them of a love that could heal.
Jane Ekayu is quick to remind you of a God that has forgiven you and has dared to ask you to forgive others. This God will put the world back together by giving you the grace to forgive.
A God of Love and Forgiveness
When the Rachele Centre closed its doors in 2006, over 2,500 former child soldiers had found rest and hope and help inside its gates. Jane Ekayu knew that though her job at the centre was complete, the healing for many of these children had miles to go. For seven years Jane has fought for the healing, hope and education of these children who are searching for a way to live outside of war. Jane teamed up with Brian Single during her work at the Centre to make the documentary, Children of War, which debuted in 2010 at the UN General Assembly Hall in New York City before leaders from all over the world. Along with Mr. Single, Jane has formed the organization Children of Peace Uganda in order to continue to fight for the rehabilitation and education and hope for the child soldiers who have returned from war.
Joseph Kony remains at large, his army now spread into the Democratic Republic of Congo, Southern Sudan and Central African Republic. The wake of his devastation continues to grow. Children continue to disappear never to return. However, what Joseph Kony doesn’t know is the word that has brought light and healing in the midst of his terror: forgiveness. Jane Ekayu knows forgiveness and it has driven her to a love that is greater than her fear. A love that stands on the other side of the bushes that have stolen so many children waits for their return with open arms. And a love that teaches these children that forgiveness is the only way to truly heal.