The following post is one of a compilation of stories written for a photo book showing God’s work through International Teams in communities across north-eastern Uganda.
For three years, Francis lived as a captive. At just twelve years old, his quiet life in the village of Achele, Uganda was ripped out at the root and replaced with the tumultuous and vicious life of a child soldier. But one night, by nothing short of a miracle, Francis escaped and made his way back toward home. One might expect such an unexpected homecoming to be a joyous occasion for an entire community. But it wasn’t.
“There was so much stigma,” Francis says, recollecting the response of many neighbors in Achele. “It was difficult to have real fellowship with people back at home because they knew what children like me had done.”
Even eight years later, pieces of that stigma still linger in communities like Achele, and Francis’s response is the same as it has always been: “Look at me,” he says. “I am no rebel, I am a human being.”
When asked how many children were abducted from Achele back in 2003, Francis simply begins listing names. Without stopping he can list twenty, although he knows there were more. “The rebels rushed into the village and started taking children as they went,” he recalls. “All I could think as I ran was, ‘What is happening here?’”
The LRA (Lord’s Resistance Army) insurgency of the mid 2000’s left countless communities like Achele in its stormy wake. Beyond a devastating loss of life, property, and livelihoods, those years also left a trail of deep tears in the social fabric of communities that are still being repaired today.
For Francis, that healing process begins in his life and family. “I have to trust God,” Francis says about his personal recovery. “I had to ask God to forgive me for all that I did, all those people I killed.”
Perhaps the greatest joy in Francis’s life is the opportunity to walk that difficult road alongside someone who completely understands. In 2011, Francis married a young woman named Josephine who was also abducted by the LRA the same year as Francis. Today, Francis, Josephine, and their one-year-old daughter, Tophie, are truly a picture of healing and redemption.
In 2008, International Teams hosted a weeklong retreat for former child soldiers called Freedom Camps, which Francis and Josephine both attended. Francis says that week was an important point in each of their lives. “It has really helped us in our lives as we continue learning about forgiveness and healing our hearts.”
But Francis is not only interested in seeing God’s transformation in his own life, he is eager to see it cover the community of Achele as well. Each Friday, Francis meets with other young men who were abducted by the LRA and together they discuss ways they can touch their community. The group is currently working with International Teams to start volleyball clubs and a choir group as avenues of investment in the lives of young people around the community. Francis also partners with the team as they visit families around Achele and conduct assessments to see how they might better work with those in the community.
Francis’s prayer for Achele is a simple one: to see the deep scars and wounds of the past become testimonies defined by grace and opportunity. “We never give up in our faith,” he says. “Come what may, we never give up.”
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Please pray for Francis and Achele, that the Lord would continue to heal Francis and Josephine’s hearts and that the Lord would bring hope from tragedy in Achele as the community becomes more and more defined as a place of love, acceptance, and peace.