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.
Jennifer’s voice was almost as small as her stature that morning as she stood in front of the group. Surrounded by her friends and mentors of the past month, she laughed and smiled shyly as her soft voice slowly rose with confidence.
“I thank God that I came here to Mto Moyoni,” she said, looking back at some 50 pairs of loving eyes. “Because I am coming away from here changed.”
There was a gentleness and joy about Jennifer that day as she shared her story, a healing glow that wasn’t there when she first came to Mto Moyoni spiritual retreat center one month earlier. But only once you know her story can you understand the miracle therein.
The realities of Jennifer’s past are never easy for her to face, much less move beyond. How does one merely dismiss two years of hell? It’s a question every other former child soldier in Uganda understands.
There is a deep scar on Jennifer’s right arm that serves as a constant reminder of those two years in the bush with the LRA (Lord’s Resistance Army). In the time between her fourteenth and sixteenth birthday, Jennifer was shot, stabbed, beaten, abused, and burned by her brutal captors. “It was terrible,” she says with downcast eyes. “I thought I was going to die.”
But physical scars heal faster than emotional ones and perhaps the deepest of all Jennifer’s wounds during those two years were the ones carved by bitterness, anger, and the loss of self worth.
It’s been nearly 10 years since Jennifer escaped from the LRA in the midst of a battle and fled to the Ugandan military. After three months in a rehabilitation center, Jennifer was able to return home to her grateful family near Achele. But returning home is rarely the last battle for those who have been through all that Jennifer has.
In some ways, it wasn’t until her month at Mto Moyoni that Jennifer truly faced the scars and callouses built around her heart. Over the past six years, International Teams has been able to come alongside many young people like Jennifer by offering sponsorship for a month of discipleship and learning about God’s father heart at the scenic retreat center on the banks of the Nile.
There is a quiet bravery now in the way Jennifer tells her story. Before that month at Mto Moyoni, Jennifer was never able to talk about those dark years of her life without crying. But now, there is an unmistakable difference. “What I have learned, it really changed my heart,” she says as she finishes her testimony with a full voice and a warm smile. “I learned to forgive those who hurt me so badly. I want to continue with that heart and help others too.”
It is freedom that defines Jennifer today, not the scars of her past, and that reality, both physical and spiritual, has given Jennifer a new life and a new hope. “I know now that I’m not rejected,” she says. “I’m a daughter to God.”
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Please pray for Jennifer and thousands of other former child soldiers like her in Uganda that continue to look for healing from their traumatic past. Pray that they would know stability and the love of an accepting family and community. And most of all, pray that they would find the healing touch of Jesus in their lives.