Our day began with worship at Watoto Gulu. I do not mean 'worship' as a synonym for 'service' but I mean worship of a style and exuberance which would make the powers of darkness tremble. We waited outside the packed building as the first service ended and then re-filled both the church and the overflow room - probably 800 people attended the church today. The sheer power and joy of the worship blew my mind and I began to understand how, in such a place, signs and wonders might flow.
The preacher spoke with passion and conviction, and I was amazed how God could speak right into my heart and right into my own personal situation even in another continent. My spirit was also fired up to see all that God will do in Gulu. I am beginning to glimpse, out of the corner of my eye, something of what church, in every possible sense, could be.
After lunch we went to visit an Internally Displaced People's Camp. As a result of Joseph Kony's Lord's Resistance Army's brutal war on his own people, thousands of Acholi people were no longer safe to live in their villages and were moved into these camps where the Ugandan Army had a better chance of keeping them safe. Now the war is over, many people have moved back to their villages but there are many who have not. They have nowhere to go. And while the government traces their relatives or secures land for them to build on, they remain in the camps. We were allowed to enter one abandoned hut. A space barely larger than my kitchen, a mud floor with mud walls, would have been home to a family of five. A family like mine. Living, eating, sleeping, growing up. The people we met have been in this camp for twenty years. Many of them were born there and know no other life. The children, whose families cannot afford the $2 to send them to a Ugandan state school, were dressed in rags. One played with a bicycle tyre, another with a locust tied to her wrist by a string. I saw no other toys. They followed us around the camp, both intrigued and wary, much more guarded than the children of the Watoto villages. As we left, the children begged an empty water bottle from us to sell for a few coins. I cannot count the amount of bottles we have discarded this week.
Yet they did seem happy, highly amused by my attempts to speak Acholi and Colin's antics, they had a vast amount of open space to play in and crowds of friends. While my own family is vastly more materially wealthy, I wonder if we are so much more vastly content.
On our way back to the hotel, we stopped at the Laroo Boarding Primary School for War Affected Children. Here, child soldiers resume their education and are given counselling and rehabilitation. We were told of their need to come to terms with and forgive themselves for all that they have been forced to do, and also of the difficulties their families and communities have in accepting them back and learning to trust again. It was hard to hold back the tears as I could not escape the thought of my own sons.
God is speaking to me about so much on this trip and I am having trouble processing it all; but one thing has shone out and inspired me above all, and that is the meaning of Church. Not, as I said above, the Sunday service, or even the people and community but the Church that Jesus said he would build on Peter the Rock, the Church against which the Gates of Hell will not prevail. In such a place as this, ripped apart by the evil works of one man, where the devil has been to steal and kill and destroy, the Church has risen up in prayer and faith and worship, has housed the orphans, brought dignity to the women and loved the child soldiers. My prayer today is that I will not lose this vision on my return to the UK and will play my part in his Church.