Here’s a story I heard last Sunday from a woman over lunch. I find it highly instructive of the kinds of lives these people have lived. We were sitting is one of the African mud-wall and thatch-roof huts so common to this region. It was the second time during this trip that I have been invited into one of these structures, and they are quite comfortable and cool inside.

There very hut we had lunch in; the story teller stands second from the left

There very hut we had lunch in; the story teller stands second from the left

This very gregarious woman said that during the civil war when the current regime under President Museveni took control of the government, there were so many rebel groups passing through this area just next to the Kenyan border in East Uganda that the entire population of the area had to flee en masse across the border and live for several years in Kenya. This was very difficult because food was hard to find and it was difficult to find anyone to take them in. This woman was around 14 years old at the time.

She told me that the group she was with were Christians and that they would spread out in the Kenyan countryside and preach the gospel to anyone who would listen. Many converts were won during this time. When they returned to their homes finally, these young people were passionately on fire for the Lord. She was about 16 by then.

She described an incident where she and one of her teen-age companions climbed into trees one late afternoon to gain an elevation from which their voices would carry throughout the surrounding area. This was a particular season in Uganda when certain religious groups would clean up the graves in the cemeteries, removing weeds and debris. This practice had to do with worshiping their ancestors, and so the preaching was aimed at these unbelievers working around the graves in several scattered burial sites around this wooded area. So, comfortably perched in her tree, she began to shout out the gospel message in the local dialect, and her friend in a tree some distance away shouted out the message in Swahili, telling these people that they needed to worship the one true God and not their ancestors, etc. Doesn’t this sound just like the kind of stunt teen-agers would pull?

The village where we ate lunch.

The village where we ate lunch.

Unfortunately for the young evangelists, there was an army barracks nearby with soldiers posted to quell the rebel incursions for the new government. They heard this shouting in the early evening, but since they didn’t speak the local dialect, they didn’t understand that it was preaching, so they thought that somehow it involved the rebels they were trying to catch. They immediately took up their arms and went on patrol into the woods hoping to catch a rebel. What they found instead was a girl sitting in a tree shouting into the oncoming night in words they couldn’t fully understand. Some of the soldiers said she must be demonized. Others thought she was calling to the rebels. Others understood some of her words and tried to explain to their leaders that this loud shouting was some kind of preaching. She said she looked down and saw a long column of armed soldiers coming through the forest to surround her tree and it intimidated her for a moment.

However, she was pretty worked up by then (I would think she was on an adrenaline high), and so when they ordered her to come down from the tree, she began to preach down at them, telling them they needed to get saved and confess their sins, etc. Finally, though, they insisted that she come down, and when they had her, they interrogated her about the rebels, where were they, why was she calling them, etc. Some of the soldiers could communicate with her, and she kept saying that she was not with any rebels, there weren’t any rebels around, and that she and her friends were just preaching the gospel to the people in this area. The soldiers took her with them and continued their patrol. Fortunately, her friend had seen the soldiers coming through the woods and had shimmied down his tree and run for his life down the hill toward the nearby river. She wasn’t sure how much trouble she was in or what exactly was happening. But she trusted the Lord to solve the problem.

As they advanced through the woods, they came upon one of these small cemeteries. There at one of the graves was a boy she knew, about her age, working to clean the area around his family’s burial site. The boy saw the soldiers and was immediately so overcome with trembling that he could hardly stand up because his limbs were shaking so violently. When he saw her, he recognized a friend from school and  relaxed a little, but not much. The soldiers terrified him. He thought he was going to die. He could hardly speak. The armed soldiers surrounded him and began to question him – what are you doing here in the evening, do you know where the rebels are, and other questions.

Finally, they asked, “Why are you trembling so much? What are you afraid of?” The boy could hardly speak, but finally he gestured with a wildly shaking hand to the grave he was working on and stammered out, “I have just come from this grave.” The soldiers who understood him burst out laughing, and then began to translate the story for the other soldiers, saying that they had just found Lazarus and then repeating what the boy had said. Soon all the soldiers were laughing out loud, and calling out things like, “Lazarus, come forth!”  “Surely, he stinks!” and so on.

Finally, when they stopped laughing, they decided there were no rebels here and they let both of the young people go. The woman sharing the story told me that this boy was so terrified for his life that he soon after prayed to receive Christ and became a believer. She then pointed out the door of the hut we were sitting in and said, “And there he is now walking past.” We saw a man from the church where we had been teaching that morning walking past our hut and talking with the other workers who were preparing the food for lunch.

This story speaks for itself in so many ways about Uganda and its people: their experiences – so different from a typical American’s, their will to survive, their passion, their sense of humor, their courage and their matter-of-factness about their struggles, much of their heart-break, and a great deal about their joy in living.