Monthly Archives: July 2010

A Story from the Field

Want a real glimpse into the work of IJM Uganda? This story is taken directly from IJM’s website, and tells the story of Veronica, a woman who protected her abandoned niece and nephew and regained her property through the assistance of IJM.

“I was tossed by worry…”

UGANDA – Deep in a Ugandan village, Veronica laughs and rocks on a battered old sofa. The couch scrapes the dirt floor of her tiny home, raising a glistening cloud of dust that hovers in bright air. Veronica’s adopted niece smoothes her skirt and smiles shyly while her brother, whom Veronica has also adopted, grins outright. “God has remembered us,” Veronica says, looking at the children. “He did a miracle.” She laughs a low, rumbling laugh, then grabs her IJM aftercare worker in a strong hug.

Outside, birds chirp and squawk. Insects buzz. Maize crackles and hisses in the fire.

Today, the whole property seems to celebrate. At long last, Veronica can farm her land in dignity and in peace.

A Devastating Threat

Trouble and violence first ignited on this land in 2002 when Veronica’s brother (and neighbor) passed away, leaving behind a widow – Margaret – two young children and a plot of land. Veronica’s other brother Bruno immediately saw an opportunity for personal gain and delivered a terrifying ultimatum to his late brother’s widow: Flee your land and your home, or I will kill you.

In Uganda, widows like Margaret are often forcibly evicted from their land and sustain related acts of violence and intimidation. The U.N. estimates that over 30% of widows and orphans in sub-Saharan Africa experience illegal property seizure, or “property grabbing.” When deprived their land and property, grieving widows and orphans are left without a home, no means of producing food, and no hope for education.

Great Vulnerability

Bruno’s threats left Margaret with a terrible choice. She could stay and face death, or flee – homeless and with no means of subsistence. So Margaret devised a compromise plan, a plan that afforded her children the greatest chance of survival: She left the children with her trusted sister-in-law Veroni ca and ran for her life.

Bruno promptly took possession of her land. However, he still wasn’t satisfied. He began setting his sights on Veronica’s adjacent property. When Veronica left temporarily to care for her sick father in his home, Bruno took advantage of his sister’s absence and hijacked her property.

Veronica courageously fought back. First, she looked to the local police for help. They turned her away, dismissing her problem as a domestic issue. Then, Veronica sought help from local authorities, who gave her permission to fence in her and her sister-in-law’s adjoining plots of land. Bruno swiftly uprooted the fences. When police came to arrest him, Bruno and his sons beat up and bit the officers, who left without completing the arrest. Finally, Veronica looked to local courts to defend her. Court officials first lost her file, then refused to give her an audience after Bruno bribed them.

It seemed Bruno had won. Veronica had knocked on every door. She had nowhere left to turn and no reason to hope.

An Advocate

That’s when Veronica first heard about International Justice Mission. She was invited to a legal education seminar held in her village, where she reported her story to IJM. When IJM agreed to take on her case, she reports that she was “very happy and excited. I said, ‘God has remembered me.'”

IJM assisted Veronica in filing a civil suit against Bruno and helped her access someone outside of Bruno’s sphere of influence: the Administrator General. He issued Veronica a document granting her permission to fence in the properties and farm the land for the benefit of her niece and nephew.

With the Administrator General’s blessing, Veronica began to fence the land again. “I was very frightened of meeting my brother,” she says. “I knew he would beat me.” Afraid of Bruno but determined to survive, she began to till the land. This infuriated Bruno, who gathered a cabal of three men to cut his sister down.

Providentially, when Bruno’s henchmen arrived, three day-laborers were helping Veronica cultivate her land. The laborers shielded her from blows, and in the course of offering her protection, were assaulted with bricks. One man was beaten so brutally he was left hospitalized.

Victory in the Face of Violence

Veronica had already filed a civil suit against Bruno. Now, with IJM’s assistance, she filed additional criminal charges of assault and criminal trespass against her three assailants. IJM investigators tenaciously pursued Veronica’s attackers and, over the course of several months, secured the necessary arrests, even as the men attempted to evade justice.

The assailants were convicted for their crimes, and in a separate civil trial, the Magistrate’s court passed judgment in favor of Veronica by declaring her the rightful owner of the land. Bruno was ordered to vacate the property and required to pay 1,000,000 shillings as general damages to Veronica and costs of the suit.

Throughout the lengthy and often heated trial, IJM aftercare staff stood by Veronica’s side. Aftercare also found school sponsorships for her niece and nephew and additionally helped Veronica begin a chicken rearing business, which now provides her and the children with additional income. Now, the family is secure on their land.

Says Veronica, rocking on her sofa, “I was tossed by worry.” The skin around her eyes crinkles upwards. She joyfully slaps the edge of the couch. “Then God brought for me IJM.”

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8 weeks from today…

…I leave for Uganda. That’s really hard to believe. As the days fly by, I alternate between being extremely excited and extremely overwhelmed. There is a lot to pull together in the next few weeks – plane tickets, visas, immunizations, not to mention the small matter of raising $14,000. Currently I am at about 5% of my needed support, with another 20%  tentatively pledged to come.

Through this process of raising support, I’ve realized a very important truth about myself: I’m sort of a control freak. (Well, to be totally honest, I probably already knew that about myself. But it seems to be an especially unfortunate character trait in this context). I like to be able to use my own abilities, energy, and time to achieve the results I need. And so I’ve brainstormed lists of potential supporters, gathered addresses, revised my budget… and still, I know that the most important and necessary thing I can do at this point is just wait, and trust. Trust that God unmistakably brought this opportunity to me – and thus He will be the one to see it to completion. Trust that God can bring the resources I need when I need them. Trust that God answers prayers  – which probably means I need to start spending a bit more time committing all these worries to Him instead of fidgeting nervously with my budgeting spreadsheet in Excel.

I suppose this blog post makes me sound more discouraged than I actually am. So just to clear up any misconceptions, let me say this: YES, I am excited to go to Kampala and am confident that the Lord will lead me through all the necessary steps to get there. I am just realizing that this process of waiting and trusting does not come easily to me.

Will you pray with me, that I will learn to depend on the Lord’s provision while I prepare for Uganda? 

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Bombings in Kampala

Some of you may have heard of the bombings in Kampala that happened a few weeks back. On July 11, at least 76 people were killed when two restaurants were bombed by members of Shabab, a militant Islamist group from Somalia who were allegedly retaliating against Uganda for its role in sending African Union peacekeepers to Somalia. While no IJM staff members were present at the site of the bombings, the bombs were extremely violent and resulted in injury or death for many of those present.

Some people have been asking how this makes me feel as I prepare to go to Kampala. I have a few things to say in response: First: I’m pretty sure anywhere can be dangerous. I almost wrecked my parents’ car today while driving in downtown Boise (but that’s a different story). Second: Kampala is a relatively safe and stable city in Africa, and such acts of terrorism have not occurred in Kampala since 1998. So in that respect, I don’t feel any fear or trepidation at the idea of living in Kampala.

However, it does cause to me think again on the pain that Uganda has felt in recent years. Beyond Kampala, the northern region of Uganda has been suffered continuous attacks by the rebel forces of the Lord’s Resistance Army for almost 10 years. More than 1.2 million Ugandans are forced to live as internally displaced peoples (which essentially means they are refugees in their own country, unable to return to their home villages for fear of rape, abduction, or death). In addition, although HIV/AIDS infection rates have declined across the country, the disease continues to ravage many families in Uganda, leaving even more widows and children vulnerable and unprotected from the threat of illegal property seizure. And now this unprecedented act of violence has wreaked havoc in Kampala, so out of character for the bustling and modern city that Kampala is becoming.

So how do we respond to such news? A wise professor of mine reminded me this week that these battles are not against flesh and blood, but against the evil one. And so, for now I suppose we pray. Pray that the Lord will bring peace soon to the northern region of Uganda. Pray that the work of IJM will continue to bear fruit in the lives of widows and children who are at such a high risk of losing their home and property. Pray that Kampala will recover from the attacks and that in the light of such loss and pain, people will turn to God and trust in Him. And let us not forget these words: Ps 46:11 “The Lord Almighty is with us, the God of Jacob is our fortress.”

Thanks for your prayers.

P.S. I have prayer cards ready to send out! If you would like to receive one, please leave a comment here or send me an email with your postal address, if you have not yet done so. Thanks!

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The Reason Why

Many people have been asking me why I particularly am interested in serving with the International Justice Mission (IJM). Why not do the Peace Corps – they pay your way for you! Why not go with a traditional missions organization that focuses on evangelism? What’s so special about IJM?

I could give you many reasons for why I’m so completely thrilled to be going to Uganda with IJM this year, but only one reason really sums it up completely.

I could tell you how I love their method of “collaborative casework” – how they intentionally partner with local churches and communities and train up indigenous, grassroots leaders, so that 90% of IJM’s staff worldwide are nationals of the countries where they serve.

I could tell you of the great work they’re doing in the United States, in churches and on college campuses, awakening the American church  and equipping them to respond Biblically and holistically to injustice around the world.

I could take you through the Bible and point out every passage that command Christians to seek justice for the poor and oppressed (it would take us a while).

I could confess to you my tendency to look at life through romanticized lens, and that the mere concept of justice for the oppressed appeals to every idealistic fiber in my body that believes hope and justice can restore precious lives.

But if I had to boil it down to one reason, it would be this:
These words are not my own, they’re from Jackie Pullinger, a veteran missionary who left her home in the early 1960s to work with street children and drug addicts in Hong Kong. This is what she says when asked “why”, and ultimately it’s what I would say, too, if I were as eloquent as she:

“I lack nothing. I have everything – everything I want in Christ. But that’s not true for the world. There are millions and millions and millions of people who lack. They don’t know those words about the Lord who feeds hungry people. Nobody ever told them that oppressed people would be freed. They live believing that corruption is the norm…That’s what most of them know. For these people, I have no excuse. You have no excuse. If you do not reach them with the love of God… who will? That’s why He’s allowed us to remain here. So that we can take His ministry to them. It’s a job that the angels longed to do. But He left it to you and me. Not just the responsibility, but the joy, the privilege, of sharing good news.”

As I serve with IJM, I won’t be out on street corners telling people that they can get to heaven.  Our ministry is of a different sort.  But I am pretty positive that this work of bring justice, restoration, and hope to the lives of oppressed people around the world is something that the angels long to do. But Jesus didn’t command the angels to continue his ministry of restoration – He left it in our hands. That’s why I’m going to Uganda with IJM.

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