The Village of Sadness
After traveling many hours we stood on a cliff at the top of Mt. Elgon and drank in the panoramic view of the sweeping valley below. Dramatic falls cascaded down steep, precipitous cliffs off in the distance and lush green jungle was etched with rugged paths of dark brown earth and moss covered nooks and crannies. Flowers in soft pinks, whites and a blaze of reds, oranges, yellows and periwinkle blues decorated the hillsides with a splash of vibrant colors. I glanced down the hillside, peered through the dense foliage and caught sight of a mud hut with a grass roof. A woman with a young child wrapped tightly to her back was stooped over as she dug in the rich, damp soil. Then gently the fog rolled in and shrouded the breathtaking beauty of the mountain in a soft, white mist.
Moments later we drove into the district of Kapchorwa and the idyllic scenes of Mt. Elgon abruptly ended. Now we were confronted with a demonic oppression that cast a black shadow over the people of the village. A spirit of death darkened their expressionless faces as our vehicle made its way slowly through the marketplace and I already found myself calling it "The Village of Sadness".
In the other villages people eagerly greeted us with bright spirits, welcoming smiles and generous waves of their hands. The women were striking in their bright, cheery colors and in the dramatic patterns of their traditional Gomasi dresses. The men carried themselves with a gentle, regal dignity and the children were open and friendly except for those who were understandably afraid because they had never seen a white person. Despite the fact that most Africans in the bush live in mud structures that have mud floors and openings in the walls for windows and doors, they are happy and clean.
The people of Kapchorwa were starkly different.
The men kept a guarded distance from us, glaring at us suspiciously as if to let us know right away that we were unwelcome intruders into their world. The children were dirty and often their scalps were infested with bugs that visibly crawled on their heads. Many of the younger ones had sores on their bodies that festered with filth and infection and for the first time in our travels through Uganda the children were reluctant to get to know us. Their worried, scared looks troubled me. The women hid from us or stared at us from afar, resistant to us getting near them. They wore dark clothes and were unkempt. Even the born-again women had blank stares with no smiles and a disconcerting fear in their eyes. This was also the only village where the women and children would not dance with me during the evening crusade and although the believers still moved and swayed with the African rhythm of their songs the spirit of celebration was missing that typically saturated their music with joy.
When I went to bed that first night I wondered, "What is happening in this village that is causing such pain?"
Early the next morning I asked the Ugandans on our ministry team many questions and the following insights that they shared with me made my heart ache for the people of Kapchorwa.
The villagers on Mt. Elgon do not venture off the mountain due to deadly tribal warfare with the natives who live in the plains below. Everyone has guns, even the children, to defend their livestock from being raided by the Karimojong, a nomadic, heavily armed tribe of tall, fierce warriors who fanatically believe that they own all the cattle in the world. Driven by this militant religious conviction they raid the lands of other Ugandans, killing first and then taking the cattle. Consequently the people on Mt. Elgon live in constant fear of attack and to protect their families and cattle they isolate themselves from the outside world.
There were even darker secrets about life on the mountain.
Only five percent of the people in Uganda still inflict female circumcision on their daughters and this was the village where that five-percent happened. With dirty, cracked razor blades or other crude instruments little girls between the age of five and eight are forcibly held on the lap of a woman and their genitals are brutally butchered. Flesh is scraped and cut away and then the wound is sewn together with a primitive needle and thread, leaving only a small hole for urination that is about the size of a matchstick. All this is done without anaesthetic while the terrified child's screams of pain are ignored. For the rest of their lives it hurts to urinate and as they grew older it is even more painful to have intercourse. For many women this pain is excruciating.
In response to my stunned, "Why would a mother let her child be subjected to such horror?" a Ugandan woman was quick to explain to me, "A mother wants this for her daughters so that they will not be interested in men before they are married."
The tragedy of this genital mutilation is not only that many children die from shock, infection or bleeding to death but also that the physical and emotional scars will haunt those who survive for the rest of their lives. Most grow up consumed with hatred for the woman who ignored their cries and inflicted this horrific pain on them.
Although the churches in Kapchorwa and the government of Uganda now condemn female circumcision there is no way of knowing to what extent it is still happening and its damage among generations of women is tragically evident on their faces.
Witchcraft inflicts even more devastation. Its evil practices are an integral part of the traditions that govern the daily lives of Africans, especially in the bush and in the more isolated districts such as Kapchorwa. Mothers give their babies to witchdoctors who dismember and kill them to appease the demons. At other times young children just disappear and are used for this same grisly purpose. Girls between the ages of fourteen and sixteen are kidnapped, stripped naked and examined. If they have no marks on their bodies they are sacrificed in satanic rituals. If they have any physical blemishes they are drugged and left somewhere to find their own way back to their families. Witchdoctors demand human body parts and their followers maim or kill to get them. Eating human flesh is also widely practiced. A witchdoctor curses a person to die and that person dies if he is not born again and he does not understand the authority he has from Jesus over Satan. Once death occurs the body is often dug up and eaten during Satanic "night dances". In our travels throughout Uganda we encountered an almost paralyzing fear of witchdoctors and it is this fear that gives the demonic spirits their deadly power over the people of Africa.
What I have already mentioned causes more suffering than I can even comprehend but what I continued to learn adds to this horrendous toll of pain.
"If a man does not beat his wife then he does not love her," is a saying that is common among Ugandans. Even many born again men still cling to this belief. As I mingled with the women of Kapchorwa I had a chilling sense that being beaten by a husband was a way of life for them.
Another common African custom is men having many wives and on Mt. Elgon this custom was most evident. There were more children in Kapchorwa than we had seen in any other area. As I asked questions on this topic I discovered that the men in this region typically had between four to ten women and if a man had only one he would be ashamed. To the villagers that meant he was not much of a man. A Ugandan woman on the ministry team told me with a heavy heart, "The young ones are the tragic victims of these multiple wives. Very often the men want nothing to do with them once a woman becomes pregnant and the mothers are so overwhelmed with constantly having babies and struggling with so many painful issues that they are not able to care for their children. Consequently at a very early age they are left to fend for themselves. There is no one to love them."
I pondered all this human agony and pleaded with the Lord, "Show us how to reach these people with your love and the comfort of Your presence. Lord, please show us"
The following morning the Holy Spirit instructed us to walk through the village by ourselves and be friendly to the people. Barry remained up on the road that goes through the middle of the marketplace and I walked into the crowd of vendors who were selling fresh vegetables and fruit. At first they glared at me. It was clear that I was not welcome among them. Confronted by their coldness and angry stares I felt increasingly more uncomfortable yet the Lord nudged me to persist. I kept smiling reassuringly and extending my hand to people even though they refused to respond and most were hostile and backed away from me.
I continued walking and soon I approached a group of people who were clustered around their produce that was spread out in piles on the ground. Barry took a picture and instantly a woman with weather-beaten skin, deep wrinkles on her face and an old wooden cane began to chase me. Not understanding why she was so upset I tried to distance myself from the people but more and more of the villagers followed me and joined in her loud protest. I was relieved to discover a young boy nearby who spoke English and with his help I learned that she simply wanted us to pay her for the picture. I pressed through the agitated crowd to get to Barry and with a few shillings in hand I returned to the elderly woman and handed her the money. The people on Mt. Elgon do not speak Luganda so the only word that I could think to say was "Yesu." With an inviting smile I said the name of Jesus over and over to her while at the same time I made a friendly gesture with my hands. The bent over woman finally nodded in understanding and then through that same young boy she told me, "My name is Katherine and my legs hurt very much. Can you help me?"
At that moment I realized that this was the opening we had asked God to give us and I offered to pray for her. "Yes," she eagerly told me and in the middle of the noisy marketplace with the curious villagers pressing in closer and closer and watching intently my every move I gently put my hand on her shoulder. "Jesus," I prayed through the interpreter, "I ask you to heal Katherine's legs."
The instant the prayer ended she beamed a happy smile, kissed me excitedly on both cheeks and flung her arms around me in a grateful hug. By now she was standing up straight, her cane had fallen to the ground and she was waving her arms in the air while she declared in a loud voice, "My legs don't hurt anymore!"
Suddenly the people smiled at us and animatedly talk to one another. The women reached out their arms to embrace me and the children drew close and received my hugs. We lingered among them for several moments, grateful for the breakthrough, and then continued down the road. To our surprise the men who earlier had glared at us now had broad grins on their faces and waved as we passed by. A few came towards us and we open to us sharing the Lord with them.
The next day when we drove through the village we looked for Katherine and there she was in the middle of the marketplace, walking upright and without her cane. We gave thanks to the Lord as we watched her moving effortlessly among the villagers. Later, when we shared this miracle with one of the Ugandans on the ministry team, he told us, "This highly honored elder among my people will now go about this village and give testimony of what Jesus did for her and this testimony will touch many lives and help many of them want to come to Jesus."
Now we made preparations to minister to the people in the church. The sadness in the village compelled me to ask the Lord for a message that would pierce their darkness with His redeeming light. As I prayed He told me to boldly declare this word over the church, the village and the entire region:
"Arise, shine, for your light has come and the glory of the Lord is rising upon you. For behold, darkness is covering the earth and deep darkness the peoples but the Lord is rising upon you and His glory is appearing to you and nations will come to your light and kings to the brightness of your rising. Because of God's tender mercy towards you a light from heaven is about to break upon you to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death and to guide you to a path of peace" (Isaiah 60:1-3, Luke 1:78).
Moments after I proclaimed this prophetic promise the sound of the harp filled the mud walled church. Everyone fell to their knees and sang a "new song" from the depths of their hearts and before my eyes I saw the Lord's presence transform their sad faces. Despite all the demonic powers that even kept the Christians on Mt. Elgon in shackles, God came to the believers of Kapchorwa in the same way that we had been witnessing over and over in the other villages. His kind, gentle presence and the compelling power of His glory penetrated the thick walls around their hearts and we witnessed a miracle as these oppressed people worshipped with such earnestness. I could only weep with the deepest gratitude as I looked out across the church and saw the breakthrough that was unfolding before us. I continued to play the harp and their voices rose in volume and then quieted in waves of adoration to the Lord while He tenderly touched their wounded, broken lives with His almost palpable presence.
Tears streamed down the faces of the women and children when I exhorted the people to forgive everyone they hated. After all that I had learned about their lives my heart hurt for them as I explained the importance of letting go of all hatred and bitterness. "God is telling you to forgive," I explained with my voice quaking with emotion, "not because you haven't hurt terribly. He knows you have and it broke His heart every time someone hurt you and scared you. He has more tender compassion for what you have gone through than anyone else could ever have but the Lord is telling you to forgive because He loves you. He loves you so much that He wants to take away your pain but He can't heal you until you forgive."
Heart wrenching wails and sobs rose from the women and young girls as they accepted what I was saying and then received the transformation that comes from sincerely saying those powerful words, "I forgive".
Gradually a hush fell upon us all and the comfort of God's presence was so strong no one wanted to move. Finally the pastor stood up and poured out his heart. "We have been crying out for the presence of God," he began, his eyes and cheeks glistening with tears of joy. "This is what we have been trusting God would happen this week. All that we had hoped for and prayed for has happened."
Throughout all these experiences during our week in Kapchorwa we found strength in beginning each day praying with the team of Ugandans at 5:30. At first we all scattered and spent time alone and from the first morning I found a favorite place on the edge of the jungle some distance from the others. Hidden among the banana trees and enveloped by the black night of Africa I began my time with the Lord by singing this scripture to Him "It is good to give thanks to You, Lord, to sing praises to You, Most High. It is good to proclaim Your unfailing love in the morningYou thrill me, Lord, with all You have done for me. I sing for joy because of what You have done!" (Psalm 92:1-4 NLT)
An hour passed by quickly. Then inevitably a rooster crowed to boldly announce the birth of another day and we came together in a circle while overhead the striking colors of early dawn chased away the dark shadows of night. Side by side with the dedicated Ugandans the Lord helped us to look ahead expectantly to what He was going to do each day in the lives of the people of Kapchorwa.
In the evening we all sat in a structure made of mud bricks with a mud floor that was dimly lit by a lantern. Huddled together around a rickety wooden table we shared a traditional African meal of matooke, rice, chunks of goat and a delicious broth that we spread generously over the food. The smiles, hearty laughter and the recapping of the events of the day helped us all to be reminded that the Lord was at work, even in a place of such terrible oppression.
During our last evening in Kapchorwa the Lord brought to Barry and I a unique message of encouragement. A week after we arrived in East Africa I received the following prophecy from a woman in America whose prophetic voice we had learned to trust: "The attacks are fierce against you because the glory that is going to be revealed to the dear people of Uganda through the "new song" is great. As I prayed for you the Lord showed me it was as if the bush had been intensely set on fire and it spread like a wildfire. I saw and heard drums, and people running quickly from village to village, saying, "They're back! The white lady with the harp is back! Come and see. They came back."
To my surprise, in this remote village a young man came up to us and said quite unexpectedly, "My people are so excited that you came back to Africa. We remember when you were here last year and people have been going from village to village, saying, 'They're back! The white lady with the harp is back! Come and see. They came back.'"
Immediately the Lord reminded me of the prophecy from America. For a moment I was speechless and then I gathered my thoughts enough to thank this dear man for telling us the heart of his people. As I watched him walk away into the crowd and disappear into the night I thought to myself
"Our destiny is surely becoming increasingly more
intertwined with the people of Africa."
The week came to an end and when we drove out of the village for the last time I looked wistfully out the dusty window of the crowded vehicle. Barry and I longed to return to Mt. Elgon and somehow we knew God was going to make that possible. While we traveled in silence further and further down the mountain the Spirit of the Lord comforted me with this prophetic promise that He was speaking over the people of Kapchorwa
"Sing for joy, oh heavens! Rejoice, oh earth!
Burst into song, oh mountains and even you, the people of Mt. Elgon.
For I, the Lord have comforted My people and I will have compassion on you in your sorrow."
Isaiah 49:13 NLT