While Uganda's bloody, 20-year civil war ended almost ten years ago, its effects can still be felt and seen today. Countless villages and towns in Northern Uganda were emptied by the Lord's Resistance Army's (LRA) reign of terror. With no place to go, a majority of those who fled resettled into IDP camps. Others stayed in their villages under constant fear of an attack by the LRA which would see the adults murdered and the children sexually exploited or forced to murder, maim, and destroy as child soldiers. One of the numerous lasting results from the civil war is the breakdown of the family structure, which has been a major contributing factor to the wide-spread sexual exploitation of young girls in Northern Uganda. This is the tragic backdrop which set the scene for the need for a girls rescue home and our funding the building and ongoing financial support of Christine's House.
There are a handful of days in my life that I will never forget--the day my wife agreed to go on our first date, the day we married, and the day each of our children was born. Today I've added another one to the list--my first full day at Christine's House.
I was up early today--less than 3 hours after I finished watching the US Men's National Team lose a heartbreaking "Round of 16" World Cup match to Belgium. I'm not normally an early riser--especially under these conditions, but today was different. Today was a chance to spend the entire day with the girls at Christine's House and I didn't want to miss a moment.
As we drove up the lights inside were just turning on. A few moments later, the girls assembled outside--before any light from the sun was apparent in the eastern sky--and began to sing. In the early hours of this morning, 18 girls and the accompanying staff raised their voices in praise. Their melodic "call and response" singing style, accompanied only by their clapping, was quiet and sweet, yet strong and full of joy.
After a few songs and a morning devotional, the girls began their morning routine. Some girls fetched water to wash the floor of their home. Others began sweeping the grass-less grounds surrounding their home clean from the previous days' activities. Still others began washing dishes from last night's meal and preparing the cooking fires to make breakfast.
Before the sun began to ever-so-slightly brighten the sky, while I could scarcely see much beyond 10-15 feet away, I heard the soft and strong voices of these girls singing quietly to themselves as they readied for the day. As the sun rose and chores were completed, I was greeted with bright smiles, warm handshakes, and the occasional, "Hello, how are you? My name is...."
After breakfast, the rest of the team joined three of us who arrived earlier. Some of the team pitched in to help the girls work their gardens, hoe weeds, and till the soil. Others spent time getting to know the girls as each group was curious to learn more about the other; and there were impromptu Acholi language lessons which produced an endless supply of giggles and laughter from the girls.
Shortly after lunch a feast was prepared to celebrate Christine's House and Freedom 4/24's involvement in making the dream of a rescue home in Gulu come true.
The pictures and videos I took of this celebration do not do it justice. There were emotional and moving singing and dancing performances by elderly women from the community, the Girls Victory Club (Sports Outreach's local exploitation prevention group for young girls), and the girls at Christine's Home. Each performance was full of life and filled with hope.
Throughout the day I spoke with a number of the staff and advisory board members for Christine's Home. Each one told stories of the transformations they'd observed. In just a few short months of living at the home, sadness was replaced with joy; the quiet and withdrawn girls had opened up and begun the healing process; and those who came in hardened by the hurt and pain inflicted on them had softened and begun to allow the love of Christ to bind up their wounds.
I was hearing the same thing I observed: that in this place--at Christine's House--God was trading beauty for ashes.
-Tim Spaulding, President