Ongoing violence by rebels in the north of Uganda is having a devastating effect on the population, especially on the children.
The rebel organisation known cynically as ‘the Lord’s Resistance Army’ (LRA) operates in the area around the city of Gulu.
In 17 years of violence, 25,000 children have been abducted, and thousands of others killed.
Children — some as young as nine years old — are being kidnapped at the rate of around ten each day. They are being used as slaves, boy soldiers and, in the case of girls, for sex.
Doug Nichols recently wrote, ‘This morning as the sun rose over Gulu, a city of 50,000 residents in northern Uganda, I watched from the roof of the guesthouse where my wife and I are staying, as approximately 4,000 children filed by, walking sleepily back to their villages, some as far as 12 miles.
‘These are some of the 20,000 children, from toddlers to seventeen-year-olds, who come to the city nightly to sleep in supposed safety on the streets, on hospital grounds, or in badly deteriorated school rooms and hastily built warehouse-type shelters.
‘They come to Gulu to try to escape the killing and kidnapping by the demonic, blasphemous terrorist rebel group, the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), headed by former Catholic lay leader, Joseph Kony.
‘Over the last 17 years Kony has slaughtered thousands of Catholics and Protestants in northern Uganda and abducted 25,000 children!’
Missionaries Jerry and Candis Bingham, of Action International Ministries, moved to Gulu and are ministering to children affected by the war.
They are working with other evangelical agencies, local churches and, where possible, the regional government.
Local pastors in Gulu have been helped in reaching the needs of a town that grew in population from 50,000 to 230,000 due to people being resettled in the area.
The town is surrounded by 33 displaced people’s camps, which continue to be a target for rebel attacks.
A free medical clinic has been held, and in January there was a camp for 1,000 children — and another for children disabled or maimed through rebel atrocities.
There have been many opportunities for the gospel while meeting these material needs. In June 2003, an event involving morning and evening Bible teaching and sports activities reached hundreds of these traumatised children. Many, including ex-rebels, have made professions of faith.
At Christmas, Action International provided food and clothes for 3,000 children, together with 60,000 gospel tracts and an evangelistic Christmas party — designed to provide food, share the gospel and give gifts to the children.