William stands in the hot Africa sun, squinting up at me.
“There is always hope.” he says flashing a smile.
“Yes, there is always hope.” I agree. “William, may I take your picture? I want to remember your story.”
“Yes. And then I will write my story for you so you won’t forget.” He smiles again and I feel my face mirror his.
This is William’s story.
When William was thirteen, he and his two older sisters were abducted from school by the Lord’s Resistance Army. They were enslaved for 4 months, forced to carry weapons and heavy loads of food and other supplies. They marched all day and slept in the open at night, sometimes marching straight through the nights, never uttering a word of complaint. Complaining meant death. Marching meant life and maybe even a little food.
But William was smart, is smart. He knew he could escape if they were ambushed by the government army. During ambushes, everyone ran in all directions, firing in all directions, not paying attention to the children. And so William and his sisters waited for an ambush. When one came, William ran as fast as his legs could carry him.
William stares at the ground and stops telling his story. William made it back home. His sisters did not. He tells me he is still waiting for word from them. William is 19 now. He meets my gaze and I press my lips together, folding them into my mouth, unwilling to say the words that he can’t.
Upon returning home, William found that his parents had divorced. What marriage could survive the abduction of three children? William’s father couldn’t stand by any longer and joined the government army in opposition to the LRA.
Shortly after their father joined the military, their mother passed away, leaving William and his older brother to care for each other. When they would see their father, they’d beg him to stay home to raise them, to quit fighting and take care of them. But their father could not, could not let the LRA continue to rape Uganda of her children.
William’s father was shot in the arm with a bullet filled with acid and didn’t recover from his injury. He passed away leaving William and his brother orphaned in every sense of the word.
William pauses and I offer my condolences, weak words that can’t begin to match the loss of his father, mother and sisters. William puts his hand on mine.
“All God’s servants pass through hard conditions. Glory, glory be to God who lifts us up.”
I swallow the lump in my throat, trying to digest this proclamation of glory in the wake of devastation. I wonder if I would be so quick to praise God after such hardship. I know the answer and swallow the ugly truth back down.
William graduated from high school in November, 2011. He works at that school now as an assistant in their science lab. He will attend community college or university next year where he’ll earn a degree in business. His brother, now a local pastor, is happily married with seven children.
William smiles talking about his nieces and nephews. In their faces he sees the future of Uganda.
And it’s a good future. Because of young men like William who know that in the harrowing shadow of loss, there is always hope.