Stories

Lillian’s Story

Lillian was abducted by the Lord’s Resistance Army when she was only 13 years old. The year was 1998. She was living in Pajuele village in the Kitgum District of northern Uganda with her family.

Many from her village had gathered to sleep together in a single house for fear of being abducted. She was lying with her parents on the crowded floor when she awoke from sleep and suddenly became aware that many soldiers were at the door. They kicked the door in and began ordering people to give them their belongings. Looking at the youth on the floor, one of the soldiers asked her mom, “Who are they?”

“The kids,” her mom answered.

One of the soldiers picked her up and looked at her. Soon the soldiers ordered her to go with them. Out of the whole group, she was the only one abducted from the hut.

Lillian remembers that the soldiers had many guns, and they were different ages. Some were very young. There were boys and girls, men and women. All were wearing khakis, which she later learned they had obtained from the government of Sudan, which was helping them.

Lillian’s mother started following them, crying. A soldier turned to her and said, “If you want your daughter, we’ll kill her and leave her for you.” The mother stood frozen to the spot, but neighbors soon came and led her back home.

Lillian was forced to carry a basin of simsim, a grain, on her head. “If they tell me anything, my body is just shaking,” Lillian remembers.
She spent two years with the LRA, escaping in 2000. From the first day, she constantly thought about escaping. But she soon saw what happened to those who tried, and it was a most effective deterrent. It happened that first night. She was forced to watch as the soldiers brutally slaughtered a man. A government helicopter was following them, throwing bombs. One of the abductees tried to escape in the confusion.

When he was caught, the soldiers called everyone into a circle. They beat the man to death with hoes and machetes. It didn’t take long because many soldiers were beating him at once. One of the blows caused the man’s blood to squirt into her face and get into her mouth. She felt sick, but if she vomited, she knew she would get the same treatment. She felt so desperate to get his blood out of her mouth, but she dare not even spit it out. Pamela says she can still feel that man’s blood in her mouth.

Death lurked about her at every moment. She saw how the soldiers operated. They would ask an abductee, “Are you tired?” If the person said yes, they’d say, “OK. We’ll go somewhere and you can rest.” They’d tell the person to give their load to someone else. Then they just beat that person to death.

Lillian thinks they walked for two weeks and four days before they finally reached the LRA training camp in Sudan. Her legs were swollen and the skin was gone from her feet. In all that time, she had rested only a few minutes here and there. She had seen many die of hunger and thirst. They went for days without water.
They ate anything “if we thought it wouldn’t kill us,” she said. No food was prepared along the way.

As they traveled, many more were abducted and added to their group. One of them was her seven-year-old cousin. Sometimes adults were forced to carry the younger children. Many of them were forced to beat others. The soldiers forced her to carry things they had looted from people. No one was allowed to talk.

At the training camp, she spent a whole week learning to shoot, clean and disassemble and assemble a gun. Then she was assigned as a baby sitter for the rebel leaders’ children. For a whole year she watched the children. She was assigned to help the concubine-wife of Joseph Kony’s bodyguard. They were kept in a thatch building or barracks. Many of the children had battle scars. Some were missing legs and eyes.

Kony was very popular. He talked with everyone. Normally he was a likable guy, but Pamela could soon see that a spirit controlled him. He often went into spirit trances and spoke words from a spirit, not knowing what he was saying. A secretary would write it down and later tell him what he said.

Kony often called the group together for prayer under a big tree. Sometimes when a spirit came on him, he gave them many rules that must be kept. Sometimes he named someone who must be killed. His personality in a trance was something else, but Pamela remembers that at other times he was never rude.

They had traveled far into unknown territory. Lillian had no idea where she was. She only knew she was “out in the bush.” She was given the captive name of “Achan” and was always referred to by that name.

After about a year of babysitting, Lillian was given to one of Kony’s guards as a concubine. The man also had a wife, an older woman. Wives and concubines cannot say anything. They have no choice but to do as their man tells them. Pamela remembers that no affection was ever shown with the wives.

Finally, Lillian escaped from the LRA When she was first given as a concubine, she hadn’t yet even started her period. It was three months after she was forced to sleep with Kony’s guard that she began. . After that, she was desperately afraid she would get pregnant like so many of the girls she saw. So one day she went to gather firewood with another girl and they just kept walking.

Lillian later learned that the commander was put into prison because they escaped. The prison was a big hole dug in the ground. When in rained, water came in. When the soldiers took somebody out of prison, it was often only to kill them.

A Sudanese man hid her. A soldier came three times looking for her, but the man denied having seen them. The girls hid there for three weeks, under a bed. They were afraid to greet even a relative. They felt sure if they did it would result in them being killed. One day a soldier saw them and went to the barracks to get help. The man who was sheltering them dropped them off in the bush. When the soldiers came he denied they were there.

The girls spent the night in the open air in the bush. The man returned to escort them. He gave them firewood to carry so they would look more like the people of Sudan.

When they saw a vehicle coming, how they prayed! They knew the rebels would kill them if they were found. God led them to stand by the side of the road as if they were giving way. The car turned off the road before reaching them. Finally they came to Juba, a city in southern Sudan. There was a big bridge they must cross there. They knew that both the LRA and government of Sudan were waiting there. Their escort told them, “Move straight ahead. Don’t look aside. Don’t’ speak.”

As they crossed the bridge, the soldiers were playing cards. They crossed the bridge and stopped for a moment on the other side as if they were resting. She could hear them talking. Their talk sounded like her native Acholi, but a little different. Their escort then sold the firewood.

He found a Ugandan woman who had married a Sudanese and left the girls with her. They later learned that he had helped several others escape from the LRA, taking them to Juba like the American underground railroad of Civil War days.

In Juba, the girls stayed inside so the LRA would not see them, but the desire to attend church kept growing in them. One Sunday they decided to go to church. The church asked for prayer requests. They wrote down their request, then went back later for prayer. On the way, the girls spotted LRA soldiers taking tea. Suddenly the girls just disappeared, not giving a word of warning to their guide. But it was too late. Someone had recognized her. They engaged a man to look for you, promising to pay him.

Back home, the man who was hiding them scolded them and warned them not to go out again. But the girls were drawn by the prospect of having Christians pray for them. Again they went out for prayer. Learning of their predicament, the Sudanese church also gave them food and money. Meanwhile, the other girl discovered she was pregnant.

The church people began to walk with her in a group, making sure she was dressed just like them, which was mostly covered. They brought her clothes.

Sometimes they visited a Catholic Church. One week UNICEF was there. When a Catholic sister came to visit her, she expressed her fears to her. She knew they had come to free children from the grips of the LRA, but she was afraid they would killer. The sister and one of the Christians who had been praying for her in the other church took her to UNICEF. When they saw her, they started crying and welcomed her. She told them her story, and they promised to come and get her after three days.

The church prayed with her and helped her prepare. The last day before she was to go with UNICEF, they saw the LRA soldiers on their way to church. They had just entered a shop when they saw a car outside. It was Kony’s own secretary. Pamela was covered, but she got scared and started running. She was able to get away.

The next morning, UNICEF people came and took her to their office. There were many children there. They all went to Khartoum by airplane. There they brought counselors to help them. About 175 people who had escaped the LRA were together in a camp in Khartoum. UNICEF offered to repatriate them all to Uganda, but people were afraid they would be going back into the same situation. This was the first group they had tried to send back. Most people were saying, “We cannot be first. The government will kill us for sure.” Only 21 out of the group agreed to return to Uganda. Pamela was one of them.

She went from Khartoum to Nairobi, Kenya in a plane with UNICEF staff. There they welcomed others from Uganda. Then the group continued on to Entebbe, the main airport in Uganda. They were officially welcomed by the Vice President and many others. Pamela and the others were pleasantly surprised. “What we were thinking they would do, they showed no sign of,” she says.

The group stayed at Entebbe for awhile out of fear. Remembering Kony’s prediction that if they ever returned to Uganda the government would poison them or put glass shards in their food, they refused to eat. The staff began offering to test their food and drink. It was OK, and they began to relax.

Soon they were on the plane to Gulu. When they arrived, the whole community came out to meet them, expressing their joy with traditional dances. They also went through a traditional reconciliation ceremony that involved stepping on an egg.

Everyone was trying to find their relatives. They began shouting into the crowd, “I’m the daughter of……” Lillian’s mother was there, but she did not recognize her daughter at first. She had not expected to see her in Gulu, since the family was from Kitgum. At last the Bishop began to shout out, “This girl is not from Gulu. She is from Kitgum.” The mother recognized her and began to cry, calling out her pet name, “Polo! Polo! Polo!” The Bishop declared, “Let them cry. It’s the happiness.” The moment was captured by journalists and appeared in the New Vision newspaper.

Lillian told her mother she would be at World Vison’s rehabilitation center, where they were working to reintegrate the returnees. She was overjoyed. She had not expected to see her mother there at Gulu. Of the 21 returnees, 10 went to Gusco and 11 went to Word Vision for rehabilitation.

Later, when the holidays came, World Vision staff took Pamela for a visit home. Many in Kitgum were not happy to welcome her. Some had lost their daughters to the LRA. They looked on her as a rebel and as a killer.

Lillian feels that her home town folk even tried to killer her. She says they tried to poison her, welcoming her with poison on their hands and giving her charms that had been cursed. Sometimes her right arm was paralyzed and very painful.

Her father came to visit her, but on the way home, he was ambushed and killed by the LRA that was still dangerously active in the area.

In 2002 Lillian attended a conference in Cambodia for war-affected nations. She went to represent the “child mothers” of Uganda—girls who were forced into motherhood at young ages after being abducted, and the problems of girls in the war.

World Vision gave her counseling and medical checkups. They knew she was HIV positive, but it was some time before Pamela herself found out.

She joined a college in Lira, but things did not go well there. People there were Langi and saw the Acholi as rebels. Through a World Vision sponsor she was able to attend Secondary 1 and 2 in Kampala.

Lillian found herself frequently getting sick. She started getting blind at night and her eyes started hurting. Her face started swelling. It was exam time and she was unable to read. A girl from Sudan helped by reading the questions to her.

Friends got glasses for her and she used them for two years. The Doctor at Lira told her she needed an operation. The staff of World Vision fasted and prayed for her. Her vision is now OK with the use of glasses. Later the glasses started hurting her eyes, so she threw them away and can now see. God was showing her that He does care for her, despite all the pain she had experienced.

Later she had an operation for acid reflux disease and they found wounds in her stomach. Lillian says that her only problem now is “positive living.” “If I passed through all those difficulties, I can’t question God now,” she says.

Lillian likes music and has made her own CD. Last year, World Vision called her to play music for the children’s party to make them happy. She gets occasional gifts from her music.

Lillian understands the hurts children experience and the destructive patterns they are forced into when they are abducted. Now she just wants to use the remainder of her life to help other children experience the hope and healing she has found in being gracious/generous to others.

WACENA-Uganda is currently empowering several women like Lillian with livelihood projects in Northern Uganda. You can equally make a difference in many lives like Lillian’s.spite all the pain she had experienced.

Later she had an operation for acid re-flux disease and they found wounds in her stomach. Lillian says that her only problem now is “positive living.” “If I passed through all those difficulties, I can’t question God now,” she says.

Lillian likes music and has made her own CD. Last year, World Vision called her to play music for the children’s party to make them happy. She gets occasional gifts from her music.

Lillian understands the hurts children experience and the destructive patterns they are forced into when they are abducted. Now she just wants to use the remainder of her life to help other children experience the hope and healing she has found in being gracious/generous to others.

WACENA, Uganda is currently empowering several women like Lillian with livelihood projects in Northern Uganda. You can equally make a difference in many lives like Lillian’s.

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