Having been raised in Montana, I grew up with stories of cattle rustling, gunfights, and range wars. Thankfully, these Wild West stories were of the distant past, so my family does not live in fear of violence today.
Not so the people of northern Uganda! In addition to the oppression they experience from rebel groups like the “Lord’s Resistance Army,” they also live under the looming threat of deadly fights within their own tribes over cattle and land. These internal conflicts claim thousands of lives each year and impede desperately needed economic and social progress. But God is raising up a group of reconcilers in Uganda who are using Peacemaker Ministries’ resources and training to turn back this tide of bloodshed with a wave of reconciliation.
The more I heard of their remarkable stories, the more I wanted to see their work firsthand. So in February I traveled to Uganda to spend two weeks with some of the most amazing people I’ve ever met. Accompanying me were Chip Zimmer, our VP of International Ministries, as well as Jim Rosser and Mike Hildenbrand, who represent some churches in Portland that are supporting peacemaking efforts in northern Uganda.
During our visit, we listened in awe to testimonies of warriors, village elders, mothers, orphanage workers, pastors, bishops, judges, a presidential advisor, and the Paramount Chief of a 2-million-person tribe. Over and over we heard how gospel-driven peacemaking is reducing cattle raids, gunfights, land disputes, and family violence. The resulting peace has drawn thousands of people to Christ, triggered church growth, and opened the door for resettlement projects and life-changing economic development.
The first tribe we visited is called the Karamojong. Cattle stealing, primarily to pay bride prices, has been a way of life within this tribe of 700,000 people for generations. Fatalities during raids were rare until thirty years ago. Then Idi Amin fled the country and abandoned his armories in northern Uganda. This allowed thousands of AK-47s to fall into the hands of Karamojong warriors, some as young as fourteen. Since then, 50,000-100,000 people, many of them only small boys herding family cattle, have been killed in bloody raids and reprisals.
Two sub-tribes, the Pian and Bokora, had previously lived peacefully near each other in a fertile area called Nabwal. But as violence increased, they moved thirty miles apart, abandoning the fertile valley as a skeleton-covered “demilitarized zone” and living in dry lands that produced little food. Malnutrition, starvation, and violence continued to haunt both sub-tribes.
Ten years ago, Dr. Val Shean, a Christian missionary veterinarian, came to live among the Karamojong. Working through a non-profit group called CLIDE (Community Livestock-Integrated Development Consultancy), she steadily built credibility by caring for the two tribes’ cattle, goats, and camels. Sensing an opportune moment in 2007, she sent a copy of my book, The Peacemaker, to four churches in Portland that support her, and asked them to prepare and send a team of mature men (the “grey hairs”) to provide training on peacemaking to pastors in the Pian and Bokora tribes.
One of those men was Jim Rosser, who joined us on our trip in February. As we traveled the dusty roads of Uganda together, he told me about the training he and his fellow grey hairs had done in 2008. Using the biblical principles laid out in The Peacemaker, they worked with Dr. Val for two weeks to equip sixty of the most influential pastors, tribal elders, warriors, and women in both sub-tribes to be peacemakers. Little did they know how God was planning to use that investment.
Watch this great video to see for yourself how God is using Dr. Val in Uganda.
The Peace Villages
After the grey hairs returned to Portland, Dr. Val and the Karamojong pastors arranged for a
larger training to take place in Nabwal, the uninhabited valley midway between the two sub-tribes. They brought food for 300 people, but God had bigger plans. He moved over 2,500 people to walk fifteen miles from both the Pian and Bokora areas to seek peace!
The peacemaking training went on for three days. The pastors and leaders taught the people how they could be reconciled to both God and one another through Christ. The Holy Spirit moved powerfully, bringing many people to their knees in repentance, faith, and reconciliation. At the end of the meeting, the people agreed that they should plant a “Peace Village” on that very spot, populated by people from both sub-tribes.
As word spread about Pian and Bokora villagers living in peace, that one Peace Village quickly multiplied. Through careful planning by CLIDE, over 9,000 others have relocated to Nabwal, founding sixty-one similar villages. Another 2,000 people have established a Peace Village in a nearby valley. As we drove between these areas, I witnessed another group of Karamojong families clearing the brush for yet another settlement. Leaving their AK-47s behind, they are eagerly moving toward a life of peace and sustainable community. God keeps his promises:
“Come now, let us reason together,” says the Lord. “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool. If you are willing and obedient, you shall eat the best from the land” (Isa. 1:18-19).
Read my entire report (1.4MB PDF file) from my trip to Uganda–I think you’ll be amazed at what God is doing there!