Bishop of the Village: Ugandan Archbishop Odama’s living witness

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Friday, May 13, 2011

“We are the LRA. We want to talk to you.”

It was this text message received on the 10th of July 2002 that became a point of no return for Archbishop Odama of Uganda.

Like the servants of God one finds in Scripture, Odama never thought his life would be swept up into God’s movement in such a way. In the midst of destruction that has marked the legacy of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) since 1987, Odama placed his own body between violence and suffering to proclaim the nonsense of war and the truth of God’s peace. Odama’s message was an interruption. During his talks with LRA leaders, he was clear: “I am not interested in any item with the government or with you. I am interested [in] human life.”

OdamaOdama’s way of following Jesus was peculiar to those who looked to him for guidance. He visited villages and slept on plastic sheets with the night commuters who walked many kilometers to find safety from the LRA at night. He became “the bishop of the village,” where local people gave him eyes to see and ears to hear the way human dignity had been reduced to zero in IDP (Internally Displaced People) camps and in raided homes.

His sojourn in daily village life gave him a way of understanding what was at stake if war did not stop. The particular stories that gave life to each village took him beyond the walls of nations and continents, where he shared experiences of pain and visions of hope with the global community.

It has been a journey of conversion for Archbishop Odama, and peace in Uganda is an ongoing discussion. There is beauty, and there is ugliness.

In the midst of it all, Archbishop Odama has been changed.

He no longer sees himself as a local person only, a member of his local tribe. He is a participant with God who is writing a bigger story, one that locates each of us in the tribe of humanity. Archbishop Odama often uses his own hands to illustrate the universal connectedness of humankind. Each hand with many different parts, representing the diversity of peoples, all connected to one body, the body of Christ.

With all he has seen and done, Archbishop Odama is still astonished by the Christ he follows, echoing the words of Scripture, saying, “O Lord, Who is like You?”