The Lord’s Prayer
Atyam and the parents of the other 29 girls started meeting weekly at a local church to fast and pray for their children’s release. No amount of praying seemed to lift the parents’ burdens. They had agreed not to conduct their own searches at the urging of the boarding school’s deputy headmistress, who feared that might upset negotiations she had begun after getting little assistance from either the local police or the Ugandan government.
“I was confused, bitter, and very deep in my heart I was thinking, ‘How do I avenge this?’” says Atyam. “Yet we continued to pray and call upon the LRA to release our children, protect them, bring them home, and make peace again.” That is until a priest was leading the parents one day in the Lord’s prayer. When they got to “Forgive us our sins,” the parents suddenly stopped. They could not say “as we forgive those who sin against us.” Realizing that they were asking for forgiveness of their sins, yet could not forgive the rebels for stealing their children, they filed silently out of the church.
“We went back home to examine ourselves and our communities,” says Atyam. “What was it that was burning— the anger, the bitterness, the corrosion of our souls? We had put a curse on [the rebels], but we actually had put one on ourselves.”
Atyam remembered the lesson of Matthew 5:23-24. Before you offer a sacrifice to God, put things right, or the sacrifice is useless. “We needed God, so we decided to put things right,” says Atyam. “That prayer was a revival in our lives … praying for those who wronged us became our sacrifice.”
When the parents met to pray the next week, a transformation had begun. As they prayed to forgive the rebels, their sorrows began to lift. They decided to share their gift of forgiveness, first with other people in their community—and then in neighboring districts where other children had been kidnapped—by organizing meetings to tell their story.
‘Bullets have no eyes’
Many who heard the message were incredulous.
“Angelina, what planet are you from?” cried out a blind woman from a nearby district whose only son had been abducted. The rebels had forced the clinging 8-year-old from her arms with fire, and then slashed her with a machete and left her to die. “Don’t you know what the rebels did to me?” she demanded. “Must I forgive?”
Atyam’s answer was a resounding “yes.” Unless the parents practiced forgiveness and sought a peaceful solution to the conflict, they would destroy what they most wanted back—the children. “Bullets have no eyes,” she explained to the woman. “In the field, bullets would not know if a child was abducted or volunteered for the rebel army. War would destroy all these children.”
She continued to spread the message of forgiveness. When she learned that the well-known rebel commander Rasca Lukwiya was holding Charlotte as his “wife,” Atyam went a step further. She traveled to the neighboring village where Lukwiya’s mother lived, determined to convince the woman that she was ready to forgive him, his family, their clan, and their tribe, which she held responsible for beginning the civil conflict.