Three days later, Atyam received a telephone call that Charlotte, then 22, had escaped with her toddler and was safe at a Ugandan army camp. When they met, mother and daughter ran into each other’s arms.
“We couldn’t talk,” says Atyam. “We just held each other and cried for a long, long time. She is the Lord’s answer to my prayers.”
Atyam eventually found Charlotte’s 5-year-old son at one of the camps established for the one million Ugandans displaced during the civil conflict. The boy had fled the rebel camp during an air raid, convinced that his mother and baby brother had been killed.
‘Give me the heart to forgive’
Today Charlotte is studying hospital management at the University of Health Sciences in Kampala. She says she prays for God’s grace “to give me the heart to forgive. Every time I see these people walking freely on the streets, I feel like I need to kill somebody. And then I say, ‘God will not forgive me unless I forgive them.’”
Just a week before her mother’s visit, Charlotte visited Duke Divinity School as the guest of Katongole after speaking Oct. 22, 2009, at a United Nations event on human trafficking sponsored by its high commissioner for human rights.
Charlotte says she is proud of her mother’s work to free her and the other abducted girls. “I thought she made the right decision,” she says of her mother’s refusal to stop her advocacy work in exchange for only Charlotte’s release.
And she wonders why God brought her back home safely when so many others died. “I just ask him to help me be a servant at his feet and serve my people. And it won’t be about me any more. I know God needs me to do something, but I don’t know what.”
Now Charlotte is free to find out.
As for her mother, Atyam continues to advocate for abducted children with the Concerned Children and Youth Association (CCYA ), an offshoot of CPA started by the siblings of abducted children. The next step toward a peaceful future for Uganda, Atyam says, is to help children and youth transform a culture of war and violence to one of peace and reconciliation. The community-based CCYA works to promote peace, unity, and social and economic empowerment with more than 500 children and youth abducted during the conflict.
“It is not easy to forgive,” Atyam says. “We have struggled to find peace in Uganda since 1996. We prefer to cling to bitterness, but bitterness is corrosive. Like a container filled with salt, it will destroy everything because the Lord cannot forgive us if we cannot forgive others. Life is wonderful if we let God heal us.”