When her daughter and more than 100 other school girls were abducted by Ugandan rebels, Angelina Atyam extended forgiveness even to those who had sinned against her.
Seven years: the biblical time of restoration, freedom, and jubilee. Seven times 70: the number of times Jesus told Peter to forgive his brother. Seven years, seven months: the time that Angelina Atyam’s daughter Charlotte was held captive after the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) abducted her and 138 other girls from a Catholic boarding school in 1996. Sevens surface as a motif throughout the transformation of “Mama Angelina” from a soft-spoken nurse-midwife and mother of six to an international activist seeking the release of all Uganda’s abducted children.
Atyam’s daughter was among an estimated 35,000 youth, some as young as 6, that the Ugandan government believes were abducted by the LRA during nearly 20 years of fighting. From 1987 until a ceasefire was signed in 2006, the LRA used children as human shields in battles with government troops. Boys were forced to become soldiers; girls were enslaved as “wives” to rebel leaders.
The path Atyam pursued to negotiate the children’s release—and to further peace and reconciliation within her country—was inconceivable for many other parents, but she was resolute. Guided by the Lord’s prayer, she and other parents of abducted children began to pray for forgiveness of the rebel soldiers.
Atyam, a winner of the 1998 United Nations prize for human rights, and Bishop Paride Taban, founder of a community in Sudan that welcomes those of different ethnicities and faiths as an alternative to violence, shared their stories last November at the Duke Center for Reconciliation’s annual Teaching Communities Week: “An Oasis of Peace: Forgiveness, Advocacy, and Community.”
“The lives and work of Angelina Atyam and Bishop Paride Taban are examples of what oases of hope look like in a broken world,” says Emmanuel Katongole, co-director of the Center for Reconciliation and associate research professor of theology and world Christianity at the Divinity School.
“In listening to the stories they have come to share, the question for us is: ‘How do you create and sustain lifegiving possibility in the midst of war, violence, poverty, and hatred?’”