Retired Ugandan bishop seeks restorative justice for former child soldiers

Retired Ugandan bishop seeks restorative justice for former child soldiers

by Fredrick Nzwili

(RNS) A retired Anglican bishop in northern Uganda is agitating for restorative justice – which emphasizes forgiveness and truth-telling over punishment – in a region where the wounds of a brutal war unleashed by the Lord’s Resistance Army persist.

Bishop Macleord Baker Ochola II, 84, has been responding to community concerns that the modern court system may not deliver justice for the people who suffered in the complex conflict.

In 1980s and ’90s, the LRA rebels, led by Joseph Kony, terrorized civilians in northern Uganda, abducting children and forcefully recruiting boys as soldiers and girls as sex slaves.

Kony turned child soldiers into killing machines against their own community.

By 2005, the LRA had abducted over 60,000 children and killed more than 100,000 people, while displacing 2.5 million people.

Ochola buried the dead, walked with returning child soldiers and at one point was forced into exile.

The conflict took a toll on his family. His wife died in 1997 after a land mine blast hit a car she was traveling in. Ten years earlier, his daughter committed suicide after being gang-raped by the rebels.

But Ochola has refused to remain bitter, choosing to promote peace, forgiveness, and reconciliation among his people.

“If there is no process of reconciliation, there is no healing, and if there is no healing there is no restoration and justice,” said Ochola, who served the Diocese of Kitgum.  “Healing and restoration brings transformation of life for those affected.”

The International Criminal Court in The Hague indicted five top leaders of the rebel group in 2005.

Last month, it put on trial Dominic Ongwen, a 41-year-old former rebel commander who was abducted at age 10. He faces 70 charges, including murder, attempted murder, rape, torture, sexual slavery and forced marriage. He is the first former child soldier to appear before court.

“In the name of God, I deny all these charges,” Ongwen said in court.

 

Dominic Ongwen, center, a senior commander in the Lord’s Resistance Army, sits in the courtroom of the International Court in The Hague, Netherlands, on Dec. 6, 2016. Photo courtesy of Reuters/Peter Dejong/Pool

Ochola has been urging the court to carefully reconsider the circumstances under which children-turned-commanders were trapped in LRA captivity.

 

While he does not deny the court’s charges, he fears the court may not offer restorative justice but is seeking punishment or retribution. He is also concerned it will divide the community, which is in dire need of unity in the aftermath of LRA atrocities.

Like many other cultural and religious leaders in Uganda, he stresses a traditional justice system known as “Mato Oput,” which he thinks is more holistic.

Centered on forgiveness, it involves truth telling, compensation and a ritual in which food is shared and the accused drinks bitter herbs.

“It brings restoration to broken human relationships, transforms lives and heals the hearts of those involved,” said Ochola. “The court system, which is retributive, promotes polarization, alienating both sides.”

Mato Oput mirrors many of the forgiveness and reconciliation efforts central to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in post-apartheid South Africa and the Gacaca courts used in Rwanda after the 1994 genocide.

Mato Oput is the justice system of the Acholi people of northern Uganda, the community most affected by the LRA conflict.

The LRA left northern Uganda in 2005 and is now believed to operate along the border region of the Central African Republic, South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

“The LRA is still at large and they are still fighting … so we must continue with the work,” said Ochola.

In 1997, Ochola was one of the founders of the Acholi Religious Leaders Peace Initiative, an interfaith organization led by cultural and religious leaders that sought to peacefully end the LRA insurgency. ARLPI has been facilitating grass-roots and intercommunal reconciliation and peaceful coexistence.

One aspect of that is trying to help the government and LRA go through a process of truth telling.

“This would involve accepting full responsibility and making public acknowledgment of what one has done,” said Ochola.

One problem, he said, is the government’s lack of political will to dismantle the LRA.

In the case of Ongwen, Ochola had hoped the former rebel would be brought to the community for truth telling. Since that did not happen, Ongwen will likely refuse to accept responsibility.

“As a victim, he continues to be punished twice,” said Ochola.

Sheikh Musa Khalil, a northern Uganda Muslim leader and the ARLPI vice chairman, backs Ochola, saying that with Ongwen, the traditional system could have achieved more.

“It mirrors what is in the Quran and Bible,” said Khalil. “It’s based on forgiveness. We feel he should have been brought to us.”

The bishop believes a change is needed in the general wordview that when a child is abducted — as in the case of northern Uganda — he or she must take full responsibility in adulthood for any crimes committed while a captive.

“For northern Uganda,” he said, “this is wrong because the children had their humanity destroyed.”

(Fredrick Nzwili is a reporter based in Nairobi)

 

 

 

 

 

 

Another Perspective on Christian Yoga

Another Perspective on Christian Yoga

Last week, we published an article entitled “Christianity and Yoga: Is It Really O.K.?”  Since publishing the article, we have received lots of positive and negative feedback on the topic and wanted to be sure to offer you, our readers, another perspective. The Rev. Dr. Ed Hird has written a great blog on the topic entitled “Yoga: More than Meets the Eyes,” and we’ve included an excerpt from the blog below for your convenience:

You may find this a stretching article in body, mind and spirit.  I have intentionally avoided writing this article for years, because I knew that it might be unavoidably controversial.  To be honest, I have been waiting for someone else to write this article instead of me.  Like most pastors, I want people to like me.   With genuine reluctance, I eventually faced my conflict avoidance, obeyed the Lord and read hundreds of yoga books in our local public libraries.  In preparing this article, I have not read one book which warns against yoga.  All book citations in this article are from yoga advocates and practitioners.

To many people, yoga is just the hottest new exercise fad for younger women.  Twenty million North Americans are now doing yoga, including around four million men.  These twenty million people are currently being trained by over 70,000 yoga practitioners in at least 20,000 North American locations.[1]  Many people confuse yoga with simple stretching.  Stretching and calisthenics are good things which I participate in weekly at the local gym.  The term ‘calisthenics’ comes from the combination of two Greek words ‘kallos’: beauty and ‘sthenos’: strength. Calisthenic exercises are designed to bring  bodily fitness and flexibility of movement. Yoga has not cornered the market on healthy stretching and calisthenics.  Physical fitness does not begin and end on a yoga mat.  I am convinced that we do well when we take care of our bodies as part of our Christian stewardship.  God wants us to be healthier in body, mind, and spirit. We all need to get back to the gym on a regular basis, whatever our views of yoga.  Your body will thank you.

Read more of Rev. Hird’s blog entry here.

Honoring our Top 5 Black TV Dads for Father’s Day

Honoring our Top 5 Black TV Dads for Father’s Day

Father’s Day is this weekend and stores all over are reaping the benefits by selling ties, home improvement and meat products. Of course, we realize that Father’s Day isn’t a momentous occasion for everyone, particularly those who grew up without a father. But thank goodness for those TV dads that we all grew to love as a kid that taught us some of life’s greatest lessons. So, as a tribute to fathers everywhere Urban Faith would like to take a walk down Memory Lane with our top five black TV dads:

John Amos

John Amos

James Evans

No talk of favorite black TV dads would be complete without James Evans from the hit 70’s television sitcom “Good Times.” James goes down in history as the hardest working dad on the small screen. He was always hustling making sure Florida and the kids had what they needed, and he held it down by any means necessary. Most importantly, he made sure to steer his kids in the right direction by avoiding drugs and gangs in the middle of the projects. Nobody was going to grow up and act a fool in James Evans’ house. He had the authority and the weight that every father should have.

Carl Winslow

Remember Carl Winslow from the 90’s favorite Family Matters? Carl would get into some crazy situations, but in the end, the 90’s dad genuinely cared about his family. He was always there for his three kids Eddie, Laura, and Judy, his wife, Harriet, and, of course, we can’t forget his love-hate relationship for the family’s next door neighbor Steve Urkel. Carl would try his hardest to be stubborn and refuse to give in to his family’s requests, but in reality he was a big, soft teddy bear.

juliusJulius

You have to love Julius from “Everybody Hates Chris.” He knew how to teach the value of money. I mean, if you know that $.17 cents worth of orange juice is left in the container, then you will not pour it down the drain in Julius’ house. That’s especially if you’re working two or three jobs to buy that orange juice. Julius taught us not only to make money but to keep money. End of story.

Uncle Phil

Yes he was rich and bourgeoisie, but Uncle Phil knew what was up. When it came time to throw on a dashiki and let folks know the way they did it back in the 60’s. the famous uncle from The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air was ready. Not only that, but Uncle Phil took in his nephew Will and raised him as his own.

cosbyCliff Huxtable

Now before you get into the details of the recent controversy that has saturated the media, please remember that Bill Cosby is not Cliff Huxtable. Sure, he played the character on one of television’s most popular sitcoms in history, but Cliff Huxtable is, in fact, a character. And, what a character he was. Cliff could act silly with his kids, teach some valuable life lessons, and then go and do something truly ridiculous that made you realize he was just a man like everyone else. And, on top of that, he also devoted his time to being a great husband and practiced medicine in his community. Real-life controversy aside, Cliff Huxtable (the character), definitely deserves a spot on this list.

So, those are our top five black TV dads. They may not have been our real dads, but they made us appreciate fatherhood. In fact, those qualities they displayed on TV are very similar to “the Father from whom every family on earth derives its name” Ephesians 3:14-15.

Let us know who your favorite TV dad is in the comments.

 

 

 

 

 

Urban Faith’s Top 5 Bible Study Apps

Urban Faith’s Top 5 Bible Study Apps

The world has changed. Not only do we get content and information in print but we have content readily accessible on our mobile devices. It’s no surprise then that the Bible, the most popular book in the world, can be downloaded as an app.

Many people like the feel of the pages in a print Bible but there are times when a phone or a tablet may be a bit more convenient. When traveling, some people would rather just read the Bible on their phones than lug around the printed page. And they’re definitely not bringing commentaries or study materials.

Many pastors are also starting to realize that their congregations are immersed in the world of digital, so they encourage their members to look at the sermon passage on their phone or tablet.

Yes, the world has changed, so here at Urban Faith, we thought we’d give our recommended list of top bible apps to download to your phone or tablet.

Bible.is

Bible.is is the world’s largest Bible language library. This versatile app includes print, audio and video Bibles in more than 1600 translations. Yes, you read that correctly, 1600+ translations! It even includes sign language. This is like the United Nations of Bible apps. If you have been looking for the Bible in a particular language then Bible.is delivers the goods.

From their website: Together with the ministry of Faith Comes By Hearing, Bible.is provides a vast library of Bible translations to bring God’s church together making disciples from every nation, tribe, language, and people with the tools and technology of today.

YouVersion

 The YouVersion Bible app is a beast! You get multiple translations and all kinds of bible reading plans. This is the perfect app for someone to get started with the daily discipline of reading the Bible.

From their website: Our focus remains on relevancy as we consistently strive to demonstrate and teach people how God’s Word relates to everyone, no matter where they are in life… We aren’t just building a tool to impact the world using innovative technology, more importantly, we are engaging people into relationships with God as they discover the relevance the Bible has for their lives.

Olive Tree

You know how it is. Sometimes you want to dip into several different passages of scripture. You want to explore commentaries and maps. Well, they have an app for that. Olive Tree is definitely a great app for Bible study.

 From their website: This free Bible Study App features a powerful Resource Guide that links your Bible text with outstanding study Bibles, maps, commentaries, and more for an in-depth Bible study experience. Start a Bible reading plan and Bible+ will track your progress as you read through Scripture.

Logos Bible Software

I’m used to Logos on the desktop or on a laptop, but yes, they do have an app. This software is perfectly suited for those who preach and teach God’s word.

From their website: With easy‐to‐use tools and a massive theological library, Logos 6 delivers insight. Pinpoint answers in seconds, study the Word in its cultural context, uncover meaning in the original languages, and answer questions with confidence.

Accordance

This is like the refined, millennial version of Logos. The Accordance app is all about speed and usability. Basically, it’s Logos with a better interface.

From their website: Your time is valuable, so Bible study software shouldn’t be cumbersome or complicated.  Accordance Bible Software places all the tools you need right at your fingertips in one easy to use, lightning-fast interface.  And with a host of amazing new features in Accordance 11, going deeper in the study of the scriptures has never been simpler.

 

UMI_connecton_appBesides powerful study tools like the ones we’ve mentioned, there are other tools that can help you with not only studying, but applying God’s word. One topic many Christians struggle with is how to apply their faith to their work life. Download the UMI Connection app now and experience the My Work Matters Career Journey. This journey features the eParachute self-inventory along with other interactive exercises and a chance to win a $1,000 award to continue your education.

 

Download UMI Connection here.

 

 

 

 

Obama’s New Aid to Valentine’s Day: This Week’s Good News

Obama’s New Aid to Valentine’s Day: This Week’s Good News

This week much of the country was gripped by wintry weather including the Southeast which experienced ice storms and snow that shut down much of the start of Georgia. Thankfully the sun and the good news continues to abound to thaw us out. Here is this week’s good news.

Obama comes to the aid of young black boys. This is the first time a president has ever ear-marked programming for that demographic. (JET)

Gabe Sonnier goes from picking up papers as a janitor to grading them and becoming a principle and inspires the world in the process. (Huffington Post)

A new workout inspired by the bodies of Black History goes viral and makes everyone wonder if the next revolution will be exercise. (Colorlines)

As part of a series of interviews celebrity personalities are doing with President Obama on the Affordable Care Act, Yolanda Adams talks with Obama about its significance for the black community. (Yolanda Adams Morning Show)

Dr. John Wilson becomes the 11th president of Morehouse, the nation’s only all-male historically black male college. (Atlanta NPR)

And lest we forget what weekend this is:

It turns out that college can be a great place to find love, especially if those colleges are Spelman and Morehouse. (Inside Spelman)

United Methodist pastor and writer Francis Cudjoe Waters takes on God and Valentine’s Day. (The Root)

Happy Valentine’s Day weekend!