Wednesday, November 10, 2010

The Light of Hope in Dark Nights Past and Present

On the anniversary of Kristallnacht, Rev. John Gibbons, chair of the UUSC Board of Trustees and a participant on the Uganda JustJourney, honors the strength of the people in northern Uganda who have faced the devastation of war and are rebuilding their lives.

Tonight the electricity was out in Pader, a remote town in northern Uganda much traumatized by the long-forgotten war. As our group gathered at the end of a long day, former UUSC board member Jim Gunning lit our flaming chalice in part for its light but especially to remind us that the chalice was originally designed in the 1930s for us in Prague and elsewhere in Europe so that the Unitarian Service Committee could be identified as a safe haven to those fleeing the tightening vise of Nazism.

Now, in another country and on another continent, UUSC’s work continues as UUSC partners aid refugees who — despite horrific losses, dislocation and trauma — now attempt to return home to their villages in the aftermath of war. For many years, thousands of people were forced to live in the fear and chaos of camps for internally displaced persons (IDPs), women and girls risking rape when seeking firewood beyond the camp perimeters.

With many children abducted to serve as child soldiers and sex slaves, and many others murdered and missing, there is need today for both justice and reconciliation within families, communities, and badly brutalized hearts. In the remaining days of our JustJourney, we will continue to hear the stories of those hurt and healing.

Noticing that it is November 9, I realized that on this date in 1938 fascist mobs across Germany attacked, desecrated, and destroyed Jewish homes, synagogues and stores. Kristallnacht, the “night of the broken glass,” is recalled as a harbinger of the Holocaust. Condoned by the state and empowered by the silence of bystanders, evil enlarged overnight.

For northern Uganda, it was more than 10 years before the world much noticed the war and the suffering of thousands. “We felt abandoned,” the people say. Today, with the guns mostly put down and the camps mostly closed, many relief workers and nongovernmental organizations are leaving Uganda and returning to their homes in other countries. Meanwhile, the Ugandan people are now returning to their homes and villages, their lives devastated by war, still needful of justice and reconciliation. Sharing their lives and aspirations, UUSC remains with them.

On this anniversary of Kristallnacht, I recall those who once fled their homes in Europe and, on this dark night in Pader, I honor those who here and now are returning home. May peace prevail and may none be abandoned.

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