Monday, August 17, 2015

Joanne Norton’s “The Soroti Project”

In 1987, a man named Joseph Kony emerged in northern Uganda as the head of a rebel group called the Lord’s Resistance Army, or LRA. While fighting and rebel armies in Africa are nothing new, Kony brought a new level of barbarity to warfare – killing adults and capturing children for both soldiers and sexual slaves.

The LRA’s activities went on until 2006, when a truce was worked out with the Ugandan government and the LRA seemingly disappeared toward the Congo or (some say) Sudan. In between, an estimated 100,000 people were killed, 20,000 children abducted and 1.5 million citizens forced to flee, many ending up in what were called “IDP camps,” or the refugee sites of “Internally Displaced Persons.”

The statistics contain sufficient horror. The individual stories describe the horror in human terms that bring the statistics home. But while there was the horror, there was also hope. And that is the story told by Joanne Norton in The Soroti Project: A Heart-Filled and Heartless Story in Uganda.

Norton had worked as a missionary in Uganda previously, and she eventually found herself called back to a place to which she thought she’d never return. She found the horror and the tragedy, and she found the hope.

Just as she did in her book The Annie Project, Norton writes her story as fiction, combining both her own real experiences (and some actual photos) with a fictional technique. But the stories are real.

The story focuses on one IDP camp, located northeast of the capital of Kampala near the town of Soroti. Norton and fellow missionaries live there for a time, working with the people, local churches, and friends. She leaves little to the imagination about the living conditions the missionaries experienced – ongoing worries about the food and water; mosquitoes and malaria; threats to personal safety; and the conditions of latrines.

An IDP camp
But these pale in comparison to the stories she tells.

Children who were enslaved but managed to escape. A man who the LRA thought it killed three times, until the soldiers threatened to kill their captain if he tried again. The teenage boy Boniface, who died in the arms of his sister. The pastors who risked their lives to serve the refugees and victims. The good humor and laughter of the people in spite of what they’ve endured. And the growth and spread of Christian faith.

The Soroti Project is a deeply moving account, not only for making the experience of millions of people real but also for the hope that’s always there.

Image of Soroti Rock (top) via Wikipedia, used with permission under Creative Commons license. Map of Uganda via InfoPlease. Public domain photograph of an IDP camp via USAID.

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