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The following selection takes place in a small village in present time Uganda. Mark, an American missionary, has just soothed his six year old daughter Brielle, whom he calls “Kawala”, from a nightmare and is putting her to bed with himself and his wife Genevieve, who is nine months pregnant.
“Are you feeling better now?”
“Yes Daddy,” she said.
“Let me say a prayer for you so that you only have good dreams, okay?”
“But you prayed for me to only have good dreams before I went to sleep and it didn’t work,” Brielle protested.
“Well then, we must ask the Lord for it again and we have to have faith that you will have only the good dreams this time, okay?” he asked. Brielle nodded and he prayed over her sleep. When he was finished he asked, “Do you want to come and sleep with me and Mama?”
She nodded again and with one more kiss upon her head, he took her into the sleeping room of the two room hut. Just as he had laid her down and was getting ready to go back to sleep, there came a thundering knock on their hut door. The sound of it startled them all. Mark jumped up to go to the door. Brielle rose up to follow him, but her mother pulled her back.
“Stay here sweetheart. Daddy will see what it is,” Genevieve said cradling her daughter in her arms.
The two watched as Mark went to open the door. Standing in the moonlight, they could see their good and trusted friend Magomu; he was panting hard as if he had been running fast.
Mark stepped outside the door and looked at Magomu intensely.
“Jabari knows it was us who helped the children,” he said, gasping for breath, “I found out tonight that he knows,” he paused again. “Someone must have seen us outside of the village in Tororo. Whoever saw us told him what we did. He has sent the order for them to come. His men are coming here to kill you and your family tonight. We must all leave right now,” he said, still trying to catch his breath. “My friend Akiki has a jeep that we can use. It’s not very fast, but it will get us to the airport. He lives in the next village up the base of the mountain. We must go now.”
Mark hadn’t even blinked while Magomu was talking; he just stared, listening intently to his friend’s message of death. He brought his hands up to his head and pressed them on his eyes. Their old and battered truck, the only vehicle of this village, had broken down and though they had ordered parts to fix it over a week ago, they still had not come. He ran his hands down his face, covering his mouth and raising his eyes to the sky searching for an answer. Taking a deep breath, he said, “Okay, I need your help with Genna. I don’t know how she will be able to do this; the baby is due any day.”
Mark quickly went back into the hut. Genevieve and Brielle were wide awake and sitting up on the bed. Although they had not heard Magomu’s message, they knew there was trouble.
As the two men raced around the room to quickly gather some important belongings–water, food, money and passports– Mark spoke to his family.
“Genevieve,” he said calmly, “We must go. We must go right now. Get your shoes, and Brielle’s. We must leave immediately.”
Genevieve knew not to waste time bothering her husband with questions. There had not been too many times in their life together where he called her by her full name. She knew to trust him and do exactly what he said. Brielle however, was not as easily convinced of their sudden departure.
“Why do we have to leave, Daddy? Are we coming back? What’s happened?” she asked nervously.
Her mother rolled herself off the mattress and put her shoes on, not bothering to change from her night clothes, and she grabbed Brielle’s shoes and rag doll.
“Come on Kawala. It’s going to be okay,” Genevieve smiled reassuringly, “Daddy will take good care of us. Let’s not waste any time with questions, just do what he says, okay?”
The frightened little girl nodded her head and put her shoes on. Once Mark had everything they needed, they headed out the door as quietly as possible. Although they loved the people of their village dearly, they did not want any of them to know of what they were doing. If Jabari’s men came to the village and found anyone else outside they would think they had helped them to escape and kill them instantly. Since their hut was located at the farthest end of the village, their quiet disappearance would be best for everyone’s safety. Mark thought to himself that even though it would be nice to have it, their broken truck still parked in its place was a good way to throw Jabari’s men off track.
Quietly, they started out the door of the little hut they had lived in these past seven years. They came to the village from Connecticut as newlywed missionaries to minister to the people who lived there and other villages nearby. At first, it was a very hard transition to learn how to live in such a primitive place, but now, it was their way of life too. It broke their hearts to leave a place so full of wonderful memories and treasured friends – friends who would worry when it was discovered they had gone. Brielle was having the hardest time leaving as this was where she was born; this was the only home she had ever known.
Immediately, they began to walk in the bush to stay away from the main road. Genevieve was trying her best to keep up, but even with Mark’s help, she could not move at a quick pace.
“I’m so sorry Mark,” she said, “I’m trying; but this baby is so much bigger than Brielle was.”
Mark, holding tightly to his wife’s waist to try and give her support, kissed her cheek and smiled, “You’re doing great Genna, just keep breathing,” he looked at Magomu, “Where are the children now?” Mark asked.
“I’ll explain it to you when we reach Kampala. Don’t worry, they are safe,” Magomu said.
Mark looked deeply into his friend’s eyes for a moment, withholding his thoughts and not speaking them out loud so as not to scare his family. He knew that Jabari would quickly make sure the children were all killed as soon as he found them. To him they were deserters from his military.
Several days ago, Mark and Magomu had rescued a group of children who had escaped the officers of the S.G.R., Soldiers of God Regime. It was run by a brutal man who claimed to do all of his work in the name of the Lord, going from village to village, kidnapping children and forcing them to be in his militia. If a child happened to escape near their village, Mark and Magomu would assist them, trying to either place them back with family or find them a new home. Up until now, they had been successful in their secret mission, but somewhere along the line, Jabari found out and was going to put an end to their work.
“Daddy, I’m scared,” Brielle said.
“It’s going to be okay, Kawala. God will protect us,” Mark assured her, “His angels are here with us right now.”
“Yes, but what about the snakes?” Brielle said, remembering the rules she was taught about going into the bush at night when the wild life could not be seen.
Mark quickly realized she was right, took her ragdoll, placed it into his pocket and scooped her up onto his back. “Father God, please protect us from any snakes or creatures that would bring us harm tonight,” he whispered.
Genevieve was moving as fast as she could. From time to time, days before, she had begun experiencing short contractions and walking at this pace was bringing them on again. She kept trying to breathe deeply, but the intensity of this moment made it difficult. Afraid that she was going to have her water break and go into labor at any moment, she added to her husband’s prayer, “And please don’t let this baby come until we are safe.”
Pressing on as quietly and as quickly through the rugged terrain as possible, Mark and Magomu both now wrapped their arms around Genevieve’s back for support; each was holding one of her hands to help steady and guide her along. Reaching the base of the small mountain they came out of the bush and began their climb which elevated into thicker trees. Walking in this area without the help of the moonlight was very difficult, but it was far too risky to carry a flashlight.
“Do you need to stop for a break?” Mark asked his wife. “We could carry you.”
“And you could trip in the darkness and drop me. No, let’s keep going, if I stop, I may not get started again,” she said with a smile.
“You’re amazing,” he said, kissing her again, “I’m so sorry this is happening. I know I brought this on our family.”
Genevieve did not stop but looked up at her husband, “I can’t believe you would say that. It wasn’t just Magomu working by your side–this was our work together. Yours and mine,” she paused, trying to steady her breathing. “We did what God led us to do. What is happening now is not by your hand, but the hand of the enemy.”
Finally, they came out of the trees and were back amidst the bush when Magomu pointed to a hilltop where they could see a small group of huts silhouetted against the star lit sky. “There. There is Akiki’s village. I will go on ahead and make arrangements for the jeep.”
“Do you need money?” Mark asked.
“No, he would not have it if it weren’t for me– I fixed it for him!” he said as he ran ahead to the village.
“Where are we going to go, Daddy?” Brielle inquired softly.
“We are going to have to leave this place for a while, Kawala,” he said looking down at Genevieve, “I think it would be good to go and visit Grandpa Oba, don’t you?” he asked, knowing the reaction this would bring from his daughter.
“Really? We can go to his house in America?” she asked happily.
“Yes, don’t you think that would be fun Mama?” Mark asked, looking down at his wife.
“I can’t think of anywhere else I would rather go. Except, maybe we could stop by a hospital first,” she smiled.
Their temporary moment of joy while thinking about America vanished in an instant when they heard the sound of truck engines in the distance. Mark stopped and looked behind them. From where they had climbed up through the trees they could now look down and see the valley just below.
It was Jabari’s men.