By Mommy Emily


The people who walked in darkness

Have seen a great light;

Those who dwelt in the land of the shadow of death,

Upon them a light has shined. ~ Isaiah 9:2, NKJV

We’re stopped on the side of the road, our van broken down outside of Gulu, Uganda. A blazing sun bleeds across the sky, and a tree stretches its wide arms — like someone has taken a black sharpie and sketched its silhouette across red paper.

It’s the second time we’ve broken down in the course of two hours. The first time, we knew it was the timing belt, and Daniel took a boda boda into town, returning with a young mechanic who carried a belt with him. As we drove this mechanic back into town, we shared the Good News and a Bible with him, and he prayed to receive Jesus. Then we dropped him off and said goodbye, rejoicing that our trials had provided an opportunity to point a soul to Christ. We continued on for a while, but then, the engine popped.



I’m here with Enock, Shaban, and Daniel from our Uganda team, and Steve from India. We’ve traveled to South Sudan, and now we’re on our way back, broken down, waiting in a place where no one stops. A place that feels like the “shadow of death.” Cars careen around our white van with its tailgate up, and one of my friends climbs on top of the van to sit there, resting, like we’ve come here for a holiday. The air smells like the dry red dust beneath our feet.



Later we will learn that people were murdered just kilometers from us that very day. We will see dozens of villagers marching with pangas and sticks, angry, ready to defend their land from a “muzungu” or foreigner who is trying to buy it from afar so he can turn it into a national park. Meanwhile, the foreigner has hired locals to ask the landowners to sell it, and when they try to argue, they lose their life.


After I’m told this, Daniel and Shaban will try to distract me. “Look, sister, look at the flowers!” I’ll glance up and see a crowd of sunflowers, a burst of light. Always, somehow, light breaks through.


But right now, on the side of the road, we know nothing of the murder. We’re praying for someone to rescue us. My friend has tried to contact a mechanic in town, but they’re demanding too much money and asking for it to be sent to them before they even come to us.


So we wait, and pray, and the sun sinks lower in the sky. We see young men in shorts and tank tops walk past carrying large Zebra balloons. They nod at us, sadly. Walk off into the distance. I wonder what party they are going to. Another truck drives past and blinks its lights, and we think he’s going to stop, but he’s just warning cars ahead of him to slow down. He keeps going.


Just when the sun is about to disappear completely, a government vehicle pulls up, and an official climbs out, wearing a white uniform like some kind of angel. He asks us if he can pull us to town. We look in the back of the van and, miraculously, we find three cords of rope. I remember Ecclesiastes 4:12, “A cord of three strands is not easily broken,” and pray that verse will prove true of these ropes as we tie our van to our rescuer’s vehicle.






Slowly we follow the government car into the bright lights of town, past the shifting shadows. And I’m thankful for our Immanuel — our God with us, who appears when things seem darkest, when the world is overrun by death and pangas and anger, who plants sunflowers and sunsets even as the shadows deepen, and who sends His Rescuer, and the ropes with which to pull us, the love with which to save us, wherever our path may take us. Even when we’re stranded on a long stretch of road near Gulu, Uganda.


This is the fifth in a series of posts about Mommy Emilys trip to Uganda, Kenya, and South Sudan, October 2021