I woke up this morning in a house of cardboard and tarps. Inside, seven friends slept beside me. Outside, 4,000 others crawled out of ramshackle huts and sleeping bags strewn across the ground. On a hilltop in Parker, CO, the sun was rising on a chaotic mess of cardboard shanties and unshowered people, all cramped inside a make-shift displacement camp.
We were there for an event called Displace Me, put on by an organization called Invisible Children (IC). For the past couple years, IC has been beaking the silent shroud surrounding the 21 year war in northern Uganda, and has been opening the world's eyes to the atrocities being committed there. For years, rebel forces called the Lord's Resistance Army have been raiding villages, conscripting children and teaching them to kill. In this time of chaos, the Ugandan government has moved millions into crowded displacment camps, lacking ample food and water, as well as proper sanitization. Many people have been in these camps for over 10 years. IC began with a documentary on the issue, and since then has been effecting change in northern Uganda in ways they could not have imagined. Displace Me was just one small part of it.
I would like to say that my night on the hilltop was about understanding what the people of Uganda go through, but that would be ludicrous at best. I did have moments where I felt crowded-in and uncomfortable, and was stunned at the thought of doing it for 10 years. And when we were waiting for crackers and water to be distributed at the "relief station", I really was hungry and thirsty (Saltines have never tasted so good in my life). Yet I know that one night in a cardboard box, hanging out with good friends and knowing I have home waiting for me the next day, does not even come close to providing a glimpse into their lives. No, my night of displacement was about raising my voice. It was about being one more body, one more face in the swarm of people speaking out on behalf of the oppressed.
During this year of reading Proverbs, one proverb has been the most impactful:
Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves,
for the rights of all who are destitute.
Speak up and judge fairly;
defend the rights of the poor and needy.
The people of northern Uganda are not the only ones around us who don't have a voice, who cannot speak up for themselves. The homeless man in the park, the underprivileged child, the refugee, the migrant worker, the sick who have no access to healing...all these people lack the power that we take for granted--the power to speak up and actually be heard.
Is there a particular group of the oppressed that stirs your heart? Do you hear the cries of the poor and orphaned and widowed? We have the power to say something about it, to effect change even when we feel like we may only be making a tiny dent. When we see the forgotten, the silenced, the invisible, we have the power defend their rights. The task seems so daunting, and at times hopeless, but I believe the gospel challenges me to overcome that.
It challenges me to stand up and raise my voice.
(for some great links to practical venues for raising your voice, check out my friend's post about the event http://ransomedjourney.blogspot.com/2007/04/raise-your-voice.html)