By Kari Miller
Continued from Innocence Lost: Effects of the war in Uganda
Paul came back for the burial of her family members and she clung to him. She was devastated and terrified that she and her daughter could end up in the ground next to them. The stress of wondering whether you would be the next victim of rebel violence as well as trying to live this nightmare without her husband made her weak. Paul held her and comforted her. When he was with her, it took the edge off the intense pain she felt most of the time; but he only stayed for few days and then left to rejoin his unit. It was unbearable to watch him leave. Joyce was now responsible for all of her brothers’ and sisters’ children. Now instead of taking care of herself and her daughter, she was taking care of eight more children. How would she feed them? How would she keep them safe? How would she do this without Paul?
As the war dragged on, she learned to live without the love in which she had once reveled. Paul came home once or twice a year and only stayed for a couple of days. When he was home, he was distant– never mean or rude, just mentally somewhere else. Still, Joyce prayed for the day when the war would be over and they could rebuild their lives and reclaim the love they once had. She still had childlike faith in Gods power to end the violence and to give her back all the years they had lost.
Several months later, tragedy struck again, this time at Pauls family compound. His parents had been slaughtered by rebel machetes. Joyce was there just minutes after it happened. It was horrific. She felt as if she might vomit and never stop, but she managed to pull their bodies to the side of the compound. Other family members began to prepare them for burial.
The cries of grief seemed to never end; sometimes they were quiet cries and sometimes they were loud shrieks. Paul came back from the fighting to bury his parents and he seemed so heartbroken. He was so thin and the war had taken every emotion from his face. He seemed like the walking dead. Joyce tried to comfort him as he had comforted her, but he wouldnt be comforted.
After his parents’ deaths, he refused to go back to his unit. He’d had enough of war for one lifetime and he had been sick since his arrival home. Joyce was glad he wasnt going back. Finally, she would have her husband back. It would now be their love for each other that would bring him back emotionally. It was the first thing in years that felt right. Not too long after he arrived home, the army came looking for him. They accused him of deserting his post and put him in the local jail. Joyce went and pleaded with the commanding officer to please allow her husband to come home. She explained that he had been sick and she was caring for him. The commander told her to come back the next day for his decision.
She prayed that she would gain favor with him and that he would release Paul. War had stolen enough time, love, and joy from them. It was time now to rebuild their lives. As she reached the army barracks where Paul was being held, the commander asked to see her. Their meeting was very brief. You can take him home. He tested positive for HIV. Suddenly, she felt dizzy; maybe she hadnt heard him right. What? Joyce asked him again. He has AIDS. He is of no use to us now. He is going to die. Joyce felt like she couldnt breathe. How could this be happening?
As she approached her husbands cell, she saw him with new eyes. He was just skin draped on a skeleton. His eyes were red and he had terrible vomiting and diarrhea. Her mind couldnt take it all in: my husband, the love of my life, has AIDS. But how? Slowly, her mind realized that the man she loved more than any other had slept with someone else. Due to the war, she had little emotional reserve and this pushed her over the edge. She started crying and couldnt stop.
Instead of taking him home, she ran to the clinic. While she cried they drew her blood and twenty minutes later told her that she too was HIV positive. At that point she collapsed. It was just all too much too bear. When she awoke, she went back home to the children, put on a brave face and cooked dinner. When they were all in bed, she prayed through intense sobs. She asked God why he had allowed this disease to enter her body. She kept telling God that she was innocent. “I have never slept with another man. I am faithful to my husband. I love you Jesus and worship you, so why, Lord, why?
The next day, she returned to the barracks to see Paul. Her hands were shaking and she felt like she couldnt breathe; still she knew she needed to talk to him. When she entered his cell, she found only a shell of the man she had once loved. He was dying and now she could really see it. She looked at him and felt such intense rage. He had cheated on her with another woman or maybe with many other women. He had betrayed her in the deepest place. She could barely look at him. Her heart now felt shattered into a million pieces. Yet, some part of her fractured heart still loved him. He had been her only love, her true love from childhood. How could she have been so stupid? How had she not known that he was sleeping with another? She stood silent before him staring at the ground.
She thought for a long time before she managed to say, They say you have AIDS and that you are going to die. Paul labored to nod his head. Then Joyce gathered her strength and said; Now you have killed me too. Paul looked up at her and then down at his hands. His lower lip quivered and his eyes filled with tears as he choked out, Im sorry. so sorry. At that Joyce turned and left him. She just couldnt take him home–not yet.
It was only a few days later that a soldier arrived at her doorstep to tell her that Paul was dead. Even with the rage she felt toward him, she still wept bitterly. There was a time when they loved each other and that love was real and beautiful. Even though he had betrayed her and given her a deadly disease, she still missed him. He had always been her best friend. Those next few days were not easy. She buried her husband, and her brother-in-law chased her away from her home. He had always wanted his brothers property, so she left with nothing but the clothes on her back and the nine children for which she was caring.
So, that is how I came to Kampala, Joyce explained to me over tea one Monday afternoon. I really loved my husband and I was so innocent, she began to cry as she said, Now I am going to die. It is a daily constant reminder that my husband cheated on me. That he didnt love me like I loved him. Even ten years after the death of her husband, Joyce is still reduced to sobs.
I sat there stunned with tears in my eyes too. I rubbed her back as she said again, AIDS is going to kill me.
My throat felt tight and tears were streaming down my face as I said, Yes, yes, it will. I just couldnt say anymore, so I sat there and held her.
Suddenly, she said, But do you know who has never betrayed me, who has always loved me and kept me alive these last ten years? It is God. When my husband died, I decided to become Jesus wife, to know him and love him and you know what? I am still alive, I have a place to shelter these children and most days I have food to eat. He has never left me or betrayed me. I nodded my head as I rubbed her back. For so many years, I have been so lonely. But now, God has given me your friendship and the love of your family. I aske
d God to give me a friend, someone who I could share my pain with and now God has given meyou. I just wanted you to know that you are a blessing to me and I love you.
I held her tight and cried with her. I love you too. God has given you to me and I am so grateful.
It was a tender honest moment between friends. No big words. No big theology. Just someone who was caught in a nightmare sharing about the God who rescued her.
If you liked this article, check out Caring for Widows: An Interview with Kari Miller (Part 1)
Kari is a 4th grade teacher who is passionate about loving Jesus and loving others. She longs to inspire others to love the least, the lost and the left out. She works closely with Dorcas Widows Ministry, an organization recently highlighted in Wrecked that works to provide for Ugandan women and children who have lost their husbands or fathers to HIV/AIDS, war, or general disease in Africa.