I never thought that I’d be standing in front of a small crowd having my very own ‘Gwyneth’ moment, but I was caught by surprise having won Restored UK’s photo competition and asked to say a few words. And Sarah’s story is not an easy one to tell – that’s why I hadn’t included the full version in the brief description I was asked to include when I entered her picture for the competition. So, I made my mistake when I decided to speak about her story in more detail – I wasn’t ready for the emotion of that story to hit me again like it did the day I heard it first-hand.
I remember the day that I met Sarah. I was travelling with Flame International to take pictures and collect stories to communicate their work back in the UK. I’d heard about Sarah’s father-in-law, an elderly priest in the Anglican Church of South Sudan, who’d suffered the loss of his wife at the hands of the brutal LRA. He’d attended a Flame International conference and, challenged to lay down his plans for revenge, forgave his wife’s killers, was prayed for and stunningly healed of hurts both inside and out, so he was top of my list to meet. It was while I was listening to him that I noticed Sarah sitting in the clearing of the family huts with her baby boy on her lap.
Sarah had been abducted by the LRA along with her mother-in-law and 13 others from her village, and had been selected to be a wife for the rebel group’s captain.
“They were clubbed to death in a mass execution, their bodies left where they lay.”
Deep in the Sudanese bush the others were ordered to cut down thick branches with machetes. Then, using the branches that they’d prepared, they were clubbed to death in a mass execution, their bodies left where they lay. When Sarah was presented to the LRA captain he discovered that she was already pregnant and rejected her. Strangely, she was sent back to her village with a small amount of money given to her by the rebel captain.
Sarah ran to her family and raised the alarm. Her father-in-law led a group who pursued the LRA according to Sarah’s directions, but they were long gone. They did find the bodies however and Sarah’s father-in-law recovered his wife along with the club that was used to kill her. He interrupted our conversation to fetch a parcel from his bicycle. As he unwrapped it I realised that it was the club. I stared in horror as he pointed out his wife’s teeth marks in the wood from where she’d been beaten.
Now Sarah lives with the son who saved her life from the womb and the father-in-law who has forgiven the LRA and found peace. The rebels have moved on and Sarah is safe, fed, sheltered and cared for. However, the horror of what she witnessed lives on in her, along with a gut-wrenching fear that refuses to leave her alone. Slowly though, Sarah is recovering through forgiveness, prayer ministry and the love of her community.
Sarah’s father-in-law, along with thousands of church leaders across East Africa and beyond, has been trained by Flame International to respond to the spiritual and emotional needs of people following violence and war.
By Restored UK
The 18 photos selected represent members work from Europe, Latin America, Africa and Asia. The photos vary from the picture of an FGM kit in Sierra Leone by Johanna Warity for 28 Too Many to a man making a stand to end violence against women wearing a We Will Speak Out t-shirt. Look Again encourages us to think more deeply about the images presented, the people they show, the stories they represent and our response.
Alongside the photos at the exhibition are different ways to engage. A reflective mirror on a post encourages us to ‘take a good look at ourselves’. The simple floor graphics of a belt and broken cup show how every day items can be used to abuse and be the result of abuse. Info cubes sit around the exhibition inviting us to look again from a different angle and perspective.
Gareth Barton for Flame International.
Gareth’s photo of the calm poise of Sarah, a young woman in South Sudan was perfectly captured. Sarah’s eyes reflect the horror and trauma she has witnessed at the hands of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA). Captured, abducted and taken to the LRA camp, Sarah was released when the LRA Commanders realised she was pregnant. That was not before she had witnessed the brutal murder of her mother-in-law.
Jan Ransom, Director of Flame International, on hearing Gareth had won, said, ‘Gareth is a gifted photographer and I am proud to have him on our team at Flame International. Thank you for the opportunity to enter the competition and I hope we at Flame International can help you in Restored in your vision to end violence against women.’
On receiving his prize Gareth, a First Man Standing, gave an emotional speech outlining the situation and circumstances of taking the photo of Sarah. He added, ‘I hate this. I hate this stuff (violence against women)…I want to see it ended.’
Look Again is open to view until Friday 7th Jan 2014 downstairs in the Cafe 101 exhibition space at the International Salvation Army HQ in London. Opening times Mon-Fri 8am-4:30pm. Entry is free.
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