Only by the grace of God I am writing this post.
Life just changed in an instant. Our perspectives have flipped. Images we wish we never saw are now permanently written on the pages of our minds. July 11th is now a day none of us will ever forget. Thankfully we have no physical scars to show, but emotionally we are still processing what actually happened. Regardless of our confusion and questions, all honor, glory, and praise to God.
The night of July 11th, hype spreads the conversations of those beginning to prepare for one of the biggest soccer matches this decade, The 2010 World Cup. Even though most of us have never been into soccer, it is hard not to get wrapped into the excitement that goes into these games. For days we talked about it. We planned to go to our favorite place to watch the sporting event, Ethiopian Village. It is a nice restaurant in the area of Kabalagala, just outside of the capital city, Kampala. We have watched all the United States matches there because of their outdoor 25-foot projector screen that broadcasts all the games live under the stars of Africa. We would sit, enjoy a cold Mountain Dew, and give high fives when our team scored goals. Regular. Ordinary. Just a normal night.
Earlier in the day I told Catherine I didn’t want to be late. “This game is huge, and I know it is going to be packed. Let’s get there early to make sure we get a good spot in view of the monster screen.” We all agreed. I even argued we should eat there to guarantee us a spot, but the girls vetoed it because of their hatred of Ethiopian food. “Fine” I said, “We’ll eat Italian at Café Roma, then get to the game as quickly as possible.” Why did we decide that? We got caught in traffic on the way and it delayed us eating. Checking the clock, we rushed through our Italian meal and called our ride to take us to Ethiopian Village. We ran late. He ran late. We were behind schedule, but hoped to still get good seats. To my disappointment, the place was packed. We got out, scanned the seating in view of the projector screen, but no empty place remained. The waitress directed us to a spot just to the right of the screen. It was a half room with a small brick wall with a window that now sat between the screen and us. We could still here the buzz of the horns and roar of the crowd from the speakers that were just feet from us, but we were forced to watch a smaller TV just inside the L-shaped wall. I was upset, but not too disappointed because we didn’t lose the fun atmosphere of watching the game with a large group, we only lost the view of the large TV. I sat down on the left with my left shoulder touching the window on this one wall. Carrie to the right of me, then Jay, Mason, Jonathan, Catherine, Tori, and our new friend Matt. There were about ten others that were sitting more in the back of this small area off the main courtyard. We were obviously the not-so-serious fans, that didn’t arrive early enough to get prime seating. My pizza from the Italian place wasn’t sitting well. I knew we shouldn’t have gone there to eat.. I was hot. I continued to pull the curtain from the window to open it a little more to allow airflow through the crowded room. I couldn’t get the curtain to slide down to reveal the window. It was on a normal rod, so I don’t know why it wouldn’t slide. Half time is approaching. I thought to myself, “I don’t want to fight the crowd in the bathroom during halftime. I’ll go now.” I went to the bathroom, came back just before half time and sat down. I was proud that I thought to go ahead of time. Look at all these people that are about to have to stand in line. I was seated for no more than forty-five seconds. Jay began to stand to make the same trip just as the halftime whistle blew. Then, a sound we didn’t expect…
The sound that every person fears, shook the earth. Louder than a thunder crack, an eruption burst our ears. BOOM!
The window my shoulder is on imploded into the room… Billowing smoke... tables and chairs turned over… I can’t focus… why can’t I see? Where is my group? Where are the girls?… Get cover. My adrenaline kicks in as we stumble over debris. Jay and I grab Carrie and push us against the sturdiest wall furthest from the explosion. Where is my chaco? I’m walking barefoot on glass. There is blood everywhere. I can’t hear anything except the loud ringing in my ear. Where is this blood coming from? Is it mine? Not mine. Jay’s ok. My group seems fine. The green glass of the Mountain Dew bottles we had are now shattered across the floor. Two white people are on the ground right in front of us covered in blood. I can’t focus. All I can see what white mangled flesh and blood everywhere. We were slipping in it. People began pushing to the back. Bodies still lay in chairs and all over the ground. Some of the ten people that sat in the back of the room just feet from us now are not moving. What happened? Did the projector blow? Must have been electrical. This can’t be what my worst fear says it is. Can it? No. I know we are in Uganda but this kind of stuff doesn’t happen to us. We are southern church kids raised in Alabama suburbs. It can’t be real. When I am going to wake up? Jesus! We began to pray. Father, save us. The curtain I wanted gone just minutes before, just saved our flesh from flying razor like pieces of glass. The projector screen we all flocked to watch now lay in pieces. We escaped the fragments of broken furniture and glass and began to make our way outside. We’re out. Our minds were scattered. Jay and Mason returned to offer help to others. More images were ingrained in our minds. A restaurant worker told us a truth we hoped and prayed wasn’t true, “It wasn’t the projector.” He stated, “We think it was a bomb.” My mind raced. No way. That can’t be. A bomb? I almost didn’t want to say the word fearing that me stating it would confirm our biggest terror just became our biggest reality. Bloody people were being carried out as we began to hear sirens from a distance. Fifteen people confirmed dead. People that were literally sitting feet from us enjoying the game now are gone. A grown man wept knowing he lost his brother. Police arrived and began to push us back. Do we move? Do we stay put? Will there be more explosions? We attempted to walk away fearing it may not be over. Carrie passes out in Jay’s arms in the street. Carrie! We gathered. We checked ourselves for injuries… Nothing… The blood that stained our clothes we realized was not our own. We were UNTOUCHED. UNHARMED. UNSCRATCHED. Everyone else has cuts and blood all over them, how do we not have a single wound? We circled, with our arms shaking around each other’s shoulders and prayed to God.
We praise you.
We worship you and thank you for sparing us and protecting us.
We thank you for illustrating your faithfulness.
Lord, we don’t understand what is going on or why this happened, but we trust you.
We will continue to walk in your ways and pray you guide our every step.
Through this Father, somehow, be glorified. Turn this act of evil into good.
You are God and we know you are bigger than any force of this world.
You have delivered us. You have spared us.
Be with these people. Be with these families. Reveal yourself in a powerful way Lord.
We are forever grateful of your protective hand upon us.
We once again surrender our lives to you and your will.
In your Son Jesus, we pray, believe, and trust,