Last week, President Obama charmed Harlem's historic Apollo Theatre with his rendition of Reverend Al Green's "Let's Stay Together." This is one of the more public presidential moments. The story shared here is no less presidential, no less charming but a little less known. It will resonate for years to come. At the heart of this story is a little boy from Uganda, who we call, "Charlie".
For some, "Let's Stay Together" was a strategically sung tune on the advent of the 2012 election. However, these simple lyrics characterizing unconditional love, hope and commitment play in my mind as I think of Charlie's story and his visit to the White House last November. Why does a little boy from Uganda get invited to the Oval Office?
"...Loving you whether, whether, times are good or bad, happy or sad."
The year before Charlie had been kidnapped by a witch doctor and brutally mutilated, but he survived. In Uganda, children are murdered and their organs are removed for sacrificial purposes. Of the reported annual count of 3,000 children who have been abducted, Charlie is one of the few to live and tell about it.
The average age in Uganda is fourteen. Civil wars have almost wiped out the generations before. The systemic challenges Uganda faces are significant as it seeks to rebuild its infrastructure; chief of which is protecting its youth. Through the impact of Restore International in Uganda, Charlie's story can be shared. Through the work of its founder, Bob Goff, we can hear Charlie's voice.
To know Charlie's story, we must visit Bob's. A man of faith, family and whimsy, Bob's commitment to international justice began almost 10 years ago, with a question to his children, around the time of Charlie's birth a continent away. This question ended up opening the doors of their home, the doors of justice and even the doors of the Oval Office.
Bob sat his children down on September 11, 2001 to explain the tragedies of that day. He asked, "If you had 5 minutes with a world leader, what would you ask?" Each child, then 11, 9 and 7 responded uniquely, creating a Goff family project that has since shaped the world.
The answers: "I would ask if they would like to sleep over?"; "I would ask world leaders what they hoped in?" and "I would ask, If they can't sleep over can we come for a visit and video tape their answers to the question?" Out went the letters to the world leaders, with a promise from their parents that if they received any affirmative answers, the family would take to the skies.
Twenty nine "yes" letters later, the Goffs have traveled to meet heads of state and other leaders, interviewed them about their hopes and upon their exit, left the key to their home with every world leader who wanted to come for a sleep over.
It was that question, that "sleep over" project and those trips that led to the establishment of Restore International as Bob and his family's heart were exposed to the injustices of children across the globe. An attorney, Bob began assisting Uganda with its backlog of juvenile cases. Soon, law students and staff from Pepperdine were assisting the court with trying cases where children had been remanded for years while waiting for a trial. 100 cases later, a majority of those children have been tried and returned to their homes. Bob, later became, the Consul for Uganda to the United States.
Then there is Charlie.
Restore International, through its relationship with the judicial system in Uganda was in a unique position to assist in the trial of Charlie's abductor resulting in the first conviction of a witch doctor for trafficking of body parts, under a relatively new trafficking law. The story does not end there.
Good news travels. When an American doctor heard of Charlie's condition, he reached out to Bob to help restore Charlie, literally. The doctor is a surgeon who specializes in rebuilding body parts. Charlie's first trip to the United States, including visiting the White House, was a trip to Cedar Sinai to begin the preparation for the surgery underwritten by Mending Kids International.
"Speak with your life" is what Bob Goff told the first graduating class of Uganda's Restore Academy, a school established by Restore International. The power of a life message is measured by the impact it makes on others.
The witch doctor's 50 year sentence sent a message to the witch doctor community but is not the end of the story. Charlie's restorative surgery and the trip to the White House is not the end of the story either. And Restore International's justice efforts and capital projects are also not the end of the story. If we are "speaking with our lives," these are only a few of the highlights on the journey toward a legacy of justice.