Sister Rosemary Nyirumbe became connected to Oklahoma through a young man she never met.
In death, 25-year-old Brandon Whitten inspired his father, Oklahoma City attorney Reggie Whitten, to help others. One of those people he reached out to was Nyirumbe, a humble nun he met on a trip to Uganda in 2002.
The two friends recently talked about their years-long friendship and the importance of Nyirumbe’s African mission work helping victims of Joseph Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army rebuild their lives. Whitten beamed with joy because of Nyirumbe’s inclusion in Time magazine’s “100 Most Influential People” issue.
The annual issue featuring some of the world’s most influential movers and shakers was released Thursday.
“It’s an unbelievable honor — a big deal,” Whitten said.
“Sister Rosemary is a true hero and she’s devoted her whole life to helping others. She’s been fighting against Joseph Kony with sewing machines and pop tabs.”
Nyirumbe was a 2007 CNN Hero of the Year and Whitten co-wrote a book called “Sewing Hope” that chronicles Nyirumbe’s story and their friendship. Whitten also produced a 2013 documentary of the same name (narrated by Academy Award-winner Forest Whitaker and directed by Derek Watson, an Oklahoman) that also shares the nun’s story.
He said he’s thrilled because her inclusion in Time magazine’s prestigious “Most Influential People” listing will share her story around the world.
Nancy Gibbs, Time managing editor, wrote that the vast majority of this year’s “Most Influential People” roster “reveals that while power is certain, influence is subtle. Power is a tool, influence is subtle.”
“If there is a common theme in many of the tributes, it’s the eagerness to see what some engineer, actor, leader or athlete will do next,” she wrote. “As much as this exercise chronicles the achievements of the past year, we also focus on figures whose influence is likely to grow, so we can look around the corner to see what is coming.”
Moving past pain
Whitten, 59, said he took a trip to Gulu, Uganda, after his son’s 2002 death, only after friends pressed him.
“I was a walking man but I was dying,” he said. “I was having trouble finding reasons to live after the death of my son.”
One of Whitten’s friends introduced him to Nyirumbe, 58, who founded the St. Monica's School and Tailoring Centre in Gulu. Nyirumbe’s school also has a presence in Atiak, Uganda, and Torit, South Sudan.
Whitten said he had no idea who Joseph Kony was and he didn’t know anything about Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army, but he learned quickly through Nyirumbe that the women and children victimized by Kony and his army needed the love and protection of brave people.
Brave, determined people like Nyirumbe.
He said he learned that Nyirumbe put herself at risk many times to help hundreds of Kony’s victims.
“It’s just a miracle that she’s even here,” he said, referring to the numerous times she held off Kony’s army commanders and kept them from kidnapping women and children under her protection.