“It is the moment we stop fighting for each other and start fighting with each other that we begin to loose our humanity.”
I have been saddened. And elated. And angered. And inspired. And disappointed. And moved over the past week. A topic that has been dear to my heart and a warlord who I personally have felt to be fighting at times has been revealed to the world in a matter of days! We have the absolute honor of sitting with war-affected children and former child soldiers as we hear their stories of survival and provide trauma care to them. I have hidden much in my heart, but the events of the past few days have broken to the surface. I have listened for the voices that are currently experiencing these atrocities in DRC, Southern Sudan, and CAR. I have written dear friends in Uganda to hear their thoughts and opinions. I believe in listening and learning before acting. I believe in love. And I believe we have been distracted from our purpose.
Jason Russell is a friend. He and I spoke together at a symposium at the Hauge before the Thomas Lubunga trial. We talked about listening to those who we serve. We talked about dreaming of seeing Joseph Kony in the courtroom that Lubanga was sitting in. His love for his wife and family was evident, and his passion to help the communities affected by the LRA was obvious. I have seen the work of Invisible Children on the ground and the fruits of their programs. It started nine years ago for him, the pressures felt over the past few weeks have been tremendous, and I could be exactly where he is right now. And so could you. He is a man. He is breakable. He is fallible. So am I. So are you. But few of us would have sacrificed our lives for this cause as he has…. Though we all have many opinions.
Opinions that have lead us far away from the heart of the primary issue at hand.
One film. 100 million views. Thousands of thoughts. Hundreds of paths. And along the way….. we have gotten lost. We have been blinded and have started fighting each other in the dark.
“Can you tell me about your story? What is in your picture?” I asked.
“The LRA, they…. they…. they made me watch as my mother was burned alive. Then they abducted me.”
Blinking back tears, I cradled her head close to me. She started sobbing. She did not stop for many minutes.
There is a heaviness that can break you. There is a calling that can bring you life. There are causes that can be fought together by those who walk in the same direction ….. learningfrom each other. Or they can be shredded by dissecting words and forcing agendas. But when we all walk a little closer together …. something beautiful can happen.
Mother Teresa tells a story of going to a large conference where hundreds of people were talking about food and hunger in Bombay. She got lost trying to find it. She finally found the conference and right in front of the door she found a dying man. She took him home, and he died. He died of hunger.
The past few weeks, I could not stop thinking of that. As I read tweets and articles and critiques and videos. As I read debates about movements and simple narratives… I thought about a Ugandan teacher in Sudan who I sat with in November. He had been in Yambio, Southern Sudan just a few months before that.
“The LRA. They are there. They are attacking. They tell the children to smile and if the children do not smile, they padlock their lips together. If they do smile, they will cut the edges of their mouths to their ears”
After we returned from Northern Uganda with 200 thank you letters to President Obama from children who survived the LRA violence. We came across a drawing. A drawing of a child whose lips were padlocked together. Above the picture were the words: “This is what Kony did.”
This is not about a film. This is not about a man. This is a about a warlord and the children whose hearts have been torn .
The film was a catalyst used to tell a bigger story. A story that has been happening for over 25 years. It is new to the world. But it is not new to Norbert or Barbara or Innocent. They have lived it. They have survived it.
And to go further, this is not just about Joseph Kony – this is about crimes against humanity. This is about fighting evil. Kony is one of many warlords and part of severe corruption in the world. Capturing him would send a message to many who are committing similar acts. We get to decide which side we stand on and how we choose to stand. We don’t all have to stand exactly the same. We can stand in different ways. With varying opinions.
But we should stand.
We are imperfect. I am imperfect. You are imperfect. There is no perfect means to tell a story. There are no perfect narratives for madness that has been going on for 26 years…. Especially one that is as complex as this one. One that has ventured into now four countries. Was the story told perfectly? Of course not. Could the narrative have been less simplistic? Sure. But, because it was told, 100 million people know of something most had never been aware of before. And, as a result - youth, middle aged, and even the elderly are ready to get involved in something bigger than they are to help their fellow man.
The past week, I have sat back and watched dear friends take very different sides on this issue. Friends I respect. Friends who have done much good in the world in their own way. I still respect them greatly. And I have heard people freely give opinions on subjects they know little about to prove a point. I have read arguments about which warlord should be getting more attention in the media. I have watched separate issues become blended into one.
How a story is told doesn’t change the fact that there is a story. And this story is not a story at all. It is reality.
And we should listen carefully to the children who have been victims of this reality. From the letters written by child survivors of the LRA:
Geoffrey wrote these words in his letter to President Obama,
“The LRA leader, Joseph Kony, told me to kill them but when I tried to refuse to kill them I was beaten 150 canes and they were to throw me in the fire and burn me alive…”
Or Isaac who wrote:
"What pains me the most in this war is the issue of cutting the neck of a fellow human being; cutting the legs, cutting off the arms and cutting the mouth. All these are inhuman activities and above all – the massive killing of innocent people.”
“They made me to kill my two brothers and they made me to kill my sister.”
“I beg you as a president to give support so that this war should stop.”
“… we are the children who need peace, looking for peace, with voices of peace. We are hopeful that there will be peace in Northern Uganda, Democratic Republic of Congo, and Central African Republic.”
You see, it is not about me. It is not about you….. I would humbly like to tell you what this is about.
- This is about a boy in Uganda who is having nightmares at night because he can’t stop remembering being forced to kill his parents.
- This is about a girl who has a scar on her temple that was grazed by a bullet from the LRA. She cannot sleep at night.
- This is about a boy in Yambio, Southern Sudan who had his lips padlocked together by the LRA because he refused to smile.
This is about a warlord who was indicted in 2005 by the International Criminal Court for 12 counts of crimes against humanity including abducting, terrorizing, and “brainwashing” children to fight. Known for cutting the noses, lips, and ears off of their victims. A warlord who has walked way from multiple peace treaties and began these crimes against children and innocent civilians over 25 years ago. This is about the Lord’s Resistance Army who remain in DR Congo, South Sudan, and the CAR. Today.
I do not have all the answers, but I do know this:We must stop talking about a movement and Move. Our opinion about a film does not remove the fact that the man in the film is real. As real as the children he forced to kill
We are called to love our neighbor as our selves. Does our neighbor stop at our borders? Does a child in Dungu, Congo who is currently in the bush after being abducted by the LRA matter less than the child sleeping in your bed? And if he doesn’t – then what will you do?
What will you do?
You see the simplicity of madness is this:
There is good in the world. There is evil. There is light. There is darkness. There is hope. There is madness. And we all get to decide where to stand. And my bigger prayer is that we stand together. We may all do it a bit differently – and hopefully learn from each other in the process. That may be assisting in the rehabilitation of areas that have been affected or the children who have been traumatized. That may be through advocacy work by signing petitions or letters encouraging our government to continue its stand.
For us, we have deeply researched and been involved in the advocacy work of our friends at Resolve for the past 3 years. Without going into detail here, we ask you to read our friend Paul Ronan’sresponsewho is currently traveling in Central Africa with Resolve. The latest policy report is also on that blog and will answer in-depth questions.
To Jason and our friends at Invisible children, we are praying for you.
To the victims of the LRA violence - we honor you.
I often wonder: "What should we learn from those we feel we need to save?" My mind goes back to a time of sitting with a very special boy under the moonlight after our team had washed the feet of around 130 children who had survived the LRA violence as part of our workshop. My heart was open wide to him, and I asked him what he needed. I asked how I could pray for him. He is sick. He is broken. He is beautiful. He is one of the bravest boys I know. He has been forced to do things that our movie screens would not show. Forced to kill his parents in unspeakable ways. He looks down at the ground and up at the stars again and says one thing: "knowledge."