IF:Gathering A New Generation of Peace

Tell us about a time of surrender in your life for God’s glory and for the good of others.

Some tears are nameless. They are not awakened by grief or joy. They are born from the deepest part of your soul and, as they fall down your face, they take your breath away. These are the types of tears falling as I write to you, lying in bed under my mosquito net in the Congo.These tears are sacred; an outpour from a heart swollen with wonder, and they are mixed with a hope that does not come from this side of heaven. They come from holding the heart of a rescued child soldier close to my own. Bahati is a graduate of Exile International’s programs, and this was our conversation today:

“I am doing well, mum. But I need a bible.”

“What happened to your bible, Bahati?”

“I was visiting with one of the rebels and reading the bible with him. He wanted it so he could learn more about love. So I gave it to him. I am teaching the rebels about forgiveness and healing, and I am teaching them about God.”

He was beaming as he shared this news with me. A former child captive, he is now a young man sharing the hope he’s been given with the very rebel group who once kidnapped him. Distributing it like cups of water to dry bones. Pain becoming purpose.

I remember the first time I meet Bahati. At the age of 16, he had a beautiful smile and innocent look about him, but the scar on the left side of his face identified his painful past as a child soldier. He was kidnapped at 10 years old but later escaped, only to be taken again, by a different armed group, at the age of 15.

“I remember the day they took me,” Bahati said. “They told me that if I was to be a man, then I would have to learn to kill. So they trained me to kill.”

Children should be handed crayons and taught to create, not forced to hold guns and taught to kill.

Words like: Rebels. Warlords. Child Soldiers. Sex Slaves have become part of my everyday language. I guess it’s my new normal. Someone recently asked me how a small town Kentucky girl landed in the Congo doing rehabilitation work with rescued child soldiers. “I flew,” I answered, jokingly.

An even after writing an entire book about this adventure, I still don’t have a great answer. What I do know is after my first trip to the Congo, I couldn’t turn my back on what I saw. I couldn’t ignore the grave need for rescued child slaves to receive emotional healing. So I started putting one foot in front of the other to try and help in whatever way I could with everything I had (which wasn’t much).

So I guess the real answer is this:

Sometimes something touches your heart so deeply that “doing nothing” isn’t an option anymore. You become determined to make a change rather than coming up with excuses of why you can’t. Not because the fear stops lurking, but because the desire to do something is now greater.

I realized later my journey into these children’s lives was deeply connected to my own personal journey through darkness, trauma, and depression.

The journey started early. As a small town girl, I grew up making mud pies and catching fireflies on a country line road in Murray, Kentucky. But Africa was in my blood, even before I first landed there at the age of 18 for a short-term mission trip.

Not long after, I began dating a man and we were married the summer I graduated college. We became well-respected leaders in our community. I went on to obtain a Master’s Degree in Social Work and later, a Ph.D. in Counseling Psychology. However, my expectations of marriage were quickly shattered and it became ten years of a hidden, volatile, and painful relationship. It ended with broken promises, trauma, humiliation, and divorce.My life had become nothing I’d anticipated it would be. Shame, comparison, and unforgiveness haunted me. My depression eventually developed into suicidal thoughts, landing me in a treatment program for PTSD.When your desperation is greater than your fear of embarrassment, then true healing can begin – and I was desperate.

After a few years of walking through this new journey of emotional healing, I boarded a plane in August 2008 for my first trip to the Congo. On that trip, former child soldiers asked me to be their mother. I listened to their stories of being kidnapped by Joseph Kony’s LRA rebels and forced to murder their parents. I met with girls as young as five years old who had been raped as a weapon of war. My heart was broken at the residue war had left on these children, and I promised myself I would not look away.

My head told me that the problem was too big, but my heart told me to begin with the smallest child, and from there, a new generation of peace leaders could rise up to change the fabric of nations destructed by war.

Exile International was founded soon after returning from that first trip to the Congo. Seven years later there are over 800 children in weekly Peace Clubs (expressive art therapy trauma-care groups) in Uganda and Congo, 156 children in our sponsorship program, and 115 youth at the Peace Lives rehabilitation center in Congo receiving holistic therapeutic care. My passion for redemption started in my own pain. And I’ve discovered grace comes full circle when our pain becomes purposeful.

In the beginning, I struggled with the question, “Where are you in all of this, God?” But I realized I was asking the wrong question. The answer lies in the mirror. The question isn’t “where is He?” The question is, “Where are we?”

Where was God calling you to risk?

God was calling me to risk everything. Literally. My financial stability. My hopes of being a mother. My very life. And I knew it. I knew that, according to western standards of ladder climbing, I was doing well as a counselor in private practice. I finally had the opportunity to settle into comfort after a decade of crying out to God. But instead of comfort, He lead me into a war zone, and it opened my spiritual eyes to everything that mattered in life.

What were your tensions/fears in that and how did you fully lean into Christ?

I remember being afraid, but I tried to choose not to live there. My passion to help child survivors of war was bigger than my fear. The year after Exile International was founded, I sitting up in bed feeling terrified.

“What are you doing?” I thought. “How are you going to fund this vision? What if you can’t do it? What if you fail?”

But quitting wasn’t an option. How do you “quit” children who have been tortured and left to care for themselves because their families were killed in war? I knew I could not do it on my own, but I also knew I wasn’t doing it on my own – I was walking in God’s shadow and He was leading me. That is still my greatest comfort.

Original post, thanks to IF:Gathering can be found here