I am amazed. I am bewildered. I am dizzy and I am drowning in something fathomless.
But I am not blind. I am not blind to this calling, and I will not look away.
These past few months have been an adventure, to say the least. I have traveled to three different countries that have been wounded by war: Congo, Uganda, Sudan.
The reasons for the war differ. The rebel groups that kidnap these children have different names and reputations and vary in size. Each militia group tends to have its own agenda, fueled by power, money, revenge, and evil. But I have seen two consistencies in all three of these countries: children who have lost the innocence of their youth to the desecration of war and an incongruous spiritual richness in the heart of the suffering and the impoverished.
My mind is a spinning top. But when it settles, I return to the same spot, to the same place in the dirt. I’m looking over the shoulder of the Savior as He drew in the sand, pondering before He spoke to the stone-holding crowd that surrounded Him ( John 8:1-11). I am wondering what I should do with all I have found. What should come from all God has allowed me to witness?
As I ponder and draw in my own dirt, clarity comes. All I’ve seen build inside me like a roaring wave, and I pray for Jesus to lead me into His plan.
After my time in Congo, Sudan, and Uganda, I was not the person I used to be. I came back from those initial trips with a new perspective and spiritual clarity. Suddenly things such as cellulite, bank accounts, and letters after my name didn’t mean much. I had stepped into the pain of children who, in their slavery, had endured more horror than we can imagine in our worst nightmares. But as astounding as the extent of the horror was the resilience and strengthen their smiles. How do you dance after the LRA had forced you to kill your mother? How can you sing praises to Jesus with abandon after being tortured in captivity? I thought about a quote by Frank Warren: “It’s the children the world almost breaks who grow up to save it.”
If the world could learn forgiveness, resilience, and joy to this level, the world would change, I thought. And these young survivors could be our greatest teachers.
Who better to become leaders for peace than those children who have been wounded by war? Thinking about powerful life stories of Nelson Mandela, Mother Teresa, and Martin Luther King Jr., I envisioned a new generation of leaders - once-broken children who would rise to overcome suffering and step out to lead others in peace.
During the month following my return, I began work on a new program for war-affected children. The art therapy and trauma care workshop I had used with the children was deeply healing for them, but I realized that they also needed weekly group counseling and consistent care to heal from years of war-filled memories. They needed someone to walk with them through the slow process of mending and finding their childhood again. I called the program The Hope Initiative, and it was designed to be led by local African leaders during weekly group meetings. The program would walk former child soldiers and war-affected children throughout three focus areas: (1) trauma-focused art therapy and forgiveness; (2) peace-building and conflict resolution skills; and (3) leadership skills training. My dream was that this program would one day spread through eastern and central Africa, reaching hundreds of thousands of children who had been emotionally wounded by war.
I also started doing something I never dreamed I would do: political activism. Never having had a passion for politics, this was foreign to me - and a bit uncomfortable. My only training was when I took a few policy classes in my master of social work program, but I must confess that I sometimes fell asleep in those classes, finding them quite boring. However, any intimidation I felt was quickly ousted by a laser-focused mission - to do all I could to stop the rebel group and the warlords who were enslaving, maiming, and kidnapping children.
Before leaving Gloria and the other children, I promise myself that I would share their story of survival. The honor of hearing details that wrenched my heart also came with a responsibility. The children could not take their stories to members of the US Congress, but I could. Their stories needed to be shared with influencers who could help stop warlords responsible for torturing them. In order for the cycles of destruction to end, the voice of these survivors had to be heard. Advocacy and awareness become part of our mission. I started connecting with activists and influencers in Washington D.C, and our small team began meeting with members of Congress.
As Gary Haugen, CEO and president of International Justice Mission, stated, “History teaches that struggle for justice is not a sprint; it’s a marathon.” We were ready to run the race.
To change the course of war, I thought, we must stop the bleeding and mend the wounds of trauma. In addition to providing emotional care, we must advocate for these children in Washington D.C. Their stories must be told those with political influence, to those who can help to stop this madness.