Archive for the ‘child soldiers’ Category

I have never been to Sudan–but I have such a compulsion to pray for the country these days.  It is my son-in-law’s homeland . . . and my unborn grandbaby has Sudanese blood coursing through his veins.

Tomorrow begins a vote that will decide the country’s destiny–will the Christian south secede from the Muslim north or will Africa’s largest country stay united?  This article accurately sums up what is at stake in this election.  Two weeks ago, a prayer ministry for Sudan posted this informative bulletin.

Steven is heading to Seattle tomorrow to cast his vote.  I assumed he would vote for the South to secede, but he told me he was voting for unity.  Steven fears that, if the South secedes, the Christians in the North will face increased persecution.

“There will be no help for them,” he told me.

Steven is from South Sudan, but spent six years at a refugee camp in the North (Khartoum) and has personally experienced his share of persecution.  I love that he is not just looking after his own interests–his family still lives in the South–but he has a heart for all of Sudan.  In fact, he and Candyce–and baby Wani–will probably move back to the North someday to be agents of God’s love and peace.

So please pray for the peace of Sudan!  If you feel moved beyond prayer, here’s a link that offers short term trips to one of the most vulnerable areas.


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“As I stand at the brink of a new year, I find myself still waiting. Still straining to hear His quiet voice say, “This is the way, walk ye in it.” Still scanning the horizon for mileposts to point the way. Still wondering if our future will ever come into focus . . .”   from last year’s New Year’s post, 2010 vision.

Boy howdy, did things ever come into focus this past year!

If 2009 was a year of waiting, then 2010 was a season of receiving.  Just thinking of all His good gifts to us this year makes me feel like a spoiled child!  I am so undeserving . . .

We married off our last daughter to a very godly man–God gave us sweet Ramona–we got to visit Africa and Alaska–God led us back to Abundant Life!  Those are just the highlights; there really are too many blessings to recount!

I believe that 2011 will be a year of speaking up.  The verses I want to camp out on for  the next 12 months are:

Open your mouth for the speechless,
In the cause of all who are appointed to die.
Open your mouth, judge righteously,
And plead the cause of the poor and needy. Proverbs 31:8,9

I just finished reading through the Bible this year, and if there’s one theme that is close to God’s heart, it is defending the defenseless.  I’m not sure how He intends to use me this coming year–but I’m confident it will be one wild and wonderful ride.

Anyone want to join me?

PS:  A good resource to jump start your heart is Kimberly Smith’s blog.  She speaks up with boldness and compassion for the most destitute people on the planet.

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I read a number of thought-provoking (and life-changing) books this past year.  Here is a partial list:

The Hole in Our Gospel

When Helping Hurts the Poor

Left to Tell

The Omnivore’s Dilemma

Jesus for President

Born to Run

As you can probably tell by the titles, these books covered a wide range of topics; from poverty alleviation–to the politics of Jesus–to the benefits of running barefoot.

All the books provided rich fare for my brain and my soul.  Better yet, the words I read spurred me to action.  I’m running now, giving more thoughtfully to the poor, revisiting pacifism, caring where my food comes from and living more simply.

These are not earth-shaking changes.  But I have been shaken from complacency–and who knows what the Lord will do with that?

I came across an old poem today that resonated with how I want to live what’s left of my feeble life:

“Only one life, so live it well; and keep thy candle trimmed and bright.

Eternity,  not time, will tell, the radius of that candle’s light”

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The book I’m currently reading, “The Hole in our Gospel” has been quite sobering.  And eye-opening.  The author basically describes poverty as a lack of not only material goods–but also a lack of options.  The truly oppressed have little opportunity for choices.

Think about all the choices I’ve made today–and I’ve not yet crawled out of my warm bed to dress and start the day.  I chose what time Greg would bring me my morning latte.  I chose to take an aspirin to relieve my headache.  I chose to use indoor plumbing to access drinking water (and take care of other needs).

I chose to put on my very expensive glasses so I could check all the emails and other messages that came in during the night.  I chose to read several Bible passages online and then share my insights with my online bible bus stop buddies.   I chose to turn on the heater to take the chill off the room and put on my fuzzy robe while I sit in my cozy, dry room and listen to the rain falling outside . . .

Shortly, I will get up and choose which outfit to wear to the garden and then Home Depot today.  I will choose what to eat for breakfast from a well-stocked pantry.   I will choose to drive my miata to the store of my choice to get more grub . . . all these choices will happen before lunchtime today.

Over 26,000 children will die today because of their lack of choices.  The basic necessities of life that we take for granted are not an option for these kids.  Clean water doesn’t exist; nor does food, shelter, safety or medicine.  Even if the kids survive, education and jobs are rarely an option.

My dog has more choices than these children do . . . and Scout will most likely be alive at the end of the day.

I know that many of us have “compassion fatigue”–the numbness that shrouds the heart in our affluent, choice-laden culture.   We are so bombarded with statistics and images of the dead and dying around the planet that we feel impotent–and very distant–from each day’s new disaster.

So we make the choice to just look the other way . . .

Our recent trip to Africa put faces to the statistics and I can no longer look away.  I  recently made the choice to sponsor a little girl with AIDs, and my small investment will help Kevin choose a better future–and God willing, a longer life.

You can choose, too.  If you don’t know where to start, I know a lot of precious children at the Uganda Jesus Village in Kampala.  Make Way Partners is another ministry I support–this organization helps to rescue women and children from unspeakable abuse in the Congo and other regions.

Our choice to get involved will enable others to choose life.  We can choose to make a difference.

“Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:
to loose the chains of injustice
and untie the cords of the yoke,
to set the oppressed free
and break every yoke?

7 Is it not to share your food with the hungry
and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—
when you see the naked, to clothe him,
and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?

Isaiah 58:6,7

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I took Greg’s suit and dress shirt to the cleaners yesterday. Even though he’d only worn the shirt twice, the collar was deeply stained by his sweat and the red African earth.

“Hmmm, we don’t have much luck removing spray-on tan,” the owner clucked, shaking his head over the soiled collar.

“It’s not spray-on tan,” I assured him. “Just good old African dirt.”

“We don’t see much of that here,” he replied, peering at the rumpled garment with a little more enthusiasm. “Let’s see what we can do . . .”

Just as the African dirt clings to our clothing, the memories of Africa stick close to our hearts. I’ve written about the exotic tapestry of sights and sounds and smells we encountered on our brief visit. But I have yet to tell you the unforgettable stories we heard.

They were tragic tales for the most part. Children orphaned by AIDs or war. Boys and girls abducted from their peaceful villages and forced into a demonic army led by an insane commander. Young adults who survived their captivity by numbing their hearts and minds and becoming ruthless killers themselves.

I don’t have the time–or the heart–to tell you all the stories. But here are a few that haunt me. One little girl, who now lives at the Uganda Jesus Village in Kampala, was abducted along with her family by the LRA (the Lord’s Resistance Army, led by Joseph Kony). At age five, she was forced to watch as the rebels–some not much older than she was–chopped her mother into pieces with machetes. Her captors made her gather up the severed body parts and pile them in a wheelbarrow. She was then ordered to bury her mother’s bloody remains in the jungle.

You can only wonder what she dreams about at night . . .

And then there’s Jennifer. Jennifer (who oversees the UJV with her husband, Cameron) lost both her parents to the rebels and was kidnapped herself when she was nine. She quickly learned that to survive, she had to be more arrogant and ruthless than the other kids. That little nine-year-old girl, who’d grown up in a loving and educated family, soon figured out that she had to kill or be killed.

After enduring the horrors of the rebel camp for a year, Jennifer and about 20 other girls tried to escape. That tale in itself is harrowing; at one point the girls (now only a handful) were recaptured by a neighboring band of LRA soldiers. They radioed the camp the girls had escaped from and were told to keep the children alive and return them. They would be used as an “object lesson” to encourage the other children in the camp not to try and escape.

Because she’d witnessed it before, Jennifer knew exactly what that gruesome lesson entailed. Each runaway would be slowly hacked into pieces with an axe–starting with their hands and feet and ending with decapitation. Unable to sleep that night, Jennifer–with bound hands and feet–slowly inched her way into the dense jungle and was followed by the other captives. They struggled silently through the thorny underbrush, painfully crawling on their knees and elbows for many hours. Then Jennifer cut her ropes using sharp rocks and set the other girls free as well.

They had several more brushes with LRA and death before they reached safety and eventually returned to what was left of their villages. She was raised by relatives and World Vision played a major role in her restoration and education.

Fifteen years later, Jennifer is finally able to talk about her hellish experience in the rebel’s camp.

She told me that sharing her story with the UJV kids has been a big part of her healing process–and I know Jennifer plays a huge role in their redemption. She understands the despair of their past but offers them hope for the future.

“You have to have hope,” she often told me.

I wish you could meet Jennifer. She is beautiful and funny and filled with the love of Christ. There’s not a trace of bitterness in her; she forgave her tormentors a long time ago. She’s a walking example of someone who has allowed the joy of the Lord to be her strength.

To know more about UJV, visit their website.

And yes, those are pictures of Candyce and her team on the home page 🙂

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I am almost finished reading a book that I cannot recommend. Seriously, I am still having nightmares from the horrific violence. “A Long Way Gone,” by Ishmael Beah, is the first-hand account of a young boy’s experience as a child soldier.

I admit I skipped over the more graphic parts of the book, where Ishmael describes the brutality he witnessed and experienced in unflinching detail. But I felt compelled to read his story that I might better understand the children my daughter Candyce works with–and loves–in Africa.

It was hard to wrap my cultured, american mind around the raw acts of savagery described. My stomach churched, I wept aloud, I sighed with relief when Ishmael finally found sanctuary. I was very glad to read of his redemption.

But I felt like I’d eaten some forbidden fruit and my eyes were now wide open to the terrible plight of these children. And that knowledge overwhelmed me–what could I do that could possibly make a difference in their lives?

Interestingly, I heard that same question asked yesterday as I sat around the table with six amazing missionaries, fresh from their outreach in Africa. And these weren’t just any missionaries–these young men and women just spent 10 weeks serving with my daughter! They came to Portland to share their pictures, stories and love of Candyce with us–what a blessed time it was!

One of the young men talked about ministering in a prison to former child soldiers. Zak admitted that he felt overwhelmed. That he had nothing to offer. That the childrens’ wounds were too deep for him to heal. But then he realized that, even though he had nothing to give, he brought Jesus to these children. And in Jesus, they had access to everything they really needed.

So Zak and the others freely gave those children the love and hope of Christ. And the process of redemption began in many of those broken, young hearts.

I went to church this morning, still thinking about the team’s stories and wondering if I could ever be a part of this redemptive tale. During worship, I began to weep over the children I’d just heard about. The words of the worship song we were singing became my prayer, my tears watering the seeds of hope and love that had been so recently planted:

“You have redeemed my soul from the pit of emptiness,
You have redeemed my soul from death”

Prayer might be my only role in these children’s lives–but it might also just be the first step. My eyes have been opened and my heart has been changed, forever.

That’s why I can’t recommend that you read such a dangerous book . . .

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