It’s normal when I travel for our seven year old daughter, Iona, to give me a little something for my suitcase. For this trip, she offered a larger fluffy dolphin and a slightly smaller doll.
“Those are great, sweetie,” I said, “but these ones might be a little too big for me to carry. Maybe you can send something a little smaller?”
She thought about it, and about 15 minutes later came back and said, “There’s something for you on your nightstand.”
And there was. It was something in a plastic pink book cover, and on it was a sticky note that read in a child’s script, “here is something that will keep you safe.” I unzipped it, and inside was her little Bible.
On Monday morning we left Juba and flew in a small missionary plane (used by Africa Inland Mission) to the South Sudanese state of Western Equatoria and the town of Yambio, met the Anglican Bishop and evaluated one of ARDF’s projects there. So near to the eastern part of Democratic Republic of Congo, we heard stories of the violence and chaos inflicted by the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) and Joseph Kony. From there we drove to Nzara to meet Bishop Samuel Peni, and see his remarkable work in the diocese of Nzara.
Joseph Kony had been there too. Three years ago, just one week after he became a bishop, the LRA attacked a village just down the road, and killed 8 people. Instead of running to hide, Bishop Samuel went immediately to the village, at great risk, to help, and offer comfort for the families.
For many years, Joseph Kony has inspired a lot of running and hiding. Kony and the LRA has been terrorizing this region and Uganda, Congo, Central Africa Republic, and South Sudan for more than twenty years, in ways so horrific it defies the imagination. He and his army of hundreds of soldiers, including child soldiers, have lived and traveled in these equatorial jungles, literally never coming into sight except to rape and kill and steal. Their forms of violence are unthinkable, until you hear what they’ve done.
I remember about five years ago when one of my friends who was senior in the White House at the time encouraged then President George W. Bush to issue an executive order to kill Joseph Kony and go against the decades old US policy of not assassinating foreign leaders, and how Bush completely understood and agreed that Kony needed to be stopped, was tempted, but could not. He chose other ways to help.
Then about one year ago, President Barack Obama announced that he would send 100 US troops to this region to assist African led efforts in the capture or killing of Joseph Kony and the dissolution of LRA. So many of us were grateful that the US would be involved in this way in ending this evil.
Those troops from the US Army arrived here in the region, and are scattered about it in small teams in a vast area. Trying to find Kony is like trying to find a black mamba in miles of thick jungle at midnight.
And some of these troops are stationed just down the road from Bishop Samuel’s residence in Nzara. He called their commander to see if he would join us for dinner, which Mark* easily agreed to and brought with him another soldier.
Sitting for dinner I told Mark how relieved I was when I heard President Obama’s announcement, and I was one of millions who felt the same way and were grateful for their presence here doing such important work: Literally being the hand of God against the personification of Evil as an agent of Justice. God always uses people to be his hands, and in a very broken world, sometimes those hands have to hold guns.
We went on talking about a range of things, hearing about their work, sharing about ours, talking about the good work of the church in this region, and faith. I asked if Mark if he was a person of faith, and he said, “Oh yes, and being out here has only made my faith more important.”
I reinforced how privileged we were to meet them and be able to say “Thank you and God bless you” in person. Mark thanked me, and said he was glad to be here. “It’s the right thing to do.” Yes, it is. He went on to talk about his wife and two young sons back home in the States, and said she had the harder job. Thinking of Tara back home with Liam, Iona, Karis, and Maira, I could easily agree.
Part of the purpose of our being here is to explore with the American Bible Society (ABS) how they can implement more trauma healing programs in this profoundly traumatized region. What the people here have been through for so long defies a Western imagination.
Bagudekia Alobyo with ABS is with us and has helped organize our trip, and he was able to procure some Bibles in English for each of these soldiers. He asked Mark if he would like them, to which came the reply, “I’d never say no to a Bible”, and Bagu presented them as our gift with God’s blessings.
And this gave me the opportunity to share Iona’s story, her gift to me, of a Bible–“here is something that will keep you safe”. Mark took the Bibles in that spirit. He’d read Jesus’ words, “Do not fear the one who can kill the body, fear the one who can kill the soul.” The room full of bishops, a couple of soldiers, the South Sudanese, and a couple of Americans applauded Iona’s insights.
For my part, I was so grateful to be able to have even the smallest part in the hunt for Joseph Kony, and the pursuit of justice that will mean the protection for hundreds of thousands, to simply be a small encouragement for those who job it is to do the hunting.
*not his real name