I wanted to put some thought and organized writing into this post, but for now I'm just going to get it out.
This weekend at Imago, an African man called Saah Joseph came and told us a little bit about how our church and others had helped him in his pursuits over the past year. He told us a ton of churches have sent folks over to talk about how they were going to supply wells and promising him the moon, only to disappear. I cannot fathom how a church could do that to people in such dire straits. Christians should be outraged at that, maybe hunt down the offenders and slap them with fish. I recommend either electric eels or spiny blowfish. But that's not what impressed me about Saah's story: check out a few of his accomplishments.
Saah played on the Liberian national soccer team before the chaos in Sierra Leone in the late nineties. Since the struggles he has planted 17 churches, 12 schools and a technical program for women whose only choice before his doors opened was prostitution. His programs sound practical and effective: for $500 sponsorship the street women are taught to read, given a meal a day and basic medical care, given a sewing machine, given prenatal care should they need it, and upon graduation receive $100 toward starting a business. This is a man whose father was killed and mother shot, who was forced to escape on foot, walking more than 400 miles through the bush to a refugee camp. He is 32 years old.
He is 32. 32!
He was joined on our church stage by Benjamin Nkusi, a man who survived the genocide in Rwanda. This guy spoke so matter-of-factly with the lilting accent of Africa that you could easily have missed the facts of his story. He hid in a home with his wife when the rebels came, and hearing them fire on the room where she lay he assumed she was killed. Fortunately, she was unharmed. They were then stranded behind enemy lines without food, and he was forced to go out in search of some. He said this like I would mention a trip to Target. In fact, he had to leave their hiding place on foot, was picked up by somebody with a truck and unfortunately didn't escape the notice of the rebels. They pulled him from the truck and tied him in the back room of a bar. He said a man drinking in the bar was a "specialist in the killing of people", in just the tone you or I might mention that somebody's very good at Trivial Pursuit. Happily for Benjamin, a priest happened by while he waited for his executioner and asked permission to speak with the prisoner, then chided the rebels for having innocent blood on their hands. And they let him go. I imagine that saying this is an exceedingly rare outcome is an understatement.
After the genocide, Benjamin started a ministry of reconciliation (ALARM) and has seen executioners turn themselves over to the mercy of families of those they killed. As he said, "it was very difficult for those families, but they were able to show mercy and forgiveness."
There are so many unimaginables in these stories that I can hardly believe I sat in the same room with these people. I've seen Hotel Rwanda, I had Japanese friends who were in Sierra Leone as all hell broke loose. Reconciliation, grace, mercy, hope: these words act weighty, but what do they really have to do with my own world?
The grief and terror these people have experienced is so indescribable: hopefully it doesn't also become forgettable in the clutter of my daily life.
ps. If you'd like a good place to start with support, try Living Water International. It's our church's Lent project.