“Mom, I joined a club.”
I look up to see my teenage son holding a black can and wearing a t-shirt with a picture of a gun on the front. Oh wonderful.
As impassioned words tumble from his mouth—Invisible children, Uganda, night commuters, child soldiers—I notice that the barrel of the revolver is not a gun, but rather a video camera. And on the black can is a picture of an African girl, with the words Change for the better.
“And Mom, you have to watch this DVD with me—it’ll break your heart.”
Relief washes over me as I realize that my son has not joined some evil gang, but has become involved in a project that has something to do with children in Uganda, and putting our spare change in a can.
For the next thirty-six minutes, I sit mesmerized, watching unspeakable horrors taking place over 9,000 miles away, in a country no bigger than the state of Oregon.
For two decades, the Republic of Uganda has been paralyzed by the barbaric atrocities committed by Joseph Kony, the guerrilla leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army—LRA. The self-proclaimed messiah of the Acholi tribe in Northern Uganda turned on his own people when they lost confidence in him as their leader. In his tyrannical reign, Kony has kidnapped more than 30,000 Ugandan children, ages 5-12, and massacred thousands of the Acholi people.
I sit frozen as I listen to Jacob’s story—abducted by the LRA when he was eleven years old. His brother tried to escape, but the rebel army caught him and killed him with a panga—machete. Jacob does not shed a tear as he tells of watching the rebels cut his brother’s neck. “I tried to cry, but they say when I cry they are going to kill me.”
Every night, thousands and thousands of children, some as young as five years old, leave their rural villages and walk up to ten miles to major urban centers, seeking refuge in abandoned buildings, hospital basements, bus stops…even alleyways. Their families send the children away to protect them from the LRA, who ambush remote villages in the night, stealing the children. If caught, the young boys are trained to be soldiers…the girls are turned into sex slaves for the rebel army.
The images I witness on the DVD are unbelievable. These children, known as “night commuters,” sleep on concrete floors or mats they carry with them. They also carry their own blanket and many go without. Thousands of night commuters fill the bare rooms…literally packed in and lying together like sardines. The pictures on the screen are too horrendous to stomach. I want to hit the fast forward button, but know I must continue to watch.
Having survived another night, at daybreak the children walk back to their villages to help with chores. Some even get to go to school…until dusk begins to fall and the “commute” commences once again.
Those who are abducted are known as the “invisible children.” Invisible because there are no official records of their numbers or ages. Invisible because their own army, the Lord’s Resistance Army, denies their existence. Invisible because the government of Uganda has ignored them. Invisible because they are simply gone.
As the documentary draws to a close, Jacob and another teenage boy are shown again on screen. When asked if he would rather live or die, Jacob’s answer comes quickly. Even though he has escaped from the rebel army, he would rather die. “How are we going to stay in our future? We are only two, no one taking care of us.” And then he sobs…and sobs…and sobs.
The credits roll, and I don’t move. The plea for help comes, and I don’t move. The screen goes black, and I still don’t move.
My God, my God, why have you forsaken these innocent children?!
Silence. God doesn’t provide me with an answer.
I know there is evil in this world. I know that the prince of darkness rules the earth for a time. I know God is victorious in the end. But…
My God, my God, why have you forsaken them?
Invisible Children, Inc. is a non-profit organization founded by three young men from Southern California. They went to Africa to film a story—they came back determined to make a difference in the world. Please visit www.invisiblechildren.com to hear and see more of the story of the night commuters and child soldiers of Uganda.
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