Posted by: 15shekels | February 1, 2010

Let the lost be welcomed home

“Let now the lost be welcomed home;
By the saved and redeemed,
Those adopted as your own”
-Savior King, Hillsongs United

Cruelty is dangerous when it wears a mask of goodness, and devastating when it wears a mask of holiness. The Ugandan militant rebel group called the Lord’s Resistance Army wears both. Its founder, Joseph Kony, calls himself a “spokesperson for God” and claims that his objective is to establish a state based on the Biblical 10 Commandments. In reality, the group has held the country in violent terror since its founding, committing widespread human rights abuses such as murder, rape, mutilation and abduction. An estimated 25,000 children have been kidnapped and forced to become child soldiers, sexual slaves or both. For initiation, newly abducted children are forced to kill their parents, siblings or neighbors. After such crimes, there is little chance that the kids will try to escape, as they assume society will never take them back, and could never forgive them.

Yet some are being proven wrong. The Christian humanitarian organization World Vision has set up “Children of War Centers” in Uganda, designed to receive and counsel former soldiers. When children are rescued from the LRA, they are almost always brought to these centers. I recently heard an eyewitness account from a friend who was visiting a World Vision center and watched the arrival of a truckload of newly rescued children. They were driven through the gate shivering in terror, against their wills, thinking they were about to be killed. They were afraid because Kony had told them that World Vision hated them, and would poison them if they set foot on the property.

Aware of this mindset, World Vision organized a celebration to welcome the truck, as they do for every new arrival. The children in residence, former LRA victims themselves, poured out singing and dancing to meet the shivering new arrivals. They ran up to the trucks to tell them that it was okay, that they were safe. Terror slowly slipped from the children’s faces as they realized that they were not, in fact, about to be killed. They were ashamed, grief-stricken, and heavily indoctrinated, yet a glimmer of hope rippled through the group as they were welcomed with open arms into a community of love and healing. A community in which they would learn the truth about a God who loved them as his precious children; a God who grieved every single act of violence they had endured; a God who offered forgiveness and healing to them, no matter how grievously they had sinned.

Kony has tragically twisted the core beliefs of Christianity beyond recognition, causing thousands of children to view God as a God of murder, rape and terror. They initially didn’t recognize love and truth when it enveloped them, so deeply entrenched were they in lies.

It is an old story. Since sin entered the world, lies have nipped at the heels of God’s truth. And yet we can fact check, can’t we?  If a man claimed today to be a follower of Gandhi, but was brutal and violent, a reading of Gandhi’s biography would expose the man as an impostor. Thankfully, we have Christ’s biography as well. We have many eyewitness records of his life, teachings, and death, and these are corroborated by non-Christian sources. We can turn to these records, found in the four gospels (the books of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John), to learn about the real Jesus—a man characterized by love, service, grace, humility and nonviolence, a man who proved himself to be the Son of God through his miracles and resurrection. And as God’s son, he has also given us an intimate portrait of his Father—a God who loves his people so deeply and painfully that he sent his beloved son to die for us. That is the God we worship. That is not the God Joseph Kony worships.

Kony is an obvious case of one who perverts the gospel of Christ. But there are many subtle cases as well. Parents who use the threat of an angry God as a disciplinary measure. Preachers in mainline American churches who preach a religion of judgment and fear.

Now, the atrocities in Uganda are beyond compare, and I do not mean to trivialize them by comparing that struggle to the spiritual struggles of otherwise comfortable Americans. Yet, blatant horror and darkness can illuminate subtler horror and darkness. And there is a more subtle kind of victim to spiritual lies. Those who haven’t heard Kony’s lies, but who have heard the whispered lies that run through our culture, even through our churches: God is a bully/God is exclusivist/God hates you if you are gay/God won’t forgive you if you’ve had an abortion/God helps those who help themselves, etc. etc…  We have a generation who have grown suspicious of or disillusioned by what they have learned about the God of Christianity. A generation of people who refuse to enter the gates of the kingdom because they fear they will be poisoned.

For the rescued child soldiers, it took an encounter with World Vision to learn the truth about the organization. But hope crept in when their friends and former co-prisoners came running out to meet them, singing and dancing, sharing the good news about the center, about the faith, about God. They told them about the love, healing, and new life that was available. And the hope they brought gave them the courage to step off the truck.

Thankfully, on the other side of the world we also have access to beacons of truth in what can seem like a confusing web of contradictions. We can go to the source—to the Biblical accounts of God’s history with his people, to the Biblical accounts of the life of Christ. We can also listen to those who have encountered him as they run up to the truck and tell us that it’s okay, that we’re safe here, that this is home.

“Then Jesus told them this parable: ‘Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Does he not leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.”” Luke 15:3-6

Don’t let the deceivers win. Go to the source and discover the real Jesus. Dare to look through the gate, for you’ll see that there is great singing and dancing in the courtyard of the kingdom.


  1. For an in-depth look at Kony and the LRA, see the book, First Kill Your Family: Child Soldiers of Uganda and the Lord’s Resistance Army.

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