The “invisible children” performed a praise song for us on the day we visited their makeshift home. We had pulled in to this cluster of refugee huts at Uganda’s border with Sudan for an afternoon of worship together, while the National Geographic photographer accompanying us conducted a string of back-to-back interviews of some of the children in the settlement, most of them Sudanese refugees.
I remember now, almost ten years later, that very few of the children wore smiles. The smiles were themselves a miracle. Because with nightfall, most of these boys and girls would go into hiding in the bush, bearing the lesser evil of venomous snakes and other nighttime predators in order to elude a far greater threat: a shadowy group of men led by Joseph Kony known as the “Lord’s Resistance Army,” or LRA, who under the cover of night would raid and loot the villages, forcibly conscripting the boys as child soldiers and the girls as sex slaves, and in one fell swoop, robbing these children of their families and future.
I remember thinking as the day wore on that we, this team of five Westerners, were royalty precisely because we could leave this place. Those who stayed behind when our old, rickety pick-up truck pulled away- I remember never being more nervous about whether a vehicle would start than in that moment- were tied there. They really had no where else to go, thanks to a war back home in south Sudan and a second-class identity as refugees in a neighboring country.
That was nearly ten years ago.
Nowadays, when my five-year-old child has a bad dream in the middle of the night and asks to snuggle with mommy and daddy in bed, I also wonder about the parents of those children and the hell they have to endure. I try to wrap my mind around the fact that the things that keep these children awake at night are real. That their worst nightmares are grounded in reality, and that the very best comfort a mother might give- to hold her child in her arms- she must often forsake in order to protect her child from these real-life monsters. I try to imagine what it feels like to send your child into the bush each night knowing full well that the next morning you might never see them again.
That is when I think of the woman in the settlement who told me that she had simply stopped sleeping. When she tried to go to sleep now, she couldn’t. I wonder where she is today. Or if she is. All I could do that day was pray for her. Desperate words catapulted from the abyss.
Which is why I am thankful that these children who have played years of a lethal game of hide-and-seek, often hidden from the world’s view, are now finally emerging from the dark. Maybe now for the first time in a long while they have names and stories and are no longer invisible. And maybe one day this side of paradise God’s justice will really roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream, for them and their families (Amos 5:24). I pray so, in Jesus’ name. Amen.
The following video, produced by “KONY 2012,” the campaign to capture Joseph Kony and bring him to justice, tells the story better than I can. It is well worth your time: