Imagine celebrating Christmas in an African church. I spent a year in Malawi, Africa, and I learned first hand how special worshiping with African brothers and sister can be. Their music is rhythmic. The preaching is passionate. Their love for Jesus is contagious. Their week-to-week services are amazing, so just imagine how wonderful it would be to join them on Christmas day.
Imagine you got to sit in on a Christmas worship service in a small church in Faradje, Congo. It’s a small village on the northeast side of the country near the Ugandan border. In the church are 50-70 worshipers. They raise their hands and sway side-to-side. They spin around. They twirl their arms all the while giving praise to Jesus for becoming man. They celebrate the goodness of God in the incarnation. They delight in God’s love for his children, and his plan to change the world. You notice the contrast between this service and those you are used to back home. In this church building there are no speakers, microphones, fancy instruments, projectors, or video clips. There is just love, joy, and peace. It fills the building, and it’s contagious. You find yourself caught up in the wonder of God coming to earth, and you feel like you’re experiencing it afresh right here in this worship service.
The service ends, and every one streams out of the church making their way over to the only restaurant in town where a huge Christmas day feast is planned. It’s a beautiful image. Everyone in their best attire filled with joy after a richly satisfying worship service heading over to enjoy a community feast. I can’t imagine a better place to celebrate Christmas.
Then in an instant that all changes. Out of the corner of your eye, you see a group of rage-filled men and boys emerge from the bush, and someone screams. They are carrying machetes and guns. Over the next few hours these men rape, burn, mutaliate, and desecrate every aspect of this village. They attempt to twist the heads off toddlers. The bind children in ropes–their form of army enlistment. The tie up young girls and women for sexual gratification later. They hack of lips and limbs. They kill randomly. Then, they devour the community feast, and take a nap. Corpses still lie bleeding on the ground, but they callously lay themselves down next to them for a rest. They steal away everything that was so beautiful on this Christmas day in Congo. This is the Lords Resistance Army at its worst.
What a tragedy. What a nightmare. When I read this article in the New York Times detailing the event, I couldn’t even finish it without being overcome with sadness. This event is the embodiment of pure evil, and it exposes the shocking capacity for human depravity. The LRA doesn’t recruit volunteers, it steals them. None of these perpetrators joined this cause willingly. Their lives were stolen from them, and now they perpetuate the cycle of violence by stealing more boys and inflicting more pain in the world. They too were once boys worshipping in a church on Christmas day until evil overtook them. They were once content to play soccer in a dirt field and help out at home. They were once kind and gentle to sisters, mothers and classmates. But now, they have lost their lives to the evil of the LRA.
God have mercy on them, these soldiers who have had their lives hijacked and now live in confusion, fear, and hate. Have mercy on all those living in villages that suffer at the hands of these men. God have mercy on us for our complacency towards such horrific evil. Stir our hearts and lead us to action.