I drove into the mountains of Tennessee last night listening to stories of sin, suffering, grace and forgiveness. That's what was playing on the country music stations, of course, but that was also what was playing for part of the time on the BBC World Service. Although you will not find this comforting, click on this link and look into the face of Lawill Concy. It helps to focus on her eyes.
Trust me, getting used to the visible scars left by the Lords Resistance Army will help you get ready to hear her story -- if you can take it. What you are seeing was done by a child with a machete.
You see, this is that the Lords Resistance Army does. It's leaders are demented and, in their own way, brilliant. They assume that if they kidnap children and then initiate them by having them kill their parents and friends, these new militiamen will literally do anything. If you can force parents to kill their children and children to kill their parents, anything is possible.
But that is not how Concy's story ends. You see, her husband did not abandon her. Her family survived. And over time, she prayed for the ability to forgive.
You must listen to reporter Mike Thomson gently lead her through the brutal contents of this interview and then allow her to add the final, unbelievable grace notes. Here is a sample in text:
Lawill Concy says there is little she can do about the physical scars of her ordeal. But, she has largely recovered from the mental ones that left her unable to leave the walls of her family home for several years.
... (H)ow would Lawill react, I asked, if she ever saw the boy who scarred her for life on that terrible day?
"Now I'm ready to forgive him and the others. But if I'd come across any of them before, I'd have killed them for what they did to me. But now I have put myself in the hands of God.
"The Bible says we should forgive one another. So, I'm ready to forgive them all."
The International Criminal Court has, however, made clear that it will not forgive the LRA's leader, Joseph Kony, and his four top commanders. All stand accused of killing and maiming thousands of people across four countries, as well as abducting 60,000 children in Uganda alone.
You can read the summary report, but it is better to listen to the stories.
When I reached my hotel room, I searched for the radio report and other information on the LRA. I was struck by the fact that BBC can pretty much assume that its listeners know quite a bit about the Lords Resistance Army. There is no way you could assume that with a North American audience, right?
My fear is that listeners, given the Uganda context of this story, would assume that we are talking about a radical branch of Islam. That is not the case and this must be stressed. The LRA is its own creation, literally spun out of the minds of its leaders -- especially Kony. Click here for a summary of its bloody history. A sample:
Joseph Kony was born in 1961 in the village of Odek among the Acholi people of northern Uganda. He inherited power through his aunt because she was the tribe's mystic who started the Holy Spirit Movement, which sought to unseat the Kampala government. This movement was started by his aunt, Alice Auma, and required that the Acholi people retake the capital city Kampala. It was believed that doing so would redeem the Acholi from the violence they had collectively done to the civilians of the Luwero triangle and initiate a paradise on earth.
Even though this movement failed, Kony used a similar spiritual base. He believed that he was a prophet sent from God to purify the people of Uganda and to create a bastion of peace.
As with most totalitarians with a divine spark and absolute authority, this is not how things turned out.
The LRA abducted large numbers of civilians for training as guerrillas. Most victims were children and young adults. The LRA abducted young girls as sex and labor slaves. Other children, mainly girls, were reported to have been sold, traded, or given as gifts by the LRA to arms dealers in Sudan. While some later escaped or were rescued, the whereabouts of many children remain unknown.
While searching for more information on the LRA last night, I came across this collection of reports by the New York Times.
In particular, reporters and editors who read this blog might want to save the following link, which takes you to an in-depth report on Kony, his beliefs and the bizarre practices that surround him. There are scans of an actual memo recovered that outlines this movement's key doctrines.
Are these horrors rooted in traces of Christianity and waves of animism and tribal hatreds? Has the LRA taken advantage of the tensions between Islam and Christianity -- two expanding, missionary religions -- in the region?
Or is this simple and literal madness?
I assume that it would be impossible for a mainstream reporter to cover this story without facing that question.
It is difficult to overstate Mr. Kony's exaggerated style of public weirdness and calculated ferocity. The offshoot of a failed rebel movement led by Alice Lakwena, who said she was possessed by a troupe of spirits who urged her to war, Mr. Kony has presented himself over the years as the channel through which these lingering voices communicate from the beyond. ...
How exactly did these possessions manifest themselves? The document the source brought to the interview sketched the dozen or more different spirits that were parts of Mr. Kony's performances. Some of the descriptions of these spirits' visits are extraordinary. His ghosts had many names: Juma Oris, Who Are You, Malia Mackay, the list runs on.
We'll leave it to you to decide whether Mr. Kony truly believes he was possessed, or simply acted out each character for his own purposes.
I hope that, after listening to the BBC report, you are left with the sound of Lawill Concy's voice in you mind, not the images of Kony and his demonic deeds.