As an adult, I sometimes find myself envious of my kids...I have two little boys, both still in the “baby” stage (although Cruz already seems to think of himself as grown), and man, do they have it made. In general, children have no agenda, no serious responsibilities, no life-altering decisions hanging over their heads, no pressure to provide for their families - they are expected to eat, play, laugh, sleep, cry when they need something, and poop. No wonder they appear to be filled with so much joy all the time! I have had many incredible experiences with the Lord since I became a Christian, but I have never felt as close to God or understand His love as much as I do now that I am a parent; when my kids were born I finally began to comprehend the love our Father has for us. And most children LOVE life - as I stated earlier, they are filled with joy. One does not have to do much to amuse or please a child, they become enamored with the smallest things and are in love with simply being alive. It makes you wonder when we lose our sense of childlike exuberance...when do we forget to be excited just to wake up in the morning or jump in a puddle? Jesus said in Matthew 18 we are all to acquire a childlike faith, to humble ourselves as children before the Lord; “ 2 He called a little child to him, and placed the child among them. 3 And he said: “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. 4 Therefore, whoever takes the lowly position of this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” Matthew 18:2-4. For many children it is easy to maintain the innocence, passion, and humbleness Jesus talked about...but not all.
In cities across Africa and other areas of the world, some children cannot remember a time when their days were not filled with worry, sadness, pain, anger, regret, confusion, hunger, bitterness, and violence. They do not remember running in the rain or feeling their mother’s hug or playing with friends. They do remember the hurting, the threats, the long days and nights, the uncertainty of tomorrow. They are child soldiers.
As early as nine years old, children in many countries are ripped from their homes and forced to fight through various tactics (brainwashing, drugs, etc.) for a cause and people which are not their own. Several decades ago, children were discovered as an invaluable commodity during war efforts, and thousands of children have been used in such ways in the years since. Leaders within the armies who engage in child abduction and the formation of child soldiers, choose to enlist children in their numbers for some of the same reasons I discussed at the beginning of this article - children are innocent, infinitely trusting, easily teachable, and very naive. In many cases children can also “go undercover” and gain access to places that adult soldiers cannot...often slipping into dormitories at schools and abducting other kids. Sadly, because they are so easily abducted and manipulated they are also seen as very expendable.
We can hardly comprehend the terrible things these children go through after they are abducted, but what about after they come out of their enslavement? Many former child soldiers have no home to which they can return, no family
or friends to help them deal with their horrible experience and get their life started again. The children are forced back into society with virtually no assistance or counseling or job training; and the people of the community in which the child soldiers live (understandably) do not know how to handle what has happened, so they usually ignore the children completely. Different organizations and programs have started to pop up in these countries in order to help both the former soldiers and the communities learn to adapt better and help one another. The programs offer counseling (most former soldiers suffer from post traumatic stress disorder), job training, basic hygiene skills, etc.
Several years ago my husband and I felt God calling us to help with the rehabilitation of child soldiers and their communities. God has given the world such a gift through children, through the creation of a new human being, and our hearts are burdened with the knowledge of the suffering these particular children endure. Their innocence and exuberance has been stripped away in many cases, and they have lost their youthful energetic approach to life. It is our prayer to live among former child soldiers and join in the healing process in any way God desires. And you can help too - feel free to call us or email us at any time to learn how you can help support our efforts on the mission field in Central African Republic, or for more information regarding child soldiers, our particular calling, etc.
Adam and Cori Willard
For more information about child soldiers, feel free to check out some of these resources:
Innocents Lost: When Child Soldiers Go to War by Jimmie Briggs
God Grew Tired of Us: A Memoir by Michael S. Sweeney
A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier by Ishmael Beah
Girl Soldier: A Story of Hope for Northern Uganda’s Children by Faith J.H. McDonnell and Grace Akallo