The following is a hypothetical and very realistic scenario depicting the atrocities of the LRA in central Africa.
It was night when it happened. They burst into his home. Pots and pans flew across the kitchen. The voices were loud and fearful. They grabbed him. And as fast as they came, they left – only leaving behind the ruins of their sac on the village, and the blood they spilled for sport.
Earlier that day, he would’ve never expected what was to come. It was a beautiful, sunny day. He spent most of it kicking around a soccer ball with friends in the fields just out his back door. It had been a good day. It was the night that brought the evil.
In the Democratic Republic of Congo, there’s a long road. Even on a clear day, standing in its center, you haven’t a chance of seeing where it ends. For 105 kilometers it stretches, passing by village after village along the way. And even though the villages are connected by this road, the distance between them is too far for any consistent communication. In a place where messages are strictly delivered on foot, distance presents an insurmountable obstacle for the sharing of information.
It’s tough to say how many villages came before his. But it wasn’t the first, and it wasn’t the last.
There was no way of knowing the LRA was coming. And even though they weren’t anywhere near stealth in their attacks, there was no warning of their approach. What was easily preventable in most other parts of the world was inevitable here. There was no way of knowing what was coming – so there was no way of stopping it.
Across the globe, an alarm rang. It was early in San Diego. A hand reached out from under the covers and stumbled across the nightstand until it found what it was looking for. She rose and walked into the kitchen to make herself a cup of something hot and caffeinated. A sip and a deep breath. She was ready.
The office bustled with a nervous energy. Panicked faces and rigid bodies – the stress was palpable. This was Invisible Children headquarters. And there was bad news.
A man stood in front of the panicked group. “Early this morning, we received news of LRA activity. Over the course of the last 4 days, they raided villages in the Democratic Republic of Congo on a road over a 105 km stretch. 320 people were killed. They’re calling it the Makombo Massacre.”
The team was silent, processing what they had just heard.
The questions began.
“It was along just one road?”
“Why couldn’t they be stopped after the first village?”
“There is currently no means of communication between villages, so an early warning was near impossible.”
“Ok. Let’s get to work.”
Over the past few months, the team had begun to recognize the importance of communication and sharing of information in their work to bring an end to the LRA atrocity taking central Africa by storm. So what had just been an idea, now became priority: they were going to build Kony’s worst nightmare.
They had come in the night. For those that remained, all there was to see was complete devastation. And for too many parents, their missing items tally included their children.
He was hours into a terrifying journey through the jungle that had no end in sight. Men with machine guns and machetes screamed into the faces of the young boys. Threats of harm. Threats on their life. They were trying hard to make sure all the boys knew – this was their reality. Disobey it, and only more evil would follow.
The newest members of the LRA looked around – surrounded by boys not much older than themselves, some younger. And though they had grown accustomed, there was a universal sense of fear in each of their eyes. There was no choice. Only this.
Over the following months, commanders in the army trained, tortured and maimed their new ‘recruits’. Each tactic was one to instill fear. Each day, they drove away hope.
At night, the boys would talk and bond as much as they were emotionally capable. Sometimes they’d even get to overhear the commanders listening to the radio. It was tantalizing to hear other voices; human voices. They usually didn’t have much of anything to say – it was simply the sounds that spilled out of the speakers that were desirable.
During the day, they would trek through the jungle. They would follow orders. They tried the best they could to hide the fear.
But at night, the radio had become their haven. It had never anything of substance, just a grasp towards a friendlier reality. That was, until one night.
A vaguely familiar voice began to speak. He was a former LRA combatant – one of the few that had escaped in hopes of returning home – he had. And his message was nothing short of life-changing: come home – you will be safe and free.
Just as he began explaining the details of his escape, the radio cut out.
The commander had recognized the message, and it wasn’t one that he could tolerate. But even in that 30 seconds, a hopeful seed was planted in the minds of his soldiers: maybe there is hope.
The ‘Come Home’ radio broadcasts had begun to show promise. A few soldiers had come home to their families and friends, classmates and colleagues. So Invisible Children took their successes and worked to multiply them. They had seen glimmers of hope. Now they dove even further. Soon, they would take over the eyes and ears of central Africa. They were going to use media to bring home the children that had been stolen away.
Within a matter of days, the team sat down with those that had returned. Escapees had heard the radio broadcasts. But as it turned out, the broadcasts weren’t the silver bullet they had hoped. Time after time, interview after interview, they heard the trying and heroic stories of those who had escaped.
It was one group of two that inspired Beacons of Hope. Having successfully escaped the LRA, the two struggled to navigate the jungle. Day after day, they wandered aimlessly to find a village to return to. At night, they’d take refuge in the bushes that covered the jungle floor. For all their searching, it was a year before they finally discovered.
For others, the radio proved to be both a success and a failure. The radio messaging worked – when they heard it. But the coverage was shaky. The message was often cut off. And there wasn’t always access to a radio.
These were the problems. And with a helicopter, a plane, speakers, fliers and powerful spotlights, they would be solved.
Coverage had been limited before. As they had wandered through the jungle in DRC, there had never been a meaningful signal from back home, until that day. Time went by, though, and it was easy to forget about the message he had overheard. What if it was a sham? How could he even know what to do or where to go? It was simpler to just let it go.
He marched through the jungle, looking down at his feet, sweat dripping from his pores. It was a whooshing sound in the distance that first lifted his head towards the skies. The trees around him slowly began to sway. Branches began to creek. Leaves began to fly.
The whooshing became louder with each passing second. A familiar voice rang out. The same voice he had heard days before shouted the same message: “Come home, and you will be safe and free!” The delectable surge of hope that had coursed through him before returned with an authority. His heart began beating faster. His soul lifted higher.
A plane flew overhead and released what looked like confetti over the soldiers. The colors were beautiful and the paper floated back and forth, gently towards the ground. There were hundreds, maybe thousands that filled up the sky above them. He was a child again, reaching out to catch the paper celebrations.
He took a glance and quickly shoved it in his pocket. He had some reading material for the night.
Their long march continued, and his imagination ran wild. He thought again of his family, of his village. What it would be like to be free again; to be human again. That night, he shielded what light he could and immersed himself in the story of another. This boy had escaped, and sent this message back, inviting more to join. The flier assured them: it was safe. It was free. On the back were detailed instructions: how to escape, where to go, how to surrender and be welcomed back into the community they had once known.
It would be that night. He gathered what little he had and slipped away into the night that had once stolen him away. He walked quietly and swiftly through the darkness, only in search of light. Thorns scratched him. Branches bruised. He didn’t care. He was going home.
Fatigue set in. He endured. He dripped sweat, but his head looked forward and up to the skies. There was hope again.
As if from nowhere, it appeared. A flicker slowly became a beam with each closing step. Before him was a giant beam of light, shot into the dark night sky.
Dropping his belonging, he set out running towards the light. He could feel the hope. He could taste the freedom.
He streaked through the village, reaching the door he had been instructed to find. He took a deep breath and slowly pushed it open.
A woman looked up at him and smiled. “Welcome home.”