It has been almost a year since I watched the film “Invisible Children” and became aware of an unspeakable offense against children, notably the children of Africa. An article today on CNN.com is a stark reminder of the troubling images buried in my consciousness. There are more than 250,000 child soldiers in the world today. This vile form of human exploitation is rampant in countries such as Sierra Leone, Liberia, Uganda, the Democractic Republic of Congo, Colombia, Somalia, Sudan, Myanmar and the Ivory Coast. Most of these children are abducted from their families, and many of them, as a part of their initiation, are forced to either kill family members and close friends or watch others kill them. One young girl, Angela, 12, told of being forced to kill a friend when she joined the Colombia’s FARC guerillas. “I closed my eyes and fired the gun, but I didn’t hit her. So I shot again. I had to bury her and put dirt on top of her. The commander said, ‘You’ll have to do this many more times, and you’ll have to learn not to cry.'” Another boy in Myanmar, 11, Kim Muang Thang, watched as soldiers gunned down mothers and then their babies. “They swung them by their legs and smashed them against a rock. I saw it.”

And while global awareness of this horrific tragedy is rising, the widespread future implications of this practice is unfathomable. Even if global pressure leads to international accountability and the prosecution of war crimes for rebel leaders, and even if these child soldiers are released, what will be done to help rehabilitate these impressionable children who are being shaped into natural born killers? In many cases where child soldiers are liberated, peacekeepers de-weaponize the children (take their guns) and simply send them back to their villages. But how does an 8-15 year old who is used to taking what they want by force with little regard for human life transition normally into the ebb and flow of village life where cooperation and value on human dignity are prized core values? How does a child who has been traumatized by inconceivable acts of violence against others, and likely themselves, assimilate back into a culture of trust?

There is a great need in these countries for Christians who are called to love and care for orphans and widow. There is an overwhelming need for healing that can come only from the gospel. These victimized children who forcibly transitioned from victim to victimizer need the liberating hope of Jesus to set them free, not only from their physical bondage to these rebel leaders, but to a greater degree, they need freedom from the physical and emotional trauma of this evil being forced upon them. I’m not sure how the Church needs to intervene, but to do nothing is to concede this generation to the god of this world. And there is no doubt that without the inner transformation of the gospel, no amount of secular rehabilitation will matter, and these children will likely become a migrant form of professional killers, simply because their life-context has taught them this is the only way to survive. And that will have an even more profound cultural impact on Africa and other countries where child soldiers are being employed than we can imagine.

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