It started off as small talk but I had not been ready for what he was about to tell us. This guy in front of me had been a soldier in the Yugoslav War Three times he had looked death into the face. Twice his whole group had died, him being the only one to survive. These experiences lead this guy to start thinking about why he was alive and finally led him to a decision to follow Christ. It was an amazing story, and I am sorry I never got this guy’s contact details. I do not even remember his name.
His story really touched me. He seemed so happy enjoying his holidays, talking about his girl friend and the activities of his church. He was only 19 years old and had seen so much death already. I was 16 at that time and it was the first time I had met someone who had survived a war. There where more to come, but this guy’s story never quite left me.
About 5 years later I was in Sierra Leone, the poorest country on this earth. The country that has gone through a civil war of 12 amazingly long years. The country that is infamous of its many child soldiers having to fight on the rebels or government side.
I have been struggling then with the topic how to react and till today I still am. But I believe one of the ways is to inform ourselves. Honestly I hate it! I hate to read about what happened. It hurts me. And I feel horrible for this. I want to be open for other peoples hurts. But I hurt myself. It´s a dilemma I want to keep up. Because I believe it is my responsibility to be willing to love. That’s what we have been told to do.
Recently I started to read the book of one of Sierra Leone’s ex-child soldiers, Ishmael Beah (“A long way down. Memoirs of a Boy soldier.”) Ishmael is the same age as my friend in Croatia but he has seen even more horrible things and at an much earlier age.
These experiences did what a bringing up in a Mennonite home never quite did: making me a pacifist. Ishmael starts his report with the following sentences:
My high school friends have begun to suspect I haven’t told them the full story of my life.
“Why did you leave Sierra Leone?”
“Because there is a war.”
“Did you witness some of the fighting?”
“Everyone in the country did.”
“You mean you saw people running around with guns and shooting each other?”
“Yes, all the time.”
I smile a little.
“You should tell us about it sometime.”
I would love to give each kid (or grown-up for that matter) that thinks war and fighting is cool to read a book like that.