As a kid growing up in small town, North Louisiana, I would not have guessed where life would eventually lead. How thankful I am for a high school friend who said, “Want to join me Wednesday night?”
These days, some of my most salient and rewarding memories are taking place in the conflict zones of DR Congo and post-conflict northern Uganda. It is there that I have the great privilege of serving as Director of Operations for Exile International – a ministry that is transforming the lives of former child soldiers and children orphaned by war.
Though it is a true privilege to serve and a honor to be a part of their healing, it breaks my heart each time I hear these boys and girls share their experiences – circumstances I am comfortable calling “hell on earth.” Children, as young as 7, forced the become both victims and perpetrators of violence – murder, rape, torture and all forms of abuses. Most of these young boys and girls have been orphaned or are left unwanted by their remaining family members. If they are among those who escape, the realities are often bleak. Without proper care, most of these child victims become street children or return to rebel armies, knowing no other way to find food or acceptance.
Even in the face of such towering odds, through the redeeming power of Christ, we are seeing lives restored and hope return to their eyes. Through Exile International’s Christ-centered care programs (providing physical, emotional and spiritual care), youth like John and Alice (program grads in DR Congo) are becoming leaders – the very leaders their communities need to lead them towards reconciliation and peace. The very leaders God may well use to transform a region.
I am ever thankful for my time in Dallas and my time with the men of The Retreat and, later Normandy Church. Because of that community (and rascals like John Bower, Preston Todd, Justus Murimi and Joshua Flynt), Dallas will always feel like home. Rarely a day goes by that I do not miss being surrounded by that community. What an amazing time of growing together, pointing one another towards Christ and serving together. And how thankful I am to continue partnering together in ministry as Normandy Church (and many individuals from the community) partner with Exile International bring restoration and transformation to 1,200 child survivors of war – young men and women who have the potential lead their communities towards Christ and towards a new way of living!
Apart from Christ, I believe this vision and mission would be too audacious. Yet, with Christ, we are seeing this vision become reality.
Though I’m no longer at Normandy, the relationships remain strong. Several NCCers have traversed the globe with me to serve alongside Exile International in Uganda. Then, just 10 months ago, several of those mighty men stood at my side as I said, “I do” to the women of my dreams (cliché but true). How many other women could there be who share a passion for Christ, a passion for serving child survivors, and could me make laugh out loud daily?
This super woman and psychologist, Bethany Haley Williams, founded Exile International in 2008 in response to the need for and the lack of care programs serving child survivors of war in DR Congo. 7 years later, it is our honor of lead the organization together and witness children of war become new creations in Christ (2 Cor. 5:12).
I strongly encourage you to pick up Bethany’s book, The Color of Grace. In the book, she vulnerably shares her own journey into darkness and the redemption she found in Christ. Out of that journey, God lead her into the lives of former child soldiers who, too, needed to know that redemption and healing were possible. Through this book, our hope is that the world (and specifically the church) will be awakened to the realities of child soldiering, children orphaned by war and the very real power redemption can have in all of our lives.
**Normandy will The Color of Grace for purchase for $25 at church. All profits go to Exile International.