This is Justin Odoch. He was 9 years old when he was abducted by the Lord’s Resistance Army and taught to kill. 24 years old now, Justin spent 3 years fighting in Northern Uganda and Southern Sudan. He first was a prisoner of war, and then became a soldier for the rebel movement led by Joseph Kony He knows that he has killed at least four of his own countrymen in battle.
When he came to check the bodies of the soldiers he had killed he found the men were from the Acholi tribe, just like him. “It makes me feel very guilty,” he said “that I have killed my own people from my own village. “
Justin told me that there are hundreds of people like him who have been forced into the LRA, some of them as young as seven years old. Kony cuts an imposing figure, says Justin, he has taken about 35 wives and people do his bidding because they know that the penalty for disobedience is death. “He has a demon that tells him what to do,” explains Justin, “and if you disobey, the demon will tell Kony and he will kill you.”
Justin decided to take his chances and began to try to subvert his leaders. When told to execute prisoners of war, Justin would try to help them escape instead. He told me, “I can judge for myself that this guy has done nothing. So why kill him?”
After three years in the bush, Justin escaped from camp in the middle of the night. Troops followed him for more than 20 miles through the bush, but he reached home safely. He turned himself into the government as an ex-combatant and was granted amnesty. The LRA would not be so lenient.
After Justin returned home, the LRA sent fighters to his village to look for him. They found his home, but not him. The fighters locked his mother, father, younger brother and three sisters inside the house and burned it to the ground. All six were killed.
Justin is left with one sister, who is suffering from AIDS and tuberculosis, and an elderly grandmother. Incredibly, he maintains that his life is better now than when he was fighting in the bush. “I’ve been receiving counseling,” he tells me, “and I’m asking people to forgive me” because while I was fighting, “I was doing it blindly.” He’s also been going to church and he has found that “when you trust in God your life will be changed. Nothing is impossible with God.”
Justin is busy now caring for his sister, trying to finish high school, and atoning for the 3 years he spent tearing apart his own country. It’s a very complicated situation. Justin has killed people, but he has also saved people. He has destroyed lives, but he is now trying to rebuild his own family after tragedy. I asked him what he wanted to say to the people of Uganda and he started speaking immediately, as if this was a question he had asked himself several times. He looked up and said softlly “I was forced to be taken into the bush and I was forced to kill. If I killed your brother, or your parent, or your relative, I now surrender. Can you forgive me?”
That’s how it starts. To recover from a war in which people are fighting with and killing their own relatives and countrymen, it starts with reconciliation and forgiveness. It’s certainly not easy, but maybe it’s not such a complicated situation after all.
Posted By Bryan Lupton
Posted Jun 20th, 2009