Miracle Meadows Principal Shares Journey to Forgiveness
*The following story contains some graphic terms that some might find disturbing.
Story by Patrick Johnson
When the West African state of Liberia degenerated into chaos, occasioned by a long-running civil conflict from 1989 to 2003, I, together with all other Liberians, was awakened to a rude and shocking reality. I grew up knowing a Liberia that was stable, peaceful and loving but the mask fell off when my country ignited into the devilish inferno for more than a decade. The loving and caring character of the people suddenly evaporated.
On more than one occasion, I came close to being killed by rebel fighters, however, no other incident throughout Liberia’s nightmare shook me as much as the day a rebel combatant of about 14 years old held me at gunpoint. In full view of my terrified family, including my young son, he threatened to shoot me if I as much as took a single step or moved any part of my body. With his submachine gun cocked and finger ready to pull the trigger, he bellowed at me, “Open your mouth!” When I complied, he shoved the nozzle down my throat and threatened to blow off my head! As he became increasingly erratic, I heard a commanding voice shout, “Soldier, as you were!”
My life was saved that day, but during the war, my dear mother was killed in cold-blood and I lost five siblings. And, it was not just my family that suffered at the hands of the combatants. During the war, warlords and commanders drugged then brainwashed combatants into raping women and children and torturing and killing thousands of all ages. My unpleasant experiences filled me with anger and hate toward all combatants of the war. The Lord, however, was about to teach me that His ways were not my ways.
When the war ended, I responded to an ad for the position of education coordinator at the National Ex-Combatants Commission and Secretariat. The Liberian government created the agency to provide assistance and opportunities for the rehabilitation, reintegration and resettlement of more than 30,000 former combatants, most of whom were young people, including children younger than 10 years old.
When I set out to apply for the position, I did so only because it fit in with what I had already been doing as a schoolteacher. I thought I would be dealing with just a tiny fraction of former combatants. Imagine my surprise when I was offered the executive deputy director position, which made me responsible for helping 30,000 unruly and very unpredictable people who had caused so much harm and suffering. They needed trauma counseling, education, vocational training, healthcare and shelter. Added to that, they needed help in having society accept and take them back, because they were widely hated, even by their own parents and kinfolk, for the evils they had done.
Indeed, I recoiled at the thought. Was God serious? Moreover, I would have to love them to take care of them. How did He then expect me to love them when I was literally hate and anger personified? These were the same people who had hurt me, my family and the entire country.
I worked with the National Ex-Combatants Commission and Secretariat from 2000 to 2004. During this time, I experienced the transforming power of forgiveness that comes only through God’s Holy Spirit. The ex-combatants returned my labor of love. Some supplied my family with their cultivated produce, and they frequently invited me to visit in their homes. They were very protective and showed concern for my family’s personal safety. Once, when factional fighting broke out again, they commandeered a truck and drove to my home to take us and our belongings to safety. We had already left before they arrived, but they kept guard at the house to deter criminals until we returned after the crisis. Not a pin was missing!
It is never easy to forgive those who hurt you, but it is possible. In allowing the Lord to help me love these “unlovable” ex-combatants and letting Him use me to bless them, I ended up becoming the one most blessed. Gloom was dispelled from my spirit and replaced with the agreeable glow of Christ’s love and forgiveness.
Miracle Meadows is a boarding school operated as a supporting ministry of the Seventh-day Adventist Church and is designed to meet the needs of elementary through secondary school students with at-risk behaviors.