One of the privileges of teaching in a place like Redcliffe is that you are constantly challenged with new questions and new contexts. A student recently wrote a paper entitled, ‘Child Soldiers in Northern Uganda and Mark 10:13-16’.
I am so familiar with hearing this biblical text read out in the context of a child’s baptism that it was a shock for me to have it juxtaposed with something so abhorrent. But this is precisely the point of trying to engage the Bible with the realities of this world. How should I be reading this text in the light of the experiences of these children? More importantly, how might those children who have been robbed so violently of their childhoods encounter Jesus? What obstacles would they need to overcome in order to experience these life giving words?
Here is the biblical text followed by an excerpt from the website for the Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers
13 People were bringing little children to Jesus for him to place his hands on them, but the disciples rebuked them. 14 When Jesus saw this, he was indignant. He said to them, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. 15 Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” 16 And he took the children in his arms, placed his hands on them and blessed them. (Mark 10:13-16, NIV)
“I would like you to give a message. Please do your best to tell the world what is happening to us, the children. So that other children don’t have to pass through this violence.”
The 15-year-old girl who ended an interview to Amnesty International with this plea was forcibly abducted at night from her home by the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), an armed opposition movement fighting the Ugandan Government. She was made to kill a boy who tried to escape. She saw another boy being hacked to death for not raising the alarm when a friend ran away. She was beaten when she dropped a water container and ran for cover under gunfire. She received 35 days of military training and was sent to fight the government army.
The use of children as soldiers has been universally condemned as abhorrent and unacceptable. Yet over the last ten years hundreds of thousands of children have fought and died in conflicts around the world.
Children involved in armed conflict are frequently killed or injured during combat or while carrying out other tasks. They are forced to engage in hazardous activities such as laying mines or explosives, as well as using weapons. Child soldiers are usually forced to live under harsh conditions with insufficient food and little or no access to healthcare. They are almost always treated brutally, subjected to beatings and humiliating treatment. Punishments for mistakes or desertion are often very severe. Girl soldiers are particularly at risk of rape, sexual harassment and abuse as well as being involved in combat and other tasks.