The following post is one of a compilation of stories written for a photo book showing God’s work through International Teams in communities across north-eastern Uganda.
In some sense, Denis’s ministry began when he was just 12 years old. It began the day he was kidnapped from his homeland in northern Uganda and given the uniform of a rebel. That was the day his small hands were forced to hold a gun in a war that would never be his, compelled to kill in order to survive.
Twelve-year-old Denis never could have dreamt that the seeds of a beautiful ministry were being planted on the day he became a child soldier. But now he knows.
It seems absurd to still refer to Denis as a “former child solider,” as if that sad reality of thirteen years ago still describes him today. Once you meet this tall twenty-five-year-old Ugandan, you realize that old scars and bitterness are the last things that define him. Instead, what you will see today is a wide smile, a gentle disposition, and a heart for serving the Lord in the town of Soroti, Uganda.
In some ways, Denis still wishes he could forget his past. “It can be hard, having your mind flash back to it all,” Denis says in a soft voice as he dredges his memory. “Because for me, I know what I’ve done.”
It was a school day like any other in 1998 when Joseph Kony’s band of rebels, known as the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), suddenly attacked Denis’s school and kidnapped the children. As with all their new “recruits,” the LRA took Denis into the bush of northern Uganda for training. “Imagine you are shown a room of twenty people and someone says, ‘Come, kill them all.’ They would make the kids do the most awful things. And if you didn’t they would kill you.” The words alone seem to bring a bitter taste to Denis’s mouth. “And you do it because you are young and you want to survive.”
After one year of that hell, Denis managed to escape the LRA’s clutches and fled to the Ugandan military, who in turn deposited the thirteen-year-old at a nearby rehabilitation center. For three months Denis lived there, receiving counseling from Christians that helped shed light on the darkness he had witnessed. “That was the first time I really started learning who Jesus is,” Denis remembers. One year later, after he returned home again, those seeds of belief sprouted when Denis decided to give his life to Christ. And while he prayed on that day, Denis felt a release from his past, almost as if shedding a heavy burden. “I found myself forgetting the past, and finally, believing came.”
What makes Denis’s story remarkable isn’t the pain he endured. The extraordinary thing is something else entirely: beautiful redemption. If you look for Denis today, you will find him in Soroti, most likely surrounded by a group of eager boys from the streets. Five years ago, Denis felt a clear call from the Lord to serve those that resemble the boy he used to be: young and vulnerable. “I couldn’t help but notice the suffering of so many kids I saw on the streets of Soroti.” Denis remembers. “And there was no one else caring for them or reaching out to them.”
You need only spend a few minutes around Denis and the street boys he mentors to see the impact he has made in their lives. “I sit them down sometimes and say, ‘Look, I came to work with you because I understand.’ And when they hear my story I think they understand too.”
Today, twenty-five-year-old Denis knows what twelve-year-old Denis never could have. “I don’t regret having been abducted,” he says today, the beautiful reality of which is staggering. “Because now I can see God’s hand at work through it all.”
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Please pray for Dennis, that the Lord would continue to strengthen and encourage his faith and ministry. And also that the Lord would continue to use the pain of Denis’s past to be the light of redemption in the lives of many street boys in Soroti.