“Why does God allow bad things to happen to innocent children?”
The topic was forgiveness and the question was murmured in a soft, embarrassed voice from the small group of women sitting on the floor in front of us. I was surprised the question had come from Carol. She had hardly looked up from her beading since we had entered the room and I hadn’t really thought she was paying any attention to the discussion.
Our team looked around at each other or stared at the floor trying to come up with an explanation that would make sense through a translator without ‘dumbing’ it down. Before we had even begun to formulate a response, Carol spoke up again. She told us a story none of us will forget.
Carol grew up in northern Uganda, right in the heart of the civil war and its bloody conflict. She told us of her escape from her home village with her baby sister after witnessing her parent’s violent murder by the rebels and hiding in the forest with the other refugees. The rebel army came close to their hiding spot and her little sister started to cry, causing them to be discovered by the soldiers. As punishment, they took the baby from her arms and using a machete, sliced her in half. They took the rest as captives to the rebel camp where Carol was abused daily and served as a slave for many years.
One day, Carol was sent with a friend to procure water from a nearby well. A young soldier was sent to guard them, but he was only a child and became easily distracted. Carol seized her chance and struck the guard over the head, allowing her and her friend to escape. She eventually made her way down south to Jinja where she was forced to survive by any means possible, including selling her body on the streets.
Not once had she looked up at us during the story. Her eyes remained cast down, her shoulders were hunched protectively over her body and she seemed to have herself under tight control. Again, she asked the question. “Why does God allow bad things to happen to innocent children?” The years of deep anger and resentment contained in her question were palpable.
Our hearts were breaking for her and the child she had been. I looked around and saw the open emotion reflected in all of our faces. We began quietly, but our responses became passionate. We spoke of God’s grace in allowing us choice and how that freedom was constantly abused. How God could use the evil choices of humans and turn it around for His good purposes. We told her of Jesus’ love for her and her family and the grief He feels for all of her pain and loss. Our words felt inadequate, but you could feel the presence of God in the room as she began to weep openly.
None of us will forget Carol or her story. Over the next few weeks, we saw a significant change in her demeanor, a lightness that hadn’t been present before. We watched her dance, sing, and laugh with a newfound joy. She had only just begun to heal, but was running toward the process with open arms and heart.