The smell of Nyarugusu met me before the fences and mud huts caught the horizon. The air was a thick blend of smoke from morning fires cooking meager meals in the refugee camp. And something else; a sense, a feeling, a deep intuition. The closer we drove to Nyarugusu the more intense the feeling grew. What was it? An oppressive sorrow, a thick knot in the core of my being that cried ”No!” Something evil had happened. The residue of it could be felt, tasted, almost seen. My apprehension for the task at hand was total.
A whisper of a promise also blew in the heavy air as we pulled up to the gate, Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. But how do you motivate leaders in a refugee camp to keep going? Motivational speaking is my trade, but my audiences are usually lethargic, apathetic crowds in need of awakening or at best, lifting young self-motivated leaders to higher levels of performance. But how do I -from comfortable, middle-class affluence – speak to people who have battled through genocide, suffered the grinding daily survival of a refugee camp and are staring into an empty future, which holds little promise? How do I dare tell them to lift their heads? Lift them to what? How do I dare tell them to keep going? Going for what? How could I speak, I who had not suffered in their way? They had a heroic nature about them and a tougher, more strident faith that anyone I had ever met.
I could not speak, did not speak. The Apostle Paul had to speak in my place. Paul, the refugee who lived in life-threatening persecution, who knew the presence of death. He could speak. He did. They listened. They believed. They were lifted. They were pleased. God was pleased. l was astonished.
Still, there was something deep inside of me saying, ”You did not come here to teach anything; you came here to be taught.” Shortly before we left Nyarugusu for the last time, we arranged for interviews so that I could figure out why people ended up in refugee camps. Why do people get displaced from country, from home, from family and friends and everything that is valuable to ordinary human beings?
When the first man walked in for the interview I was surprised. What did I expect? I don’t know. Perhaps I expected an unstable individual who could not cope with pressure and who saw the refugee camp as an easy way out of dealing with challenges in life. But in front of me sat a person who displayed no weakness. He had all the signs of an established leader; secure, good connections, persuasive, wise.
“Why are you here, sir?” is what I asked.
”Why not with your people back home who need you?” is what I thought,
That first look of his set me up. It was straight, penetrating, sizing me up as if to say, “Can you deal with this?” It was as if he closed the door behind me with his eyes, saying, ”This is now you and me and reality. Nothing more, nothing less.”
I have never been afraid of reality in my life. I have been confronted with cruder versions before: serving the dying in Mother Theresa’s home in Kolkata, sleeping in shanty towns in South Africa, walking the streets of Garbage City in Cairo, but for what I was about to hear I was not prepared.
”It happened so suddenly, so unexpectedly,” he said. ”It was a normal day with everyone doing their chores, working their crops in our village. I was the pastor and the leader of this little village.” I could tell he felt responsible for his people. He was an elder of his village, to whom people Iooked for guidance and protection. ”Then suddenly the rebel forces pitched up boys of 18 or 19 years old with machine guns and machetes. They rounded us up and made us stand in a long line from the youngest to the oldest. They started at the other end of the line, with a small boy of six years old. They hacked off his hand with a machete, then the forearm, then the full arm, both arms, legs, then they chopped up the body in front of us.” I was shaking. He bent a few inches towards me as if to get the story into my heart and added, ”If this was an unnamed boy it would be awful, but this boy was my own grandson.”
“No!” I gasped.
”Then they continued to kill the people in the line like this. One was a pregnant lady. They hacked open her stomach. They ripped out the unborn baby and chopped it to pieces. That lady was my own daughter, sir. They killed 24 of our family and friends. We were ten left in the line. We could not take it anymore. We started to run in all directions. To stay was to die. They opened fire with the machine guns. Only five of us managed to escape. I was one of the lucky ones, sir. This is why I am in this refugee camp.”
I was nailed to my chair. Stunned. Breathless. Without words. Then denial kicked in. Let me get a realistic picture. This must have been an isolated incident. The next man I interviewed was from another village, but his eyes were just as penetrating. They sought refuge in mine, but I had none to offer. He was a pastor who had lost his flock. The story was horrifyingly similar: a village doing daily work, the militia suddenly appearing, hacking machetes, shattering machine guns, family members grasped by death.
I wanted to hear a different story. I needed to hear a different story. lt was hard to hear, hard to believe. His was a different setting, but the same props, guns and machetes, the same actors, terrified villagers, barbaric militia men, the same scene, inhuman and totally devastating.
“Why, sir? Why? Why did this happen?” l wanted to tell him that things do not just happen. Where there are reasons there are solutions. Maybe if they did not do whatever they had done to allow this to happen, it would not have happened in the first place. That is a mechanism of self-preservation, a form of denial to blame the victims.
He shrugged his shoulders. His eyes were empty. His gaze far, his figure pathetically meek. “Satan came to earth.”
“What?” I blurted.
“Satan came to earth, sir!
Who is this militia? Where do they come from? Who made them? Who turned young men, created in the image of God, into dehumanized beasts who could murder women and children and old men and who are they?
“Oh, many of them used to go to church with us and mingle with us normally,” the man said. ”Even the week before some of them were with us in church. Talking, laughing, everything was normal. We expected nothing.”
“No! How is this possible?”
“Satan came to earth, sir.”
Five, six, seven interviews. Same story. Same answer. I am a stoic person. It takes time for my emotions to take over, but suddenly there in the middle of the forlorn Nyarugusu refugee camp I was lost, lost in a cauldron of emotions. They did not well up slowly; it was a hurricane bursting inside me. There was a storming rage that wanted to challenge, to combat, to exterminate this hellish madness. And there was a flurry of questions: Why? How could this happen? Can human beings become so evil? Why in Africa my home? What went wrong with Africa this continent whose leaders I have been training for years already? Why? Why? Why?
l was like a caged lion. I screamed to God, ”God, I demand an answer from you!” I had never dared to demand anything from God before, but the pain made me braver than sanity deserved. ”I will never leave this hut until you give me an answer!” I stood in the throne room of God, battle ready and immovable. Then, by God’s grace, the small, but clear voice of the Holy Spirit answered, ”Look up. Look left.” Left of me was the only little window in the hut. As I looked through it I saw the answer of God outside. There were a great number of young boys out there, and every 30th boy or so had some form of soccer ball made of plastic bags or something under his arm. Then the answer from God came in short, clear statements:
1. The problem with Africa is fatherlessness.
2. Teach the young boys of Africa to become real fathers in the future.
3. Do this training through soccer.
It took me some time to make sense of these instructions. But finally I understood that no son with a healthy relationship with a father who has good moral values would ever, at 18 or 19 years old, kill anyone in such an inhumane way as these militia did. I also understood that because young boys learn by example more than anything else, training them implied creating role models for them from whom they could learn. Africa has a terrible shortage of good fatherly role models.
The third statement confused me somewhat since I was not a soccer guy. This one I argued. “Speak to me about rugby, Lord, I know rugby; I do not know soccer.” God answered by grabbing me by my shirt and thumping me in the chest so hard that my ribcage rattled at least, that is how it felt and he said, ”Do you want to change Africa on your agenda or my agenda?”
Where was I? On God’s agenda or my own?
God’s answer was clear. I simply had to obey. The call was irresistible. I had demanded an answer from God and now God was demanding obedience from me. I had to go and train soccer coaches to be life-coaches, to be fathers to their soccer players.
I felt so helpless hopeless. l was the least qualified to begin an endeavor like this. But the journey had already begun, because I knew one thing for sure the world needs fathers!
After my Nyarugusu experience I discovered on how to develop fathers of the future through soccer. We developed a life-coaching program through soccer and trained soccer coaches how to father players. This life-coaching program, called Ubabalo, has now spread to at least 120 nations around the world.‘
But three years ago, while I was training Master Trainers of Ubabalo in fatherhood, God revealed to me how the evil force of fatherlessness is one of Satan’s toughest strongholds, maybe the toughest. God clarified the importance of Malachi 4:6 (the last verse of the Old Testament canon) to me: And he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the earth with a curse”
Suddenly the reason for the horrific social condition of many nations became clear to me. It was the curse of fatherlessness. Governments come up with elaborate plans to help their nations recover, but renaissance is rarely experienced. No real transformation will happen unless family life, the cell of society, is restored by fathers being united with their children. It was also clear that no real revival will be experienced by the church unless fathers and children are united. This is a foundational Kingdom principle.
If you ask what the responsibility of John the Baptist was, many people will say, “To prepare the way for the Lord,” but this is only part of what the gospel says. John the Baptist had three things to do according to Luke 1 :17:
1. To turn the hearts of the fathers to their children.
2. To turn the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous.
3. To make ready a people prepared for the Lord.
Achieving the third point depends on the success of the first two. Let me therefore paraphrase: John the Baptist had to reconcile fathers with children and restore moral values (or righteousness) in the lives of people, and thus would prepare the way for the Lord. I have spoken with Christian leaders in more than 80 countries, and the consensus is that, like in the time of John the Baptist, the two major problems of the world are:
1. Fatherlessness and the family demise.
2. The lack of moral values in society.
John was born in earthly time (Chronos) to fulfill the Lord’s purposes in God’s time (Kairos). God’s Kairos cry for fatherhood that was first expressed by John the Baptist is ringing clearly around the world again. Many years of travel and thousands of conversations have explicitly validated this; now is the Kairos moment for us to act on this mandate.
Satan has come to earth. The world desperately needs a father!