words by: Rebecca Greenfield
He was only 10. Jimms was a good boy, still carrying with him the innocence of a child and wonder of youth. He was loved by his family and playful like children are. It was just another Ugandan day. The Bush War continued, but civilians went about their lives, always aware of the threats that existed but choosing hope in order to sustain some form of normalcy. The morning had come. It was time for school. As Mama helped Jimms get on his way, she had full intentions of seeing him return after his day of classes. But unbeknownst to her, this day would be a day of sorrow. This day would be a day of great loss. This was the day her heart desperately hoped she would never have to endure.
As Jimms walked to school, he was abducted by rebels. He would remain in captivity for three years. Not only would he see and experience unspeakable atrocities, but he would also be the subject of physical and mental abuse, leaving him deformed. The boy Mama once cradled had now become a man—doing, seeing, and experiencing things a 10-year-old should never have to endure.
Many children, like Jimms, have been captured to be used as child soldiers in the brutal wars of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DR Congo) and Uganda. Thanks to Exile International, Jimms’ story doesn’t end in sorrow. Instead, his story ends with hope, redemption, and purpose. Jimms is one of many children who have been given a healthy, peaceful future because of the rehabilitation programs and genuine love from the counselors at Exile International.
After Jimms was rescued, he began working with Exile to start the healing journey to treat significant Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Jimms was placed in a safe host home, received regular meals, and began attending school. But this wasn’t a simple fix. Jimms had a great deal of trauma to work through, and this impacted his commitment to Exile, but it didn’t impact Exile’s commitment to him. Jimms dropped out of school and tried for a time to live away from Exile’s support. But just like the love of Jesus, Exile pursued Jimms, bringing him back into the programs and therapy. Through the dedication of counselors and staff at Exile, Jimms began finding emotional healing. Discovering his giftings and skills, he became trained as a welder. After a few years, Jimms transitioned from a broken victim to a leader in his community, training others in the trade of welding and living a life full of purpose.
This is just one small glimpse into the thousands of transformational stories that have occurred as a result of the Christ-centered and dedicated programming of Exile. In just 15 years, over 50,000 children have been impacted. In 2008, Bethany Haley Williams traveled to Congo’s war zone, where she met child soldiers and orphans who had been rescued. Bethany had a Ph.D. in counseling with a background in psychology and social work. She was recovering from her own personal trauma. Her own healing process helped her identify with the trauma these children were facing. She learned about the atrocities of child soldiers who were forced to kill their own families, little girls being captured for sex trafficking, and families who had forsaken these children because of the violent acts they were brainwashed to commit. Initially, Bethany began to question, “Where are you, God?” in these children, in these war-torn lives, but then she realized, “The answer lies in the mirror. The question isn’t, ‘Where is God?’ He is beside these children when they are afraid in the bush. He is holding their hand when they are abducted and running from rebels. He is right there with them on the battlefield and in the midst of the bullets. The question is not, ‘Where are you, God?’ The question we should all be asking is, ‘Where are we?’ Where are we in this story, and what is our role in making the ending look different than the beginning?” So, Bethany returned to America and began to research ways to create a solution. She visited Uganda and made trips back to Congo. There she met Pastor Joseph, who is now the country director of Congo. At that time, he had already been working to help these children, but the organization he was partnered with was only a temporary band-aide, providing immediate crisis relief but no long-term care. He, too, longed to do so much more. When Bethany met Pastor Joseph, their hearts were aligned. They had a vision for children to go from child soldiers to leaders of peace—for holistic rehabilitation.
“The question is not, ‘Where are you, God?’ The question we should all be asking is, ‘Where are we?’ Where are we in this story, and what is our role…”
Bethany networked with various agencies and researched what was and was not working. She vetted a variety of curriculums to determine which had tested and proven transformative results. Soon Exile International was born with the mission of “Empowering rescued child soldiers & children orphaned by war to become leaders for peace through art-focused trauma care & holistic rehabilitation.” About three years into Exile’s mission, Matthew Williams, a master’s level trauma therapist who shared the same passion and experience of working with traumatized youth in developing countries, began volunteering at Exile. Eventually, the two became married and ran Exile International as co-CEOs.
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Rebecca Greenfield is a certified Nuclear Medicine Technologist who carries a Master’s Degree in Theological Studies. She is blessed to pursue both of her passions, science and theology, by working in nuclear medicine and at Lifeline Christian Mission. One of her deepest desires is to create spaces and places where people can experience the presence of God through the power of written art. She is the author of five books including, RAW Inner Workings of a Reawakened Soul, The Prayer Crossing Personal Devotional, and her most recent release, a children’s book called Dusternuffle. To order a copy of any of her books, visit www.Rebecca-Greenfield.com or make checks payable to Reawakened Ministries ($16.99/copy) and mail to Cross Point Christian Church, Attn: Rebecca Greenfield, 10659 Johnstown Rd., New Albany, OH 43054.