A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier by Ishmael Beah is a book that is about exactly what the title says. It's the story of a boy who survived being a boy soldier in the country of Sierra Leone during one of its civil wars. A boy who was born in 1980 and saw a lot of evil by the time he was 16 years old. Ishmael published his story in 2007, after escaping from Sierra Leone and starting a new life in New York City. It is an incredible story. Made all the more impressive that it was written in English (very good English) when English was not his first or even his second language. It's a story that is hard to read because of the terrifying scenes and harsh images he paints with his words and memories. He shares stories of when he was young and before the war caught up to him, his brother and his friends. He shares stories of what life was like as he was trying to run from the war and keep from getting captured. He shares stories of how life changed when the national army "drafted" him at the age of 15 to fight against the rebels. And then he shares stories of his rescue and rehabilitation. They are all real stories. Real stories that are the stories too many children in the world share. They are stories that far too many children have to accept as part of their personal history.
Ishmael Beah wrote,
"I believe that children have the resilience to outlive their sufferings, if given a chance."
He originally said that at a conference at the UN that he got to be a part of shortly after being re-introduced to civilian life and his extended family who took him in after his time of rehabilitation. He stood before a group of world leaders and shared a part of his story. He shared the above statement in the hopes that one day no child would have to endure what he had. But as of yet, the use of children as soldiers hasn't been stopped. As of yet, the use of children for sex hasn't been stopped. As of yet, the use of children for cheap, slave labor hasn't been stopped. But yet, if given the chance, each of those children could overcome all that they have endured. They could find hope and purpose and even love and a family.
I read hard books like A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier because it makes me pay attention to what is going on in the world. It makes me be aware of what children around the world are enduring. It keeps me from ignoring the problems or stepping away from them because "they aren't mine" or "they are on the other side of the world." As a Christian, but also as a human, I read these books so that I can be thinking of, praying for and reaching out to the children of the world who find themselves abandoned, abused and broken in some way. Yes, it can be depressing. Yes, it makes me cry. Yes, it makes my heart ache. But at least it reminds me to feel, to be human and to find a way to do something to change the world, even if it's just for one child.
So let me ask you this.... what do you read about that makes your heart ache?