Guest post by Lisa Shannon, who is currently working in eastern Congo.
Another young man turned up at Koko’s family compound today. After greeting everyone and playing with the kids, I noticed him sitting quietly, watching us. We had failed to shake his hand, the standard greeting even for four year olds.
As Koko’s bother introduced us, he pushed up his sleeve to reveal a bandage around his upper arm. It was the father who was shot in the arm while holding his three year old daughter in the Lord’s Resistance Army, or LRA, attack on January 14th.
We retreated inside to talk.
He had just returned from Gilima, where he had spent the week comforting his in-laws after his brother-in-law was killed by the LRA. While he was away, some members of his church stopped by and left several prayers and bible study notes for him. So he settled into a chair in his yard to review the notes. While he prayed, his daughters Monique (1 year old) and Mercy Sarah (3 years old), played nearby and mom cooked in the kitchen. She called Monique to join her and little Mado (4 years old) to help her in the kitchen.
That’s when they heard the screaming and saw neighbors running, “They are on the hill! LRA!”
He saw five LRA rebels, wearing dreadlocks and long coats. He called to his wife to take the two girls and run, while he scooped up Mercy Sarah and ran inside to quickly grab the one possession he couldn’t stand to have stolen: the family Bible. He grabbed it and ran.
His neighbor, Antoinette ran behind him. He heard shots, and turned to see her fall and hit the ground, still holding her infant son. Just then, a bullet hit his arm, and passed through Mercy’s stomach. (He gave a graphic description of what happened to her tummy, but I have seen photos of her in the hospital, so I know exactly what it looked like. I’ll spare you the gory details.) He dropped the Bible so he could catch her with his good arm. Just then, his brother emerged from the bushes and took the girl, while they ran away, bleeding to get to the hospital.
Little Mercy Sarah underwent three surgeries over a week and a half. She died the day after the third surgery. His devastated expression said it all, as he tried to show us his limited use of his right hand. He was drowning in grief and couldn’t hide it.
“I’m going to ask you a stupid, maybe insulting, question,” I warned him. Though in a way, I was coaxing him to remind himself he did everything he could to protect his family. “I heard about another dad who just pushed his child back to his mom, while he hopped on his bike and rode to safety. Why did you pick up little Mercy Sarah and run with her, rather than just saving yourself?”
“I loved her. I’ve loved my children since before they were born.”
One other question nagged at me. By a twist in timing, he had gone back for his Bible, so he was behind his wife, and the bullet hit and killed his daughter. “You were obviously a religious man. Has the incident changed your faith or sense of God?”
“I thought about it. But no. What happened is God’s will.”
“So no change in your faith at all?”
Lisa Shannon is the founder of Run for Congo Women and the author of the forthcoming book A Thousand Sisters. She is currently traveling in eastern Congo and posting regularly to her blog AThousandSisters.com. Her previous posts for Enough Said from this trip are available here, here, and here.