Ishmael Beah had been a child soldier during the civil war in his native Sierra Leone. At 13-years-old, he was forced into the army to fight against rebel insurgents. For the next few years, this fun-loving child, who should have been in school, was doped up and trained to kill, which he did with great skill and dexterity.
“We have been fighting for two years,” he wrote, “and killing had become a daily activity. I felt no pity for anyone. My childhood had gone by without my knowing, and it seemed as if my heart had frozen.”
But at 16, Ishmael had been rescued by UNICEF and brought to a rehabilitation center with other child soldiers in an attempt to get them off of drugs and re-integrated into society. This all sounded nice, except for one great problem: the well-meaning UNICEF staff had put in the same rehabilitation center those who had been child soldiers for the army with those who had been child soldiers for the rebels!
“It hadn’t crossed their minds", wrote Ishmael, “that a change of environment wouldn’t immediately make us normal boys; we were dangerous, and brainwashed to kill.”
Indeed, right there in the compound, some of these rebel child-soldiers attacked the army child soldiers with bayonets. Ishmael pulled out a smuggled grenade and threw it at them. A grenade! The MPs came running in to break up the fight; the kids knocked them down, grabbed their weapons, and began shooting at each other.
What else would they have done? All that these kids knew was violence. This is what you had to do; this is how you survive. It was how the world, their world, worked.
Of course, we’re not like the child soldiers of Sierra Leone. But we’re not that different, either. We’re used to things that we shouldn’t be used to. We accept for granted things that we shouldn’t accept. And that’s because we get so acclimated to our environment that even the harshest things don’t faze us, and we can become exceedingly insensitive to them. The text that all this brings to mind: “But solid food belongs to those who are of full age, that is, those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil.” (Hebrews 5:14).
By use of reason, based on the Word of God, may we not only discern good from evil but may we “abhor what is evil” and “cling to what is good.” (Romans 12:19).