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Sharing the Love of Jesus with Warlords

The second part of our conversation with the co-founders of Justice Rising, Cassandra and Edison Lee.

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Cassandra and Edison Lee are the co-founders of Justice Rising. They believe that education, especially in war zones, has the power to transform communities and break cycles of conflict.  Justice Rising currently runs 14 schools in the Democratic Republic of Congo, and also has partnerships in Syria and Iraq.  We had the privilege of having a conversation with Cassandra and Edison to hear about their exciting journey.  Part 1 of our conversation can be found here

Were you ever scared at the prospect of working in war zones?  It’s one thing to be a missionary – it’s another to be a missionary in a very poor country – and it’s yet another to be a missionary in a war zone!  Have you always been a natural risk-taker?

Cassandra:  Growing up I actually had a lot of anxiety.  My anxiety issues were very deep – I didn’t like leaving home very much, I was afraid of public speaking, and I was very shy.  And yet God called me to war zones!

Most people around me looked at me and were not afraid to say, “Cassandra, you are not the right person for this.”  I was quick to pass that message to God and say, “God, I am not the right person for this job!”

But God was just so calm and so peaceful,and He would just look at me and say, “Cassandra, I know who you are and I know what I’ve called you to.  This is just my invitation to you.  Will you say yes?”  I am on this constant journey of moving past my own fears, my own anxiety, and focusing on Jesus and saying yes all the time.

As we went deeper and deeper into war zones, we would hear people talk about these areas with a lot of fear.  They would tell us that people are dying and being raped in these zones and would plead with us not to go there.  But there was something in me that said, “I understand that it’s really scary and really dangerous – but send in the Christians. God has called us to live in perfect love, and perfect love casts off fear – send in the Christians.”

I remember one time I was speaking to a soldier, and he was from the Dinka tribe in Southern Sudan, so he was very tall.  This big warlord was towering over me, and we were having a conversation, and he said, “Wait – why are you not afraid of me?”

I paused and realized, “Oh right, I’m supposed to be afraid!”  So God really helped me to overcome my own fears and insecurities by pressing into Jesus and letting these things all fall away.

“I understand that it’s really scary and really dangerous – but send in the Christians. God has called us to live in perfect love, and perfect love casts off fear – send in the Christians.” – Cassandra Lee

What is the security situation like?  Are you living in constant danger? 

Edison:  One of the biggest challenges we face as an organization working in conflict areas is that there are many different security issues.  When we work in a UN certified “Red Zone” (meaning an area where there is current armed conflict), there’s always the threat of abduction, and there’s always the threat of coming across insurgents on the road.  That is something we always have to take a calculated risk on – weighing and balancing the risk with the benefit we are bringing to the community.

As foreigners, we never want to put our local staff in a situation that we ourselves would not go into. So that’s a big challenge we face – the security and making sure our local staff and team feel comfortable in the situation.  We don’t want to put anyone in undue harm or risk going into these war-affected areas.

Cassandra:  Deep in the war zones there are a lot of insecurities we have to deal with, but we don’t look at these areas as, “Oh this is very dangerous, we have to be on our guard all the time!”  We try to look at them through heaven’s perspective and say, “Jesus what are you doing in this moment?  How can we partner with heaven to bring your presence here and see transformation?”

Cassandra and Edison Lee ministering in the Congo, 2017

 

We all understand wanting to help innocent children and victimized women, but you mentioned earlier that you were speaking to a Dinka soldier?  Do you minister to warlords as well? 

Cassandra:  I do. When God was first calling me into these war zones, He gave me visions of warlords.  He started showing me His heart, and His love for all these men, and He invited me into this whole other side of Him that I had never seen before – how He loved even these perpetrators of conflict and rape and murder.

God would take me into these visions and I’d see the horrific things these men had done, and then I’d hear God walk in and minister to these men, telling them how much He loved them, cared for them, and wanted them to know His Son. I’d watch Him do this and I was just shocked that God could love this much! I knew that He was a God of love, but it was just more than I could ever imagine.

At one point when I was watching the Lord interact with a warlord in this vision, He took His eyes off the warlord for a minute and looked at me and said, “Cassandra, I hate what they do but I love who they are.”  And it was in that moment that I just laid myself before God and decided, “I will go. I will go.”

It was an invitation to not only go into these warzones and look after women and children but also to search out warlords and see that “warlord bride” come back to Him.

Those are amazing visions – we know that God loves the whole world but to actually put this into practice and love a warlord is incredible.  Most of these warlords are trained killers – some have even participated in rape and the abuse of children.  Have you ever seen any of these hardened men saved? 

Cassandra:  We have. One of the stories that I love to tell is the day we were driving down the street in a village where we have 4 schools. We’d really started to see transformation in this community, and as we were driving down the street I said to my staff “I feel like we need to reach out to warlords. It’s been a while since we’ve talked to any soldiers.”

As I soon as I said this, one of my staff members exclaimed, “Stop the car! We just passed one of the rebel soldiers back there.Do you want to go talk to him?  He’s one of the heads of this area.”

So I said, “Yes, of course I do.”

We jumped out of the car and ran back to talk to this warlord.  I jumped up to him and said “Hi, I’m Cassandra, it’s so great to meet you.  We really love you and your soldiers and we’d love to share the Gospel with your community. Would it be okay if we came and preached to your regiment?”  I think he was so shocked when we jumped out of our car that he said, “Yes, that would be great. Where should we meet and when?”

We scheduled an 8 AM meeting for the next Monday morning.  The morning came and I was so excited.  In my mind we were ready to see transformation on the masses – I was hoping to see hundreds of rebel soldiers so we could preach the Gospel to all of them. But when we showed up, there were only 8 guys there. I don’t want to say I was discouraged, but I was definitely discouraged!

Then I heard the whisper of God and He said, “Preach as if there’re 800 soldiers here.”  So I got in front of these men and I started preaching. I felt the presence of God and the love of God for these men so strongly.

I was halfway through my message and all of a sudden one guy put up his hand.  Immediately I thought, “Oh, they missed it, they don’t get it.” I was disappointed and asked him, “What’s your question?”  I’ll never forget the next words out of the soldier’s mouth.

“What can I do to receive Jesus?”

My jaw dropped and we completely switched the direction of the message. Our team gathered around these soldiers, and we started praying for them. We started crying, and everyone was on their knees – it was such a holy moment.

At the end of that time of salvation and ministry, I started talking to the captain whom I met at the beginning and he said, “I’m so sorry there couldn’t be more soldiers here. I couldn’t get the right clearance to bring more, and we obviously couldn’t bring you into our camp.  So what I did instead was I brought the captains of all the different regiments here today.”

We were just blown away and excited that God had moved so powerfully.

Did you ever hear back from these soldiers?  Do you know if there was any lasting effect from that day? 

Cassandra:  This took place in a very rural area in Congo, so a few days later we had to drive back home to the city.  A couple of weeks went by and we had to go back to check on our schools again, so we had to return to this same area.  It’s quite dangerous to travel there on the road – you’re going into a war zone, and you don’t want to be stopped by soldiers.

But sure enough, as we were on our way to the village, we were stopped by soldiers.

We got a little nervous and were trying to remain calm and be as casual as possible, even as stress started to mount.  This one soldier saw our car and he popped his head in and said, “I know who you are.” We didn’t want to draw any extra attention to ourselves,so we said, “Really, are you sure? I don’t think you know us, it must be someone else.”

The soldier then said, “No, I know who you guys are.  You were here just a few weeks ago. You build schools.”  Then he started listing our names, so we said, “Yes, okay, you know who we are.”

His reply stunned us.

“I know who you are because a few weeks ago, you came to our village, and you preached the Gospel to our captain.  Our captains came back and preached it to our regiments.  You brought us Jesus!”

“We see what happens when you choose to say yes to what God is doing instead of living in fear.” – Cassandra Lee

So it made a lasting impact – not just on the captains but the message reached the common soldiers as well!   

We were blown away by what God is doing in these war zones and how desperate He is to move among His people.

Cassandra Lee walking with children down a path in rural Congo, 2017

 

I think we have time for one final story. Are there any other memorable experiences encountering warlords and rebel soldiers that stick out for you? 

Cassandra:  Let me share this story with you.  One day we were walking home from a soccer field, where we had been with a group of boys from our school.  It started to get quite late as we were walking home so we started to hurry – it’s not good to be out after dark in conflict areas.   As we were nearing home, we saw this rebel soldier coming down this path in front of us.  You could tell he was angry. He was yelling and people around him were very afraid.

So I start to think to myself, “Where can I go to be safe?  What should I do?”  We had a couple of our local staff and a couple of foreigners with us.  I looked at my local staff and their feet had not moved an inch. They remained calm as they could be while watching this angry rebel soldier come barreling towards us.

I told the foreigners to get behind me.  As this soldier got closer, I recognized what he was saying, “I hate these foreigners. They deserve to die, and I’m going to kill them.”

This soldier was getting closer and closer, and I noticed my local team was still calm as could be, feet not moving at all.  The soldier was now right in front of us and declared, “I’m going to kill them all. But first I’m going to take them as my brides, and I’m starting with this one!” He was pointing at me, his finger just inches from my face. I was trying not to freak out, and I just kept looking at my local staff, saying in my heart, “Jesus what are you doing in this exact moment?”

Suddenly, our local Congolese director turned and looked at the soldier and said, “No, that’s not what’s going to happen.  Instead you’re going to fall to your knees right now, and we’re going to pray that God gives you clean hands and a pure heart.”

My jaw dropped as the soldier instantly fell to his knees!

We all looked around at each other, and the director said, “Now we pray.”

We all started praying, and not just a little prayer – we were praying as much as we knew how, with as much strength as we had, that this soldier would be transformed and stand up a different man. We knew the outcome could be dire if he did not change.

After we prayed, this soldier stood up and looked around and said, “Thank you so much for praying for me. Thank you, I sometimes make poor choices, and I’m just so grateful that you’re able to cover me in prayer!”

My staff took him aside and they led him to Jesus, talked to him about where he could find a church and get plugged into a community of believers.  He was so grateful he reached into his pocket and pulled out 500 francs (which is about 50 cents in US dollars).  He handed us the money and said, “I feel like I should tithe to the missionaries.”

We were so shocked we didn’t know what to say.  The community around was watching this happen and they didn’t know what to say! The soldier went on his way and the community in the mud huts around us emerged from their houses. They said, “Obviously you guys know the living God. You have to pray with us too!”

Watch Cassandra describe this miraculous interaction in the video below.   

I can’t fathom how that felt – such fear but then such victory!

So, on our way home from a soccer game, we see this outbreak of the presence of God.

We see what happens when you choose to say yes to what God is doing instead of living in fear.

Our focus is on building schools, but we really feel like these schools are not just educating a child and sending them on their way.  Our schools are educating a community and bringing transformation.  And it’s not just for the children and women but also for the perpetrators of violence and even the soldiers themselves.  We are called to carry the love of Jesus to every level of society.

You can find out more about the work of Justice Rising here.

 

Cover photo by Monica Melton on Unsplash