Okongo Samson: Abducted but Not Forsaken (Part 1)

John FarrellBy John Farrell14 Minutes

John Farrell: Is it possible to forgive terrorists who kidnap and torture you?

Okongo Samson: Yes, it’s possible and it is in God’s will that we forgive because forgiveness is in obedience to God’s Word. Not only the terrorists, but anyone who has heard us in one way or another, God’s Word instructs us to forgive. However hard it is, however easy it is, however much dislike or like we have, forgiveness is an act of obedience to God.

The Beginning of Torture

JF: Can you please tell me your story and how you ended up imprisoned by terrorists?

Okongo: Shortly after I had accepted Christ at age 15, I heard God’s voice: “Okongo, I want to use you in the uttermost parts of the world to bring good news that will bring transformation to my people spiritually, emotionally, economically, and bringing up on that life in Christ. And you’ll go through some challenges in life.” At that time, being young and naive, I had no idea, but I kept on hearing God’s voice every single time a week after I’d accepted Christ.

The way in which I accepted Christ was I went to a youth camp because one of the preachers alighted in a place where he was not supposed to alight at and my dad told me to take him there. We arrived there around nine, and when we arrived there I didn’t have shoes. We arrived around nine and I had thorns in my leg so I decided, “Well, I better stay here overnight so I can remove the thorns in the morning and then go back.” Since I was alone, walking back at night, I would probably be eaten by a hyena or lion. So, it was safe for me to stay there overnight. That night is when I heard the gospel and I surrendered my life to Christ.

When I came back and God was revealing that vision to me, I did not know what to expect. I came from a very poor background and had never gone to any town at that time. I had never traveled anywhere at that time. We were basically poor. My parents had 16 children. I’m number 15. So, you can imagine the crowd.

What God led me to do is to continue sharing my story in the village, in the gatherings, and in my community of what God had done to me. That is when I met a group called the Guna, who are missionaries from Germany with a big military. They were going from village to village. I became a part of that, sharing the testimony of my salvation.

One of the evenings, they were talking about prayer for people who need to be mobilized to go to Northern Kenya, Sudan, and Uganda. Not many people want to go to those places because of the difficulty, but for Uganda it was partly because of their then law-resistant army. Joseph Kony was there and abducting children and terrorizing the community. The more I heard about Joseph Kony, it sounded like they are Christian. So, I thought, “I would like to go. If they can hear this gospel and change their life, they would not be doing all this stuff.”

The Guna never wanted me to go because I was young. They said, “If you can get yourself there when we are going there, that would be good.” I found out that they were going in that direction at a certain point so I decided to go on a bus. The bus we were using to go there was abducted by that law-resistant army. We were put into this forest military camp with these terrorists. In that camp, when I was abducted, we were being trained to be teen soldiers. Some of them were children soldiers as young as eight. It was a really horrible situation there. We were beaten and tortured. We were all naked in that forest camp in Northern Uganda.

At the same time, we were also serving these rebels soldiers by washing their wounds when they came back, also feeding them, but also meeting their sexual needs every other hour, depending on which team was there. They were really intoxicated men. That was an experience that really tore me apart. It was like dying.

I saw some of the teens, when they were raped, die in the act. Also, some of them who went to the frontline never came back and the news we heard is they were killed on the frontline. I knew one way or another, if I stayed in the camp with this mounting and constant raping, I would die. But I also knew that if I went to the frontline, I would die. So, I was pretty much hopeless.

A few times I tried to run, and I was not lucky. I was caught and brought back. One of the evenings, they twisted my ankle and my knee so I couldn’t run. So, I couldn’t go through the training. A few times I saw people trying to run very hard and the military shot them, and they died.

In the three weeks I was there, I knew my destiny was death. There was no hope. I was hungry. I was bitter. I was enraged. So, one night I said, “I would rather die doing something.” The best option I picked was to walk one night. That day God miraculously made the military soldiers who were guarding the entrance sleep and I walked all the way to Gulu for 12 hours, naked and overnight. That is the first deliverance God had for me and how I escaped abduction in Northern Uganda.

A Faith Tested

JF: I couldn’t imagine the terror. And you were 15 at the time?

Okongo: Yes. When I accepted Christ, I was 15. When I was in Northern Uganda, I had just turned 16.

JF: So, you were still an infant in your faith. You weren’t even an adult yet and to have experienced that and to have the courage to walk out and by the grace of God have all the guards or soldiers asleep.

Okongo: It was just like operating like a dead person. Either way, there was no hope. If I can’t do anything, I can’t do anything. I was walking like a dead man. That’s how God miraculously rescued me to the point where, when I arrived in Gulu, outside of a small town in the forest, I was walking naked. No one really wanted to move closer to someone walking naked early in the morning, but one lady sympathized with me. I vaguely told her what I was going through or what I had just experienced. I did not know how to tell the story. She came to realize that I was a foreigner and probably was abducted one way or another.

She pointed out, “If you go there, you’ll find the police in Uganda and they will help you.” So, I walked there and that is where I was helped greatly. I was interrogated, of course. It turned out that the bus that we were traveling in when we were abducted was also captured by the military while it was taking some soldiers out. Our luggage compartment was still underneath. They had not removed it. They found my ID and baptism card that I travel with and they brought me back to Kenya.

When I was back in Kenya, my life was torn apart. I was still angry at God. Angry at men. I didn’t like my life. Angry with myself. I questioned these visions. I questioned this salvation. I just wanted to die. I did not know how to tell the story.

In Africa, it’s a community and when you are struggling in one way or another everyone knows. So, clearly everyone knew something was wrong with me, but I was not able to share the testimony of the trip because it had failed. I didn’t make it and I could not articulate to share that. I was really depressed, had anxiety, and I just hated life.

One evening there were some pastors who were doing evangelism outreach. I ended up reaching out to them and I shared this story with them with two agendas: That they prayed that I die so I didn’t have to go through this pain. I didn’t have to have these images and voices I kept hearing. Or God would heal me and take this away from me.

I went there and it was not handled well and it became part of the preaching that evening. All of a sudden, the news gets going, “Look at this boy who went on a mission, never was trained, and was raped. Now he’s expecting a baby.” That did not help me in my healing and recovery. So, I became bitter with the people of faith and the church to the point where I went to the church and sat on that big log, which is like a pew, but no one wanted to sit close to me because when you are raped you were considered dirty. It’s true even today in many places. It’s just ignorance.

I developed hate. I was lonely. I felt forsaken. I felt abandonment when I came back. But one thing I knew was God had never abandoned me nor forsaken me as I was going through this. I was just really not in a good place, but God’s voice saying “Okongo, I want to use you in the uttermost most part of the world” continued to ring every single time while I was going through the pain. In addition to that, the voices that we were crying when we were abducted and the voices of the other teens that I left there in the pain, when they were being raped multiple times, did not escape from me. Those came with me. So, I was in a place of a mess. Unhealthy in all aspects.

Order your copy of Abducted but Not Forsaken: How One Man’s Escape from a Notorious Terrorist Brought Hope to Africa by Okongo Samson