Posted by Craig Borlase on 29 July 2015

I’ve never met anyone who has suffered quite as much as Medad Birungi, a Ugandan preacher, evangelist and all-round force of nature. He was eight before he wore his first pair of trousers, ten before he went to school and 21 before he owned his first pair of shoes.

At night he slept in a mud hut beneath a flea-ridden sack, while in the day extreme hunger forced him to forage for food in a garbage dump, brushing off the excrement before attempting to eat whatever he’d found. Local men used to chase him and use a knife to prize out the jiggas (tiny parasites) from his feet before packing the wounds with a mixture of goat dung and chili seeds. They told him they were doing him a favour, but he knew they were just drunk and looking for an easy target.

But that’s not all.

His father was an alcoholic, polygamist, violent abuser, and his body still bears the scars handed out to him while still a child, even though not every injury left a visible mark. Like the moment when his uncle humiliated him in front of the entire village, shouting: “Look at you! You are worthless and will never amount to anything.”

Then there was the moment that his father announced they were moving 200 miles north. He loaded up all his possessions, wives and children into a truck, but forced Medad, his mother and siblings down from the vehicle. In front of the assembled villagers Medad’s father cursed them all, publicly rejecting them before leaving them crumpled in the dust at the side of the road without a single possession to call their own.

But that’s not all.

After his older sister married, Medad was able to start school. He showed promise and looked set to thrive academically, causing delight among his immediate family and jealousy among those villagers still loyal to his father. On the day he was due to visit his sister to collect money to pay for the new term’s school fees, he was told that she was dead - murdered by assassins hired by Medad’s jealous relatives. He described the moment he found her body, and heard the cries of his sister’s baby, sat in the pool of blood at her side.

For the seventeen-year-old Medad there was only one choice that he could see ahead of him, and he walked towards a nearby waterfall where he planned to kill himself. But something happened; someone intervened and Medad chose to stay alive - but only just. Self-medicating with alcohol, he spend his final teenage years in a fog. Eventually his mother managed to have him accepted into a local high school, but his drunken rages continued there as well. About the only clear-headed thing Medad did was construct a plan to kill each of the 19 people that had played a hand in his sister’s death.

That all changed the day that a Christian choir visited Birungi’s school. They sang of God’s unconditional love and warned of the corrosive power of bitterness. The message was too much for the boy, too close to home. It was as if someone had poured salt on each and every one of his open wounds.

He ran. Boarding a bus home, panic overtook him. He struggled to breathe or think clearly. Yet as clarity settled into his heart amidst the internal chaos, he knew, beyond all doubt, what his problem was: bitterness and rage. He knew that if he carried on life without dealing with them, he would die. He stood up from his seat and spoke aloud: “From today I have agreed to forgive my father. I am not going to kill him. And I am not going to kill my stepmothers or those who murdered my sister, or those who raped my sisters.”

He kept going, listing every one of the nineteen people on his list. He mentioned all their names and confessed the sins that he alone had committed. He confessed that he would now follow Jesus as his Savior, then fell down to the floor of the bus, weeping bitterly.

All the above is most certainly not all there is to say about Medad Birungi, but time and pixels are short so we’ll skip to the end of the story...

Years later Medad’s infectious passion for telling others about what Jesus has done for him continues to thrive. He says he “stopped counting” the number of people who had accepted Christ after he preached when he reached 50,000, and He talks about the fact that, “Forgiveness is like breathing in and breathing out. We must inhale and exhale, asking forgiveness of our own sins and offering it without charge to those who have hurt us. Without it, we suffocate. Without forgiveness we die.”

It wasn’t the choir that did it, but somewhere between the chaos of grief and the power of music, God was able to break through. God stepped in and nothing was ever the same again.

Craig Borlase is author (with Medad Birungi) of Tombstones and Banana Trees: A True Story of Revolutionary Forgiveness.

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