Archive for the ‘HMMMM’ Category

Read >Psalms 18 – 22

The LORD is my rock, and my fortress, and my deliverer; my God, my strength, in whom I will trust; my buckler, and the horn of my salvation, and my high tower. I will call upon the LORD, who is worthy to be praised: so shall I be saved from mine enemies (Ps. 18:2-3).

These verses are an awesome testimony to how David felt about the Lord. David, even at a young age, had seen God work in and through his life. David truly knew of what God was capable. 

And I heard as it were the voice of a great multitude, and as the voice of many waters, and as the voice of mighty thunderings, saying, Alleluia: for the Lord God omnipotent reigneth (Rev. 19:6).

David had seen God work in these ways in his life. God had been a defender for him as he faced the lion and the bear as a simple shepherd that was protecting his family’s flock. Not only did God protect David, He gave David the victory over the beasts.

 But whoso looketh into the perfect law of liberty, and continueth therein, he being not a forgetful hearer, but a doer of the work, this man shall be blessed in his deed (James 1:25).

David not only had experienced God’s empowerment in battle, but he knew all about God’s hand of protection. King Saul had wanted David dead because of the jealousy he felt over the people’s love for David. He hunted David with all that was at his disposal. The Lord guided David continually throughout this time. God kept David out of Saul’s reach until Saul was killed in battle.

Let me just start straight up, exactly how I see it. ​In some sense I don’t think the colonial project really ended in Nigeria. We just shifted the tyranny and extractive ethos to a local elite.

What difference is it to a Teacher in Takum, A Farmer in Otukpo or a Fisherman in Ekim,  if his faraway oppressor is in Abuja or in London, or indeed, in Jalingo, Makurdi or Uyo his state capital?

When people talk about a country growing from poor to rich, that gets lost in the jargon of income per capita and other metrics.

In fact, what that looks like is a fisherman in Ekim in 1923 has grand kids who have vastly better incomes, education, health, opportunity. It means that a fisherman’s grandchild has the opportunity to compete to be a bank manager or even CEO today. That’s progress. 

It’s about people, en masse, moving from a life where they have low productivity to vastly higher productivity. But what I think has happened since 1923 is that children of fishermen mostly became fishermen themselves, with no change in productivity. Or they moved to cities to work in other low productivity jobs. Comparing his grandfather’s life to his, it hasn’t changed much (or has grown worse).

This is the challenge. How does a society develop to ensure that each successive generation lives better and has a better shot: progress.

So many problems just vanish when people are well fed, life is not bitterly difficult, the kids are looked after, etc. People keep looking to the various governments. We expect that an omnipotent Federal Government has the resources to fix all problems: It can’t. 
Looking at the 2017 budget across Africa, it is clear that the Federal Government of Nigeria is broke. We plan to spend roughly $120/Nigerian. The Kenyan Government is spending $560/Kenyan. South Africa: $2180/SAn. That is a big difference. 

But that doesn’t tell the full tale really, because as the saying goes: ‘Every Nigerian is a Local Government’. We are paying for that budget. We are paying in hardship, in the high cost of living, the lack of opportunity, one of the lowest life expectancy rates on earth and so on.
Of course, in the middle of all this, we supposedly have one of the biggest economies in Africa. I always find that one hilarious. If we had the productivity of the average South African worker, our economy would be two or three times its current size (our labour pool is 3 times larger than theirs). Also, SA’s government is spending about 33% of GDP. We, with our unsigned budget, are spending 7%. Again, pointer that Government isn’t that big.

The Government has to start working to empower Nigerians. It cannot be this colonialist mafia that just extracts from the population. They sit in Abuja with the best roads in the country, but a man in Nnewi or Aba cannot ship his produce through Calabar or Port Harcourt. Buhari is ‘recuperating’ in London claiming to be taking made in Nigeria drugs, while doctors are being tassed in LUTH over salaries that they are actually owed. This is colonialism!

I think it is so bad that we do not EXPECT things to get better in the next 25 years, so we optimise towards the proximate next best. 

Always interesting to read about America after the war (and California in the 70s). Phrase ‘alive with possibility’ always seems to come up. What phrases come up in your everyday experience? Of course we hear ‘there is money in this country,’ but it rings hollow for most people. What tends to ring true are things like: ‘This country is finished’; referring to other countries ‘these are serious countries’ and so on. You face a self-fulfilling prophecy situation — you think the country is finished, so you behave like a person living in a finished country. You don’t inflate the contract by 20% and fix the road well, you under-engineer the road and inflate the contract by 200%. 10 people do well, 1,000,000 suffer. The same road is re-tendered in a different budget cycle and the sham is repeated. 

2019 is coming. There will be an incredible amount of energy poured into it from that 7 trillion naira budget (and other budgets to come). To what end? The person is inheriting a mess. (And the funniest part is that we are going to hear the same vacuous, platitudinous slogans!). Actor, Andy Roid in Game of Thrones described it as “focusing on the politics of the Red Keep while White Walkers, Dothraki Hordes and Dragons are coming for you”. We aren’t talking about our real problems. 

The country is broke; y’all are marrying and having babies far too much; the government is choking off progress. We need to think about how govt can become more accountable, become less colonialist, to actually work for the people. Maybe that is confederalism or true federalism, I don’t know. I’ll leave thoughts on how to change the status quo for another time. I drop my pen here. We all need to start thinking right and start acting.

Read >Ezra 8 – 9

For I was ashamed to require of the king a band of soldiers and horsemen to help us against the enemy in the way: because we had spoken unto the king, saying, The hand of our God is upon all them for good that seek Him; but His power and His wrath is against all them that forsake Him – (Ezra 8:22).

The feelings that this man of God had were in some ways understandable and in other ways not. It is easy to see why he could have been ashamed or embarrassed. The proclamation had been made that the hand of protection of God was on all those that sought Him. It was said that God would strike down all the enemies of His people. It would seem that trust was being put in man instead of God by asking for military assistance. If this was the case, there was definitely an error to trust anything over God. 

For therefore we both labour and suffer reproach, because we trust in the living God, who is the Saviour of all men, specially of those that believe (I Tim. 4:10).

On the other hand, things can always be looked at in a different way. It is true that God often works in supernatural ways. We see that clearly in select parts of the Word of God. There were healings, resurrections from the dead and many other miracles done, especially during the time that Christ lived in human form. Many seek after God for this very type of work in their life.

Then those men, when they had seen the miracle that Jesus did, said, This is of a truth that prophet that should come into the world (John 6:14).

However, God will work, often, in other ways. God will use natural means to meet the needs within our lives. When we need comfort, He may send it through a dear friend. When we need healing, He may send it in the form of a doctor. And when we need protection, God may send an army of humans or an army of angels or whatever he chooses. The choice must be left up to the Lord.

The Lord could very well do exactly as this verse said using either a human army or an angelic one. God can use either to crush the enemies of Him and His people.

One thing about the ongoing Big Brother Naija reality TV show is the fact that whether you watch it or not, it’s in your face. As such, the concern of many over it’s value to the Nigerian society cannot be pushed aside. Unfortunately, the show has thrived on catering to the naughty or vice instincts in most people, with rated and raunchy scenes being the order of the house. Not surprisingly, many had called for a government action against broadcasting such content to a Nigerian audience in the future. Expectedly, that threw up mixed reactions from the Nigerian populace. While some find the entertainment exciting, other more serious folk are concerned about how the content affects values. Either way, the show has continued.
But perhaps more compelling in the argument against the continued airing of the show is one of the housemates, Tboss’ inability to recite the Nigerian National anthem in a routine truth or dare game. Since then, social media Nigeria cannot seem to recover from the shock that a potential winner of a show which is purportedly meant to be won by representing Nigerian values cannot recite something as basic as the national anthem. Shame!
More annoying to many is the fact that rather than own up to the goof and find a more intelligent way to placate her fans, the said housemate, Tboss, went on a tirade against her fellow contestant, Debbie-Rise, who posed the harmless kindergarten question to her, blaming her for the negative blowback her failure would do her chances of winning the show! Unbelievable. But then, nature has its own ways of shaming misfits. As it is, Tboss’ goof clearly, barring any miracle or organisers scam, makes the coast clear for other show favourites Efe or Bisola, who those following the show say are more deserving.
But much more than expose Tboss’ detachment from her country’s ideals, her national anthem disaster does also expose an aspect of our general failure as a people without deeper values for what is truly important. The national anthem of any country is the soundtrack of national existence. Footballers cry out of passion for their countries when singing before a game. Soldiers too. Great political leaders world over do too. The anthem is the soul of the country. But obviously not here in Nigeria. Only last year, two ambassadorial nominees, Alhaji Ibrahim Bida from Niger State and Mrs Vivian Okeke from Anambra State couldn’t recite the anthem at a Senate screening. Still, they were screened. The message is clear, it doesn’t matter whether you are passionate about the country or not, once you’re connected you have your way!
At the end of the day, beyond all the fuss about Tboss’ national anthem fiasco, Bisola’ blowjob on Thin Tall Tony, Kemen’s violation of Tboss’ womanhood, the free kissing sessions, the boobs baring moments and all the bad drama that Nigeria has been made to see on the road to creating a Big Brother model, we must all ask ourselves Olamide’s poser: who did the show epp? Apart from the organiser making loads of money off subscribers and voters, what else? Thin Tall Tony says he can make the prize money in three months on his own, meaning he or the others don’t necessarily need the show to make it!
As a final word to Tboss and all those who are privately guilty of this crime of passion for country, go on YouTube and find American singer Beyonce to teach you how to sing the Nigerian national anthem
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Before and after: two simple words frequently used to describe a city in western Guatemala named Almolonga.  The locals consistently refer to their city in terms of two eras: before the power of God came in the mid- 1970s, and after, when it is reported that 90% of the 18,000 residents became born-again Christians.  The way the people of Almolonga say “before” is reminiscent of how others might say, “in the dark ages.”

After:  The word signals a new epoch for the city, marked by family harmony, prosperity and peace in the Holy Spirit.  The contrast is stark and real to these people who remember how, just 25 years ago, demons, fear, poverty, disease, idolatry, and alcohol dominated their region and their families.

Some call Almolonga the “Miracle City” because of the radical   transformations in many dimensions of this ethnically Quiché society (descendants of the Mayans).  Some Christian leaders say Almolonga is the best example they’ve seen of how intercession, spiritual warfare, and evangelism can transform a community.

Driving into Almolonga, one is immediately struck by the brilliant green hues of the fertile fields spreading throughout this magnificent valley.  Even before the onset of the rainy season, when much of the Guatemalan landscape is still dry, Almolonga remains vibrant and lush.  Hence, Almolonga is nicknamed   “America’s Vegetable Garden”.

Almolonga, Guatemala

A weak church

But it wasn’t always so.  About 25 years ago, the Church was small and weak, the fields were undeveloped and the city was characterized by an alcohol-induced lethargy – the fruit of serving an idol named Maxirnon.  This perverse idol is associated with the vices of smoking, drinking liquor, and immorality.  Maximon is a 3-foot idol consisting of a clay mask and a wood and cloth body.  He receives the kisses of the faithful who kneel before him.  Placing at his feet bottles of liquor purchased with their meagre earnings, they hope against hope that their offering will bring blessing and healing.  The priest   offers lit cigars to the idol, and taking a mouthful of the liquor offering, spews it over the devotees.  The followers leave expecting a blessing, perhaps receiving a demonic display of power, but nonetheless slipping deeper and deeper into an abyss of oppression.

Sadly, his influence is so strong that he is considered the patron saint and protector of many Guatemalan mountain villages.  In addition to serving Maximon, many of the residents of Almolonga once sought the blessing of other idols as well.  Pastor Genero Riscaiché, one of the pastors at Almolonga’s largest church, Mission Evangelical Monte Calvario, notes, “Before, this was a very idolatrous town.  There were many different types of idols.  Many worshipped the silver image of Almolonga’s patron saint, San   Pedro.”

But in 1974-75 the Kingdom of God dramatically started clashing with Maximon and the ruling powers of darkness controlling Almolonga.  Following the pattern of historic revivals, God first began this community transformation in the heart of one of his consecrated servants.  Mariano Riscaiché (no relation to Genero), now the pastor of El Calvario Church, was a typical young man of Almolonga who sought the protection and blessing of idols before he encountered the living God.

At his conversion, Pastor Mariano heard the Lord say, “I have elected you to serve Me.”   He said it was like waking from a dream; his understanding was opened and the promises of the Bible became real.  Pastor Mariano’s burning desire was to see people come to Christ and find freedom.  Then, one by one, his own family was saved.

Power encounters


Jesus is Lord of Almolonga


A new season of power encounters with Maximon began shortly after Pastor Mariano’s surrender to Christ.  Mariano and other pastors in town, such as Guillermo Satey, founding and senior pastor of Mission Evangelical Monte Calvario, saw more than 400 people delivered from demons.  When believers asked a demon to identify itself, “Maximon” was sometimes uttered by the oppressed one.  This mass deliverance was similar to the book of Acts where people burned their possessions that linked them to a past consumed by witchcraft and idolatry.  “Those who practiced magic brought their books together and began burning them.” (Acts 19:19, NASB).  The eviction of these demons not only brought freedom to individuals, but the spiritual oppression over the city began to lift as well.

The early days of spiritual warfare were extremely intense.  Those being set free were sometimes thrown across the room, and at times coughed up blood.  The Church continued steadfast in intercession, spiritual warfare, and evangelism as the name of Jesus was demonstrated to be the dominant force in this battle.  Pastor Mariano asserts that the enemy had to be confronted directly and boldly.

One of those set free from demonic control was a powerful priest of Maximon named José Albino Tazei.  Many people in Almolonga sought him out to heal their illnesses, foresee their future, and to bless their businesses.  But one night, José, near death after a month-long drinking binge, cried out to God to save him.  At 11:00 pm, José woke his family to share the glorious news of his new-found freedom in Christ.  In repentance, the family burned all of their idols and witchcraft paraphernalia.  The following day José went to the mountains to fast and seek the Lord.

Witnessing this well-known slave to witchcraft come to Christ intensified the Church’s intercession for God to transform not only individuals like José, but their whole community as well.

Before his conversion José would abandon the family for eight to ten days at a time to drink and conduct witchcraft activities for Maximon.  He often left his family without any money for food.  As his dedication to Maximon grew, so did his addiction to alcohol.

José’s oldest daughter, Francisca, grimaces and lowers her voice as she recounts the memory of herself and the other children kneeling before Maximon, burning candies and bringing their offerings.  But quickly she diverts the subject to “after we surrendered to Jesus” and joyfully asserts that God changed everything 24 years ago.  She proudly inserts, “We were some of the first converts during the mid 70s.”

“Before we received Christ, we didn’t have any money, little food, or a decent house, and only clothes discarded by others,” she continues.  “My father started seeking God and fasting.  He began a business and started working diligently.  Now, God has given us a house, a small store, and a calm, hard-working, godly father.”

Francisca recounts, “The church accepted us and didn’t leave us in the middle.  They loved us and visited us, and really struggled with us as we became established in Christ.” This care for new converts is one of the key ways God has used to maintain and deepen the effects of this revival.

As his grip started loosening, the evil one instigated a persecution against the Church.  Some merchants would not even sell food to believers recently set free from the old ways.  Enemies of the Gospel would go into church and do witchcraft to disrupt the services.  The believers suffered under this backlash for years, but one particular incident stands out in Pastor Mariano’s memory.  Six men attacked him, tying his hands behind his back.  They knocked his front teeth out, then one man shoved a gun in his mouth.  Pastor Mariano prayed for God to cover him, and as the Lord’s presence descended he heard the  “click… click… click” of the gun, unable to fire.  Bewildered by this divine intervention, his attackers ran away.

Pastor Genero, a native of Almolonga, describes the early resistance to the Gospel as follows: “If a person from outside Almolonga came to someone’s home to share the Gospel, people would kick them out of their house with sticks, stones, and even shovels.  It was terrible!  They didn’t view the Gospel as Good News, but as something offensive.  Unbelievers circulated rumours about the Church and accused the Christians of being lazy.”  Some of the unbelievers threw stones at houses where the church met for prayer.  Pastor Genero notes, “Many of those who threw stones are now leaders in the church.  Things have now changed, for even the non-Christians respect the Gospel.”

As one who has pastored a little over one year in Almolonga, Pastor Joel  Pérez agrees and says, “Even unbelievers in Almolonga recognize the  marvellous work of God.  These few unbelievers acknowledge that the advances in their society and agriculture are due to the Gospel.  They do not resist the Church now, as we heard about in the early days.  More than once, I have been eating in a restaurant and someone has said, “You are a pastor, aren’t you?  I’m not a Christian, but let me buy your lunch.’”

Since the power of God started transforming the community, crime has taken a definite downturn.  Donato Santiago, chief of police, can sometimes be spotted resting in the shade during market days.  Armed with a whistle, this tranquil brother has seen it all during his 23 years as a policeman in Almolonga.  “We used to average 20 to 30 people in jail each month,” he recounts.”  Crowds would gather just to watch the drunks fight.  It seemed like I had no rest.  I was often awakened in the middle of the night to stop family violence.  Before, we had four jails and that was insufficient to adequately house all of our prisoners,” Donato recalls.  “Things were so bad we enlisted around a dozen citizens at night to help the officers patrol the streets.  But now things are different!  The people have changed their attitudes.  Crime has risen in many places over the past 20 years, but not here in Almolonga.”

What accounts for this dramatic change in the townspeople?  Donato is quick to respond, “The Word of God!  Once people were converted they changed their customs and left behind drinking.  They gained respect in the community.  Day by day the rest followed and joined the church because of the changes they saw in the lives of Christians.  People living with a deep respect for God accounts for the changed attitudes.  Crime and drinking are now viewed by the people as a waste of time and a waste of money.”

The last jail closed in 1989!  Now remodelled and called “The Hall of Honour,” it’s a place for celebrating weddings, receptions, and community events.   In addition to the drop in the crime rate, great societal changes can also be observed by the absence of prostitutes and the number of bars turned into small stores with new names like “Little Jerusalem” and “Jehovah Jireh.”  Before, there was a house of prostitution and people often waited in line to get into the packed bars.  “There was even a custom in which we threw a party and gave alcohol (in small portions) to the little ones,” says Pastor Genero.  In the 1970s, 34 cantinas did a brisk business in Almolonga; today there are only three.  After the bars started shutting down, a new one opened but the owner closed the doors when he met the Lord three months later.   He now plays in a Christian band called “Combo Israel.”

Miracles

God’s mercy over Almolonga is evidenced in many ways, but one often-repeated display of grace is the incredible number of miracles.  Many have come to Christ through signs and wonders.  Teresa and her family found new life in Christ after she received a last-chance miracle.  In 1984, the incision from her poorly performed Cesarean section became infected.  This gangrenous state progressed to the point where she couldn’t eat; drinking was extremely difficult.

Teresa continued to weaken.  Different doctors each said that she was in a very dangerous state.  Valeriano, her husband, remembers the days of just hopelessly waiting for her to die.  She died about 10:00 pm one night.  Her husband checked for a pulse and placed a mirror beneath her nostrils to see if she was breathing, but there were no signs of life.  For three hours she lay motionless.  Grief stricken, at 1:00 AM Valeriano went to look for Pastor Mariano to make funeral preparations.  As Pastor Mariano and Valeriano were walking back to the house, Pastor Mariano heard the unmistakable voice of the Lord saying, “Do not prepare for the funeral; pray for her.  I will lift her up.’

Pastor Mariano recalls coming into the home seeing distraught people frantically running back and forth.  He grabbed Valeriano and they began to pray for God’s miraculous intervention.  After 10 minutes, Teresa suddenly began stirring.  Her colour returned and she sat up on the bed! Valeriano was astounded at this display of God’s power.  Pastor Mariano began to preach the Gospel to all the neighbours and family who had gathered at the home that night.  And in the days that followed, many believed.

Teresa’s strength was restored day by day.  In deep gratitude, she and Valeriano also gave their lives to Christ.  Now people come to their home to receive prayer for healing.  Remembering her miracle inspires faith when Teresa prays for others; she has witnessed many miracles as a result.  Valeriano now preaches the Gospel and testifies of a miracle working Heavenly Father.  He joyfully says, “God is the only one who is on our side and only he can do these miracles.”

Just as Vateriano and Teresa’s family opened their hearts to the Gospel after this powerful miracle, in many cases the revival has spread through family units.  Pastor Mariano articulates a truth held dear in Almolonga when he says, “True success is when your whole family comes to the Lord.” Therefore believers seriously fast and pray to bring their family into God’s family.

Families redeemed

Although the women still weave and wear the beautiful indigenous dresses and carry heavy loads upon their heads (like Quiché women have for hundreds of years), they walk in a new dignity – a result of the redemption of the family.  Prior to God’s inbreaking, Pastor Genero recalls,  “The majority of men drank and the homes were disorderly.  Neglect and physical abuse were rampant.  It was common for men to hit their wives, sometimes even with sticks.”

“The family system before was at the bottom,” comments Pastor Francisco Garcia of Iglesia de Dios de la Profecia Universal.  Women were largely viewed simply as servants.  Pastor Genero comments, “Before, the custom was that only the men would study.  We believed that schools were not for women.  Since the Gospel came, we teach that both sexes have the same opportunities.  Today we see some women who are professionals.”

Ramon Cotzoy’s wife recalls the earlier days.  “My husband would sometimes treat me harshly and try to throw me out of the house.  Things have changed.   Now he is a humble man of God.”

Ramon admits that he neglected and mistreated his family prior to surrendering to Christ.  Now he ministers to men in the community and exhorts them to stop drinking and start loving their families.  Ramon observes, “Because the unbelievers see the peaceful example of how the Christian men are living with their families, they are treating their wives better now.”

“Today there is more communication within families and very little abuse in Almolonga.  In the church, we teach a lot on biblical family orientation,” says Pastor Genero.  “Couples solve their problems through dialogue and communication.”

This renewal of family harmony has opened the way for the Spirit of God to span the generations and impact all age groups, including the youth and children.  The youth do not view Christianity as simply something for the older people.  There is a new thrust of youth-motivated home groups with the focus to bring the remaining unsaved youth in the city to Christ.  Pastor Joel observes, “The youth are getting hold of God.  In different churches some of the youth groups even go on special fasting retreats.”

Chief of Police Santiago says, “The parents are taking better care of their children now.” Santiago explains why there aren’t teens loitering around town.  “The youth work hard to buy farm trucks.  This atmosphere of diligent work is the best atmosphere to grow up in.”

Seeing the youth and children cheerfully working alongside their parents in the fields and marketplace evokes a smile in visitors to Almolonga.  Pastor Mariano’s father, one of the oldest men in the city, observes, “Everyone in Almolonga works.  Even the 12-15-year olds fill a truck with vegetables to sell.   They throw themselves into God and into their work.”

Community transformation

This work ethic has produced an economic renewal, an incredible dimension of community transformation throughout Airnolonga.  There is no evidence of the unemployment, the beggars, the drunkards asleep in alleyways, or the loiterers that so often characterize similar places.  In other cities around this region people often appear exhausted with life.  Not so in Almolonga.

The people’s diligence and tenacity have seen this valley come alive with multiple harvests each year.  Celery, leeks, cauliflower, turnips, cabbage, potatoes, carrots, radishes, and watercress thrive under the skilful care of Almolonga’s farmers.  These vegetables are often incredibly larger than the size of those grown in the surrounding villages.  Pastor Joel attributes this agricultural blessing to the Lord of Glory.  He mentioned a time when agronomists from the U.S.A. visited Almolonga to test their scientific principles to produce better crops.  The result?  Pastor Joel says, “The wisdom God gave the farmers of Almolonga produced more than the scientific methods yielded.”

A subterranean stream provides a constant source of water for the farms.  These lucrative products have elevated the lifestyles of many of the believers.  Pastor Mariano’s father was one of the former bar owners who now runs a tienda (small store) and raises vegetables.  He reports that the greatest changes in commerce came in the 80s because the farmers not only quit spending their money on liquor, but they began to incorporate principles from God’s Word, saving and investing their profits.  Before the farmers would farm just enough to support their drinking habit; they had no vision beyond that.

Then God started giving the farmers understanding.  They began to plan ahead and invest in topsoil and fertilizers.  Some farmers have even paid cash for Mercedes trucks, emblazoning them with names like Regalito de Dios (“Little Gift from God”).  Many farmers have now hired others to work their fields.  They are even developing farms in the surrounding communities as they shift from being farmers to businessmen.  Mariano’s father marvels, “We never dreamed of selling our produce outside of Guatemala, but now we export to other nations.”

Church unity

Since this relatively small town has so many growing churches, a question often arises concerning the relationship between the pastors.  Pastor Joel describes the fellowship among pastors as “a tight fraternity of ministers.”  He further notes,  “We have an agenda of prayer and fasting.  We go outside the city to a hill to pray and earnestly seek the Lord …  When we have little things come up or if the enemy tries to interrupt our unity, we quickly restore it through seeking the Lord for more souls to come into the Kingdom.”

Pastor Genero says, “Presently we are strengthening our fellowship.  Years ago there was an association of pastors, but it faded out because of individuality.  This year we have restored the pastoral association again.”  Two Christian radio stations service Almolonga.  Pastor Joel reports that these stations enhance unity by allowing air time for all the evangelical pastors to use for a token price.

Reaching 90% of the city with the Gospel doesn’t satisfy the pastors’ evangelistic zeal.  Pastor Francisco emphatically asserts, “We are applying God’s guidance for the churches to keep growing.  We have the goal to reach the whole town!”

Pastor Mariano believes God is giving the Church insight into the strategies to deepen and extend this community impact into future generations.  His heart breaks when he hears about powerful revivals which were not passed along to the next generation.  To maintain the results already reached in Almolonga, Pastor Mariano’s strategy encompasses a fivefold focus:

living in the fear of the Lord,

maintaining intense prayer and fasting,

building Christian schools,

caring for new converts,

and establishing strong families.

Firstly, he urges his flock to, “always live under the direction of the Holy Spirit.  Live your life in the fear of the Lord as a good testimony.  When we truly live the Christian life, demonic principalities are more easily overthrown.”

Secondly, to maintain the results won through intercession and spiritual warfare, the Church must continue steadfast in prayer and fasting.  Long past the breakthroughs in the 70s, many believers in Almolonga continue weekly disciplines of prayer and fasting.  At El Calvario Church, people are held accountable to participate in prayer and fasting.

Thirdly, Pastor Mariano is taking steps to build a Christian school, which he believes is critical to sustain the revival.  He says that the children not only need an education, but a Christ-centred education taught by Christian teachers.  “Education without Christian teachers can set up a counterattack from Satan by introducing traditions outside of Christianity.  Then all that we have reached [in the revival] can crumble.”

A fourth ingredient to maintain revival is an intentional plan to care for the new Christians.  Someone from the church personally visits the new believers.  They hold special discipleship meetings focusing on basic Bible doctrines.  Deliverance and a clear break with their past life are important.  “We inspire them toward diligent hard work, debt reduction and to live in the fear of God.  New believers are instructed to prepare themselves for baptism.  Fasting is one of the first spiritual disciplines taught to the new Christian,” reports Pastor Mariano.

The fifth and final major focus to sustain the revival’s impact is establishing strong families.  Christians are instructed to only marry fellow believers.  One counter-cultural measure El Calvario introduced in the late 1970s was the concept of letting people decide for themselves whom they would marry.  Today, parents are consulted and there is a process of obtaining parental blessing and approval in mate selection, but the decision rests with the couple.  Before, the parents would determine whom their children would marry.  A courtship period was also unheard of in their culture; now they recommend a 6-month to a year courtship during which the couple gets to know each other.  This has increased marital harmony within the Christianity community.  Consequently, other churches in the community also follow similar plans.

Testimonies of individuals being changed relationally, spiritually, and financially by God’s power are common in Christianity.  But the amazing distinctive of Almolonga is that Christians there tell their testimony not simply as individuals, but collectively, as families and as a people.

Visiting a service at El Calvario Church is a little taste of Heaven.  The church building is one of Guatemala’s largest and most beautiful.  This debt-free sanctuary (seating 1200+) is the gathering place of exuberant worshippers.   Their release of emotions toward the Son of God is noteworthy because culturally these people are generally stoic and very reserved in expressing their emotions.  To watch this passion for Jesus, especially among the youth and children, it is hard to imagine that only a generation back, their families were in bondage to alcohol, idols, and demons.  Perhaps that legacy of suffering explains the great abandon with which they worship Jesus: these people know they have something to celebrate!

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See Almolonga stories also in Great Revival Stories and Transforming Revivals

Mell Winger has a Doctor of Ministry degree from Fuller Theological Seminary.

This article is reproduced with permission from Chapter 17 of The Transforming Power of Revival, edited by Harold Caballeros and Mell Winger (Peniel Press, Buenos Aires, Argentina, 1998). 

Share this page to bless others – see links below. 

A video called Transformation, including a report on Almolonga in Guatemala and Cali in Columbia, is available from Toowoomba City Church, PO Box 2216, Toowoomba, Qld. 4350.  Ph: 07 4638 2399.  E-mail: tccemail@tcchurch.com.au 

See also Renewal Journal # 17 Unity “Shapshots of Glory” by George Otis Jr.

©  Renewal Journal #16: Vision (2000, 2012)  www.renewaljournal.com


Reproduction is allowed with the copyright included in the text.

THE WEDDING PARTY MASSACRE

ON THE AFTERNOON of March 6, 2002, Lt. Cmdr. Vic Hyder and more than two dozen operators from SEAL Team 6 boarded two Chinook helicopters en route to eastern Afghanistan hoping that within hours, they would kill or capture Osama bin Laden.

Earlier that evening, general officers from the Joint Special Operations Command had scrambled the SEALs after watching a Predator drone video feed of a man they suspected was bin Laden set off in a convoy of three or four vehicles in the Shah-i-Kot Valley, where al Qaeda forces had fortified themselves. Although the video had revealed no weapons, and the generals had only tenuous intelligence that the convoy was al Qaeda — just suspicions based on the color of the man’s flowing white garb and the deference others showed him — they were nervous that bin Laden might get away again, as he had a few months earlier after the bombing of the Tora Bora mountains in December 2001. This was a crucial moment: Kill bin Laden now and the war could be over after only six months. The vehicles were headed east toward the Pakistani border, as if they were trying to escape. The mission was code-named Objective Bull.

Afghanistan’s Paktia province is about the size of New Hampshire, with 10,000-foot ridgelines and arid valleys with dried riverbeds below, nestled along the border with Pakistan’s tribal areas. The prominent mountain range often served as the last geographic refuge for retreating forces entering Pakistan. As the special operations helicopters approached the convoy from the north and west, Air Force jets dropped two bombs, halting the vehicles and killing several people instantly.

That was not how the SEALs wanted the mission to develop. Inside the helicopters, some of the operators had pushed to hold off any air attack, arguing that they had plenty of time to intercept the convoy before it reached the Pakistani border. “The reason SEAL Team 6 exists is to avoid bombs and collateral damage,” said a retired SEAL Team 6 member who was on the mission. “We said, ‘Let us set down and take a look at the convoy to determine if it’s al Qaeda.’ Instead, they dropped several bombs.”

The bombing stopped the convoy along a dry wadi, or ravine, with two of the trucks approximately a kilometer apart. Survivors began to flee the wreckage, and over the radio, Hyder and his team heard the order that the convoy was now in a “free fire zone,” allowing the Chinooks’ gunners to fire at anyone deemed a threat, regardless of whether they were armed. The SEALs had no authority over the helicopter gunners.

The two Chinooks landed separately, one near each end of the convoy. Both teams exited the helicopters to find a grim scene. The SEALs with Hyder came out and separated into two groups. One, led by an enlisted operator, took in the damage to one of the vehicles. Men, women, and a small girl, motionless and in the fetal position, appeared dead. Inside the vehicle were one or two rifles, as is customary in Afghanistan, but none of the men wore military clothing or had any extra ammunition. “These were family weapons,” said the retired SEAL.

The SEALs from the other helicopter immediately headed up a steep hill after landing to locate an armed man who had been shot from the helicopter. When they reached the hilltop, the operators looked down in disbelief at women and children, along with the man — all were dead or mortally wounded from the spray of gunfire from the Chinook’s gunners, who had unloaded after the free fire zone had been declared. They realized the man had been trying to protect the women and children.

Other SEALs on the ground proceeded as though the survivors were combatants. Hyder and an enlisted operator named Monty Heath had gone in a different direction and saw a survivor flee the bombed vehicle toward a nearby berm. Heath fired once, hitting the man, sending him tumbling down the back side of the small rise.

At that point, Hyder began assessing the damage and surveying the dead. “I was going around to the different KIAs with my camera to take photos,” Hyder told me in an interview, using the military term for enemies killed in action. “It was a mess.”

Hyder said that he and a few other SEALs began to bury the casualties near a ravine by piling rocks over them. As he did so, he approached the man Heath had shot. “He was partially alive, faced down, his back to me, and he rolled over. I shot him, finished him. He was dying, but he rolled over and I didn’t know whether he was armed or not. That was the end of that.” Hyder said that his single shot had blasted open the man’s head.

According to Hyder, the encounter ended there. But the retired SEAL who was on the mission tells a different story. According to this source, after shooting the man, who turned out to be unarmed, Hyder proceeded to mutilate his body by stomping in his already damaged skull. When Heath, who witnessed Hyder’s actions, reported them to his team leader in the presence of other members of the team, “several of the guys turned and walked away,” said the retired SEAL. “They were disgusted.” He quoted Heath as saying, “I’m morally flexible but I can’t handle that.” Heath refused to comment for this article.

The retired SEAL, who spent the better part of two decades at the command, said he never asked Hyder why he mutilated the corpse. It wasn’t necessary. He assumed it was a twisted act of misplaced revenge over the previous days’ events — specifically, the gruesome death of Hyder’s teammate Neil Roberts.

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Top: Photo of helicopter on Takur Ghar. Bottom left: Screengrab from drone feed during the battle of Roberts Ridge. Bottom right: Candid photo of U.S. Navy SEAL Neil Roberts.

 

Photos: U.S. Department of Defense; Screengrab from video by U.S. Department of Defense; U.S. Navy by the Roberts family

LESS THAN 48 HOURS before Objective Bull commenced, a small reconnaissance group from SEAL Team 6’s Red Team had tried to establish an observation post on the 10,000-foot peak of Takur Ghar, overlooking the Shah-i-Kot valley, where forces from the Army’s 10th Mountain Division intended to strike the last redoubt of al Qaeda forces massed in Afghanistan. Neil “Fifi” Roberts, a member of the SEAL recon team, fell 10 feet from the back of a Chinook and was stranded as the helicopter took fire from foreign al Qaeda fighters who were already on the snow-covered mountaintop. Two hours passed before the SEALs in the damaged helicopter were able to return. They didn’t know it, but Roberts was already dead, shot at close range in the head shortly after his helicopter departed the mountaintop. A Predator drone video feed filmed an enemy fighter standing over Roberts’s body for two minutes, trying to behead the dead American with a knife.

Eventually, two other elements of a quick reaction force — one of which included Hyder — landed at the top of Takur Ghar. In the ensuing 17-hour battle with the al Qaeda fighters, six more Americans were killed, and several were wounded. After the bodies were recovered, Hyder and the other members of Red Team were forced to reckon with the mutilation and near beheading of their fellow SEAL. Hyder was new to SEAL Team 6, but as the ranking officer on the ground during that operation, he was technically in charge. He took Roberts’s death hard.

Neil Roberts was the first member of SEAL Team 6 to die in the Afghan war, and among the first elite operators who died after 9/11. Beyond the dehumanizing manner in which the al Qaeda fighters had treated his corpse, Roberts’s death pierced the SEALs’ self-perception of invincibility.

The battle of Roberts Ridge, as it came to be known, has been frequently described in books and press accounts. But what happened during Objective Bull, the assault on the convoy in the Shah-i-Kot Valley, has never been previously reported.

Roberts’s death, and the subsequent operations in eastern Afghanistan during the winter 2002 deployment, left an indelible impression on SEAL Team 6, especially on Red Team. According to multiple SEAL Team 6 sources, the events of that day set off a cascade of extraordinary violence. As the legend of SEAL Team 6 grew, a rogue culture arose that operated outside of the Navy’s established mechanisms for command and investigation. Parts of SEAL Team 6 began acting with an air of impunity that disturbed observers within the command. Senior members of SEAL Team 6 felt the pattern of brutality was not only illegal but rose to the level of war crimes.

“To understand the violence, you have to begin at Roberts Ridge,” said one former member of SEAL Team 6 who deployed several times to Afghanistan. “When you see your friend killed, recover his body, and find that the enemy mutilated him? It’s a schoolyard mentality. ‘You guys want to play with those rules?’ ‘OK.’” Although this former SEAL acknowledged that war crimes are wrong, he understood how they happen. “You ask me to go living with the pigs, but I can’t go live with pigs and then not get dirty.”

SEAL Team 6 patches. Clockwise from top left: Blue Squadron, known as the Pirates; Gold Squadron, known as the Crusaders or Knights; Red Squadron, known as the Redmen; and Silver Squadron.

NO SINGLE MILITARY unit has come to represent American military success or heroism more than SEAL Team 6, officially designated as the Naval Special Warfare Development Group and known in military vernacular as DevGru, Team 6, the Command, and Task Force Blue. Its operators are part of an elite, clandestine cadre. The men who make it through the grueling training represent roughly the top 10 percent of all SEALs. They are taught to live and if necessary die for one another. The extreme risks they take forge extreme bonds.

Made up of no more than 200 SEAL operators when the Afghan war began, SEAL Team 6 was the lesser known of the U.S. military’s elite “special mission” units. Created in 1980 and based at the Dam Neck Annex of Naval Air Station Oceana near Virginia Beach, the command prided itself on its culture of nonconformity with the larger military. The unit’s name itself is part of an attempt to obscure U.S. capabilities. When it was commissioned, the Navy had only two SEAL (Sea, Air, and Land) assault teams, but founding officer Cmdr. Richard Marcinko hoped that the number six would lead the Soviet military to inflate its assessment of the Navy’s SEALs.

When SEAL Team 6 first deployed to Afghanistan in January 2002, the command had three assault teams, Red, Blue, and Gold, each with a mascot. Red Team, known as the Redmen, employed a Native American warrior as a mascot; Blue Team, known as the Pirates, wore the Jolly Roger; and Gold Team, known as the Crusaders or Knights, wore a lion or a crusader’s cross.

The prevailing narrative about SEAL Team 6 in news coverage, bestselling books, and Hollywood movies is unambiguously heroic; it centers on the killing of Osama bin Laden and high-profile rescue missions. With few exceptions, a darker, more troubling story has been suppressed and ignored — a story replete with tactical brilliance on battlefields around the world coupled with a pattern of silence and deceit when “downrange” actions lead to episodes of criminal brutality. The unit’s elite stature has insulated its members from the scrutiny and military justice that lesser units would have faced for the same actions.

This account of the crimes of SEAL Team 6 results from a two-year investigation drawing on interviews with 18 current and former members of the unit, including four former senior leaders of the command. Other military and intelligence officials who have served with or investigated the unit were also interviewed. Most would speak about the unit only on background or without attribution, because nearly every facet of SEAL Team 6 is classified. Some sources asked for anonymity citing the probability of professional retaliation for speaking out against their peers and teammates. According to these sources, whether judged by its own private code or the international laws of war, the command has proven to be incapable and unwilling to hold itself accountable for war crimes.

Most SEALs did not commit atrocities, the sources said, but the problem was persistent and recurrent, like a stubborn virus. Senior leaders at the command knew about the misconduct and did little to eradicate it. The official SEAL creed reads, in part: “Uncompromising integrity is my standard. My character and honor are steadfast. My word is my bond.” But after 9/11, another code emerged that made lying — especially to protect a teammate or the command from accountability — the more honorable course of action.

“You can’t win an investigation on us,” one former SEAL Team 6 leader told me. “You don’t whistleblow on the teams … and when you win on the battlefield, you don’t lose investigations.”

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BY THE TIME the two dozen Red Team operators departed for Objective Bull, tension had built up between Hyder, a commissioned officer, and the enlisted operators technically under his command. The situation was not particularly unusual. Historically, SEAL Team 6 is known as a unit where officers “rent their lockers,” because they typically serve about three years before rotating out, whereas the enlisted operators remain for much of their careers, often for a decade or more. Simply put, the unit is an enlisted mafia, where tactics are driven by the expertise developed by the unit’s enlisted assaulters, whose abilities and experience at making rapid threat decisions make up the command’s core resource. Officers like Hyder, who did not pass through the brutal SEAL Team 6 internal training program, known as Green Team, are often viewed with suspicion and occasionally contempt by the enlisted SEAL operators.

Even before the attack on the convoy and the alleged mutilation of the dead Afghan, Hyder had committed at least one killing with questionable justification. Several weeks earlier, in January 2002, Hyder killed an unarmed Afghan man north of Kandahar during the unit’s first ground assault of the war. In that operation, Hyder led a team of Red operators on a nighttime mission to capture suspected al Qaeda militants in a compound. After securing several detainees and cordoning the area, Hyder and his men waited for their helicopters to arrive and extract them. During the mission, the SEALs reported receiving small arms fire from exterior positions, though no one was hit. After 90 minutes, as the helicopters were nearing the rendezvous point, one of the SEALs alerted Hyder that an old man who had been lying in a ditch nearby was walking toward the SEALs’ position.

In an interview, Hyder said the man had approached his position with his arms tucked into his armpits and did not heed warnings from other SEALs to stop. Hyder acknowledged that the man likely did not understand English and probably couldn’t see very well. Unlike the SEALs, the man was not wearing night-vision goggles. “He continued to move towards us,” Hyder said. “I assessed he was nearing a distance where he was within an area where he could do damage with a grenade.” Hyder said that a week earlier, a militant had detonated a concealed grenade after approaching some American CIA officers, seriously injuring them. “He kept moving toward us, so at 15 meters I put one round in him and he dropped. Unfortunately, it turned out he had an audiocassette in his hand. By the rules of engagement he became a legitimate target and it was supported. It’s a question, why was he a threat? After all that activity, he’d been hiding in a ditch for 90 minutes, he gets up, he’s spoken to, yelled at in the dark … it’s disturbing. I’m disappointed he didn’t take a knee.”

Hyder, who was the ground force commander for the Kandahar operation, was cleared in an after-action review of the shooting. The rules of engagement allowed the ground force commander to shoot anyone he viewed as a threat, regardless of whether they were armed at the time of the shooting. But in the eyes of the enlisted SEALs of Red Team, Hyder had killed a man who didn’t have to die. Two of the operators with Hyder reportedafterward that the man was not a threat. One of those operators was Neil Roberts.

“The SEALs believe that they can handle the discipline themselves, that’s equal to or greater than what the criminal justice system would give to the person.”

The morning after Objective Bull, Red Team gathered at Bagram Air Base. Most of the operators held a meeting to discuss what had happened on the mission. No officers were present, and the enlisted SEALs used the meeting to address Hyder’s alleged mutilation of the dead Afghan the previous day. The discussion covered battlefield ethics. Inside a heated tent, as many as 40 SEAL Team 6 operators asked themselves how they wanted to treat their fallen enemies. Should they seek revenge for Roberts? Was it acceptable, as Hyder had done with the wounded man whom he executed, to desecrate the dead?

“We talked about it … and 35 guys nodded their heads saying this is not who we are. We shoot ’em. No issues with that. And then we move on,” said a former SEAL who was present at the meeting. “There’s honor involved and Vic Hyder obviously traipsed all over that,” he said. “Mutilation isn’t part of the game.”

Nonetheless, Red Team did not report Hyder’s alleged battlefield mutilation, a war crime. In what would become part of a pattern of secrecy and silence, the SEAL operators dealt with the issue on their own and kept the incident from their chain of command.

“The SEALs believe that they can handle the discipline themselves, that’s equal to or greater than what the criminal justice system would give to the person,” said Susan Raser, a retired Naval Criminal Investigative Service agent who led the agency’s criminal division but did not investigate this mission. “They have an internal process that they think is sufficient and they are not inclined to cooperate unless they absolutely have to.” Raser, who conducted investigations into both regular SEAL units and SEAL Team 6, said that in her experience, SEALs simply didn’t report wrongdoing by their teammates.

Senior leaders at the command knew the grisly circumstances of Roberts’s death had unsettled Red Team. “Fifi was mutilated,” said a retired noncommissioned SEAL leader who was involved in internal discussions about how to prevent SEAL Team 6 from seeking revenge. “And then we had to address a very important question, how do you get the guys’ heads straight to mitigate any retaliation for Fifi? Otherwise we knew it’s going to get out of control. A third of the guys literally think they’re Apache warriors, then you had the Muslim way of removing a head. I understand the desire, I don’t condone it, but there was definite retaliation.”

Hyder told me that he did not desecrate the body. “I deny it,” he said, adding that he didn’t understand why Heath would have claimed to have witnessed it. “Even if it was true, I don’t know why he would say that.” Hyder said he was not aware of the Bagram meeting held by the enlisted operators about him or the accusations. “Why would I do that?” he asked. “Somebody else is making this up. Memories get distorted over 14 years. They’re telling you how they remember it. There was a lot of chaos. I’m telling you the absolute truth.”

After the deployment, SEAL Team 6’s leadership examined Hyder’s actions during Objective Bull. For some of them, what was most troubling was not that Hyder might have taken gratuitous revenge for Roberts’s death on an unrelated civilian, but that on more than one occasion, as ground force commander, he had fired his own weapon to neutralize perceived threats. “If you have multiple incidents where the ground force commander pulls the trigger on a deployment, you have a total breakdown of operational tactics,” said one retired SEAL leader. “It’s not their responsibility — that is why we have DevGru operators.”

Beyond the story of the alleged mutilation, the sight of the dead civilians killed during the opening airstrikes of Objective Bull, especially the women and children, left members of Red Team with deep psychological scars. “It ruined some of these guys,” said the former SEAL operator on the mission.

Six days after Objective Bull, the Pentagon announced at a press conference that an airstrike had killed 14 people, who a spokesperson said were “somehow affiliated” with al Qaeda. Sources at SEAL Team 6 who were present during the operation estimated the number of dead was between 17 and 20. Inside the command, the incident became known as the Wedding Party bombing after it was learned that the convoy was driving to a wedding.

Hyder finished his tour at SEAL Team 6 shortly after returning from the Afghanistan deployment and was later promoted to the rank of commander, the Navy equivalent of a lieutenant colonel. He was awarded the Silver Star for his efforts at Takur Ghar to save Roberts and the rest of the Red Team recon element. A few years later, after Hyder’s name was mentioned for another rotation in Red Team, some of Hyder’s former operators informed SEAL Team 6 leadership that he was not welcome back in the unit.

Neil Roberts’s bent rifle was placed on the wall of Red Team’s room at the SEALs’ base near Virginia Beach, a visible reminder of their teammate, their first deployment, and the troubles that would follow.

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ONE CLEAR SIGN that all was not right with the command was the way sadism crept into the SEALs’ practices, with no apparent consequences. A few months after Objective Bull, for example, one of Hyder’s operators began taunting dying insurgents on videos he shot as part of his post-operation responsibilities. These “bleed out” videos were replayed on multiple occasions at Bagram Air Base. The operator who made them, a former SEAL leader said, would gather other members of Red Squadron to watch the last few seconds of an enemy fighter’s life. “It was war porn,” said the former SEAL, who viewed one of the videos. “No one would do anything about them.” The operator who made the bleed-out videos was forced out of SEAL Team 6 the following year after a drunken episode at Bagram in which he pistol-whipped another SEAL.

The SEALs’ successes throughout 2002 resulted in the Joint Special Operations Command choosing the unit to lead the hunt for al Qaeda, as well as the invasion of Baghdad in March 2003. The rise of JSOC as the sharp tip of America’s military effort led to a similar increase in size and responsibility for SEAL Team 6 in the early years of America’s two post-9/11 wars. By 2006, the command rapidly expanded, growing from 200 to 300 operators. What were originally known as assault teams now formally became squadrons, and by 2008, the expansion led to the creation of Silver, a fourth assault squadron. One result of the growth was that back in Virginia, the captain in command of the entire 300-SEAL force had far less oversight over tactical battlefield decisions. It was at this point that some critics in the military complained that SEAL Team 6 — with their full beards and arms, legs, and torsos covered in tattoos — looked like members of a biker gang. Questions about battlefield atrocities persisted, though some excused these actions in the name of psychological warfare against the enemy.

Against this backdrop, in 2006, Hugh Wyman Howard III, a descendant of an admiral and himself a Naval Academy graduate, took command of Red Squadron and its roughly 50 operators. Howard, who has since risen through the ranks and is currently a rear admiral, was twice rejected by his superiors for advanced SEAL Team 6 training. But in 1998, after intervention by a senior officer at Dam Neck, Howard was given a slot on Green Team. Because of Howard’s pedigree, SEAL Team 6 leaders running the training program felt pressure to pass him. After being shepherded through the nine-month training, he entered Red Squadron. Howard took the unit’s identity seriously, and after 9/11, despite the questionable circumstances that led to his ascent, his influence steadily grew.

In keeping with Red Squadron’s appropriation of Native American culture, Howard came up with the idea to bestow 14-inch hatchets on each SEAL who had a year of service in the squadron. The hatchets, paid for by private donations Howard solicited, were custom-made by Daniel Winkler, a highly regarded knife maker in North Carolina who designed several of the period tomahawks and knives used in the movie “The Last of the Mohicans.” Winkler sells similar hatchets for $600 each. The hatchets Howard obtained were stamped with a Native American warrior in a headdress and crossed tomahawks.

At first the hatchets appeared to be merely symbolic, because such heavy, awkward weapons had no place in the gear of a special operator. “There’s no military purpose for it,” a former Red Squadron operator told me. “But they are a great way of being part of a team. It was given as an honor, one more step to strive for, another sign that you’re doing a good job.”

For some of Howard’s men, however, the hatchets soon became more than symbolic as they were used at times to hack dead fighters in Iraq and Afghanistan. Others used them to break doorknobs on raids or kill militants in hand-to-hand combat.

During the first deployments in both Iraq and Afghanistan, it was common practice to take fingers, scalp, or skin from slain enemy combatants for identification purposes. One former SEAL Team 6 leader told me that he feared the practice would lead to members of the unit using the DNA samples as an excuse to mutilate and desecrate the dead. By 2007, when Howard and Red Squadron showed up with their hatchets in Iraq, internal reports of operators using the weapons to hack dead and dying militants were provided to both the commanding officer of SEAL Team 6 at that time, Capt. Scott Moore, and his deputy, Capt. Tim Szymanski.

Howard, who declined to answer questions from The Intercept, rallied his SEALs and others before missions and deployments by telling them to “bloody the hatchet.” One SEAL I spoke with said that Howard’s words were meant to be inspirational, like those of a coach, and were not an order to use the hatchets to commit war crimes. Others were much more critical. Howard was often heard asking his operators whether they’d gotten “blood on your hatchet” when they returned from a deployment. Howard’s distribution of the hatchets worried several senior SEAL Team 6 members and some CIA paramilitary officers who worked with his squadron.

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Top left: Red Squadron tattoo. Top right: A bearded Red Squadron SEAL in Afghanistan. Bottom left: A Winkler hatchet similar to those issued to Red Squadron. Bottom right: Undated photo of Adm. Wyman Howard.

 

Photos: Facebook; airsoft-army.com; http://www.lightfigher.net; Facebook

BEGINNING IN 2005 and continuing through 2008, as U.S. Special Operations forces became more central to the American military strategy, the number and frequency of operations in both Iraq and Afghanistan increased dramatically.

One former SEAL Team 6 senior leader said that he and others at the command were concerned that the scale and intensity of the violence in Iraq was so great that U.S. operators might be tempted to engage in retaliatory mutilations, a tactic al Qaeda and the Iraqi insurgency sometimes employed. “Iraq was a different kind of war — nothing we’d ever seen,” said the now-retired Team 6 leader. “So many dead bodies, so many, everywhere, and so the potential opportunities for mutilations were great.”

The operational tempo was very high. “On my 2005 deployment in Afghanistan, we only went on a handful of ops,” said a retired SEAL who served under Howard. “By the time we moved over to Iraq, we were doing missions as much as five nights a week. Iraq was a target rich environment, and Wyman allowed us to be more aggressive.” According to several former SEAL Team 6 leaders, it was JSOC commander Gen. Stanley McChrystal who ordered the increased operational tempo and pushed SEAL Team 6, including Howard, to conduct more frequent raids to help wipe out the insurgency in both Iraq and Afghanistan. Howard, according to two of his former operators, was more willing than previous officers to greenlight operations based on “weak” intelligence, leading to more raids and strikes. As a result, Howard became popular among the enlisted SEALs under his command, several of whom defended and praised him.

Howard’s critics argue that the hatchets were emblems of the rogue, at times criminal, conduct on the battlefield the commander was encouraging. “Every one of us is issued and carries a suppressed weapon,” said one former senior SEAL, referring to the Heckler & Koch assault rifles, equipped with silencers, issued to the operators. “There just isn’t a need to carry a two-pound hatchet on the battlefield.” For those who favored them, this former SEAL said, the hatchets could be justified as being no more than knives. “It’s a great way to explain it away, but they have the hatchets to flaunt the law. Our job is to ensure that we conduct ourselves in a way befitting the American people and the American flag. The hatchet says, ‘We don’t care about the Geneva Conventions’ and that ‘we are above the law and can do whatever we want.’”

Critics inside the command were troubled by the combination of battlefield aggression and Howard’s lack of military discipline. A retired noncommissioned officer said Howard’s encouragement and provision of Winkler hatchets was simply adding fuel to the fire. The power of the Native American mascot, he said, was not to be dismissed. Since the 1980s, when Red Team was first created, there were many operators in the unit who had experienced a “metamorphosis of identity and persona” into Native American warriors. “Guys are going out every night killing everything. The hatchet was too intimate, too closely aligned with a tomahawk, to have been a good idea.” The former SEAL, who himself had served in Red during his career, said that by giving operators the weapon of their battlefield persona, Howard sent an unmistakable message to his men: Use it. “That’s when you take away a hatchet,” the retired SEAL said. “Not provide them.”

During one Iraq deployment, Howard returned from a raid to an operations center with blood on his hatchet and his uniform. Back at the base, he gave a speech to a group of analysts and nonoperational officers in which he told them that his bloody appearance was a demonstration of how a battlefield commander should lead. One operator, who confirmed Howard’s remarks, added his own: “That’s the business we’re in.”

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3HEAD ON A PLATTER

THE DEATH AND attempted decapitation of Neil Roberts on Takur Ghar affected no one so profoundly as Britt Slabinski, the operator who led the rescue team back up the mountain only to find that Roberts was already dead. One former teammate who served with Slabinski described his effort that day — outnumbered and with inferior fire support, taking incoming fire from the moment the helicopter landed — as “one of the most heroic things I’ve ever seen.” On the day when SEAL Team 6 lost its first operator in the post-9/11 era, Slabinski became a unit legend.

By all accounts, Slabinski, a second-generation SEAL who joined Team 6 in 1993, was an excellent sniper and reconnaissance operator. Thin and lanky, he was less physically imposing than many SEALs but was charismatic and dedicated. After Roberts’s death, Slabinksi wanted revenge. In audio of an unpublished interview with the late Malcolm MacPherson, author of a 2005 book about Roberts Ridge, Slabinski describes in great detail an operation that took place about a week after Objective Bull. In that mission, known as Objective Wolverine, Slabinski and his fellow SEALs were sent in Chinook helicopters to follow a convoy they believed was filled with al Qaeda fighters escaping to Pakistan. A drone flying above the convoy showed the occupants of three vehicles were heavily armed.

After the Chinook miniguns strafed the vehicles and stopped them, Slabinski and his team of snipers landed and moved to a rise several hundred yards away from one of the trucks and began firing sniper rounds at the militants. In that brief firefight, the SEALs killed nearly 20 foreign al Qaeda fighters, some of whom carried U.S. military equipment taken from Takur Ghar. Slabinski told MacPherson that Wolverine had been “really good payback.”

“Just a phenomenal, phenomenal day. We just slaughtered those dudes.” After describing one particular fighter who from a distance had resembled Osama bin Laden, Slabinksi continued: “To this day, we’ve never had anything as good as that. Oh my gosh. We needed that … there was not a better group of people to go and do that. The guys needed that to get back in the saddle because everyone was gun shy.”

“I mean, talk about the funny stuff we do. After I shot this dude in the head, there was a guy who had his feet, just his feet, sticking out of some little rut or something over here. I mean, he was dead, but people have got nerves. I shot him about 20 times in the legs, and every time you’d kick him, er, shoot him, he would kick up, you could see his body twitching and all that. It was like a game. Like, ‘hey look at this dude,’ and the guy would just twitch again. It was just good therapy. It was really good therapy for everybody who was there.”

Audio from an unpublished interview with Britt Slabinksi conducted by Malcolm MacPherson, author of a 2005 book on the battle of Roberts Ridge.

Shortly after that operation, Slabinski returned to the SEAL Team 6 base at Dam Neck. He was awarded a Navy Cross, the second highest battlefield award for heroism. For several years afterward, the leaders at the command limited Slabinski’s battlefield exposure — assigning him to Green Team as an instructor, for example — hoping the psychological wounds from Roberts Ridge would heal.

By late 2007, Slabinski was deployed to Afghanistan as the senior noncommissioned officer in Blue Squadron. The war was entering its seventh year and had become intractable, with no clear path to victory. Early in the war, the SEALs’ mission was to hunt down al Qaeda’s senior leaders, who had largely vanished into Pakistan, but now Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the leader of JSOC, extended the mission to target the Taliban, who along with al Qaeda were moving back and forth across the Pakistani border with impunity. The SEALs were now going after low-level Taliban financiers and shadow governors.

Blue Squadron was led at that time by Cmdr. Peter Vasely, a Naval Academy graduate who had not gone through the advanced assault training of Green Team that the other members of SEAL Team 6 had endured. He was an outsider, despite having been at the command for many years. Like Vic Hyder, he struggled to command the respect of his men. Slabinski — experienced, charismatic, and by now legendary — bridged the gap.

According to two senior SEAL Team 6 sources, however, the leadership dynamic in Blue Squadron was a failure. By 2007, the command’s leadership was aware that some Blue Squadron operators were using specialized knives to conduct “skinnings.” Using the excuse of collecting DNA, which required a small piece of skin containing hair follicles, operators were taking large strips of skin from dead enemy fighters. The two leading officers at the command, Moore and Szymanski, were informed that small groups in each of the three squadrons were mutilating and desecrating combatants in both Iraq and Afghanistan.

Slabinkski and others in the squadron had fallen under the influence of an obscure war novel, “Devil’s Guard,” published in 1971 by George Robert Elford. The book purported to be a true account of an S.S. officer who with dozens of other soldiers escaped Germany after World War II, joined the French Foreign Legion, and spent years in Vietnam brutalizing the insurgency. The novel, which glorifies Nazi military practices, describes counterinsurgency tactics such as mass slaughter and desecration and other forms of wanton violence as a means of waging psychological warfare against the “savage” Vietnamese.

“These fucking morons read the book ‘The Devil’s Guard’ and believed it,” said one of the former SEAL Team 6 leaders who investigated Slabinski and Blue Squadron. “It’s a work of fiction billed as the Bible, as the truth. In reality, it’s bullshit. But we all see what we want to see.” Slabinski and the Blue Squadron SEALs deployed to Afghanistan were “frustrated, and that book gave them the answers they wanted to see: Terrorize the Taliban and they’d surrender. The truth is that such stuff only galvanizes the enemy.”

One telling illustration of what had gone wrong with Blue Squadron occurred on December 17, 2007, during a raid in Helmand province. Slabinski had told his operators that he wanted “a head on a platter.” Although some of the more seasoned SEALs took the statement metaphorically, at least one operator took Slabinski at his word, interpreting it as an order.

Later that night, after Blue Squadron’s assaulters had successfully carried out the raid, killing three or four armed men and recovering weapons and explosives, Vasely and Slabinski conducted a walk-through of the compound. Vasely, who was wearing night-vision goggles, looked through a window and saw one of his operators, his back turned, squatting over the body of a dead militant. Vasely later told investigators he saw the operator moving his hand back and forth over the militant’s neck in a sawing motion. Alarmed at seeing what he believed was a decapitation, he told Slabinski to go inside and see what the young operator was doing. By the time Slabinski entered the room where the dead militant lay, according to three former SEAL Team 6 leaders, the operator had severed much of the dead man’s neck.

Slabinski did not report the decapitation, however. He told Vasely that the operator had been trying to remove the dead fighter’s chest rack, a small vest that can hold ammunition and clips. Slabinski told Vasely, and later, Navy investigators, that there had been “no foul play.”

After leaving the compound and returning to their base in Kandahar province, Vasely reported to Moore, his superior officer, that he believed he had witnessed a war crime, a mutilation. Vasely told Moore he wanted an investigation into the incident. Moore, sitting in his office in Virginia Beach, pressed Vasely: What had he actually seen? Was there another explanation?

Moore told his deputy, Szymanski, who was in Afghanistan, to sort things out. Ten days later, the internal JSOC investigation was closed. The Naval Criminal Investigative Service then opened an investigation but was forced to rely on photographs and witness statements because active hostilities made the alleged crime scene inaccessible. When investigators approached the operator accused of mutilating the dead fighter, he exercised his right to remain silent and his right to counsel. A few days after the attempted interview, investigators obtained photos purporting to be of the dead fighter. No cuts were visible in the photos, according to a military official who has reviewed the file. Three weeks after the incident, NCIS closed its investigation, concluding that there was no evidence the SEAL had violated the laws of armed conflict. But according to multiple SEAL sources, the incident did in fact occur.

Szymanski, according to these sources, was directed by Moore to make the episode disappear. “Tim took a dive,” said a former noncommissioned SEAL officer, and it was “at Moore’s direction.” Szymanski had known Slabinski for at least 15 years. They had bonded over Roberts’s death.

Although Blue Squadron had avoided criminal charges, their battlefield conduct continued to set off alarms within the command. Some SEAL Team 6 leaders were appalled by how easily Vasely and Szymanski had folded under Moore’s pressure.

Within two weeks of the apparent beheading, Moore deployed to Afghanistan. While he was there, he confronted the Blue Squadron troop and the operator who’d tried to behead the Taliban fighter. A former SEAL Team 6 leader who has knowledge of the episode told me Moore shamed Slabinski and the squadron for their conduct. That was the only punishment. (The Intercept is withholding the name of the operator, who believed he was following an order. He remains on active duty and has not responded to requests for comment.)

One of the former SEAL Team 6 leaders, who investigated several Blue Squadron incidents, including the mutilation of bodies, said he repeatedly asked the operators why they felt the need to commit such acts. “Often we’d hear, well, they’re savages,” the former leader said. “They don’t play by the rules, so why should we?”

The Intercept submitted three pages of questions to both Adm. Szymanksi, who as head of Naval Special Warfare now commands all SEALs in the Navy, and Capt. Vasely, who currently runs the operations divisions of JSOC. Both declined to comment. Moore did not respond to requests for comment. A spokesperson at Naval Special Warfare, which oversees SEAL Team 6, declined repeated requests for interviews and refused to answer a detailed list of questions, writing in a statement, “We do not entertain or support public discussion of classified information because it puts our forces, their families and our future operations at great risk.” The SEAL command asserted that “all members of Naval Special Warfare are required to comply with the Laws of Armed Conflict in the conduct of military operations.”

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Top: Capt. Peter Vasely with members of Blue Squadron in Afghanistan. Bottom: Britt Slabinski, left, and Capt. Timothy Szymanski, commanding officer of the Naval Special Warfare Group, after Slabinski was blackballed by SEAL Team 6 in Norfolk, Va., March 25, 2011.

 

Photos: http://www.navyseals.hu; Robert J. Fluegel/U.S. Navy

IN 2010, WHEN Slabinski was up for a promotion at the command, SEAL Team 6 leaders conducted two internal inquiries before making a decision. Almost immediately, the issue that received the most scrutiny was the December 2007 attempted beheading. According to two former SEALs, Slabinski told his teammates and superiors that his remark about wanting a head was figurative and not a literal order. By then, there was no question about whether the attempted beheading had occurred; the question was why.

“We didn’t debate whether Slab had told his guys he wanted a head on a platter — he copped to that. The only issue was, was his order real, or just talk?” said one of the retired SEALs involved. “It didn’t make a difference. He said it and one of his operators did it because he believed he was following an order.”

Ten officers and master chiefs voted unanimously against allowing Slabinski to return to the command. At that point, the second inquiry was commissioned by the SEAL Team 6 commanding officer, Pete Van Hooser. Evidence was presented that Slabinski gave an order to shoot all the men they encountered during another raid, whether or not they were armed. According to the New York Times, Afghans accused Blue Squadron of killing civilians during that operation, but a subsequent military investigation determined that all those killed had been armed and hostile. When Slabinski was confronted by the command’s senior enlisted leader about whether he had instructed Blue Squadron operators to kill all males during the operation, code-named Pantera, Slabinski acknowledged that he had done so. The second inquiry also uncovered the “head on a platter” remark as the instigation for the beheading in December 2007, but the command’s senior enlisted leader told Slabinski he would not get the promotion or be allowed to serve at the command again because of the Pantera order. Overall, it had become clear that Slabinski’s run as a leader on the battlefield caused Blue Squadron to come “off the rails,” according to a former SEAL Team 6 leader.

Slabinski has not responded to multiple queries and requests for comment, though he did deny to the New York Times in 2015 that he gave the illegal pre-mission guidance to kill all males. In his interview with the Times, Slabinski asserted that it was he who had witnessed the operator slashing at the dead fighter’s throat, saying, “It appeared he was mutilating a body.” Slabinski portrayed himself as trying to police his men and said that he gave them “a very stern speech.” He claimed to the Times that he told his men, “If any of you feel a need to do any retribution, you should call me.” Slabinski says nothing in the Times story about Vasely ordering him to investigate the scene or the remark about a head on a platter.

“To this day, he thinks the guys turned on him,” said one of the former SEAL Team 6 leaders. “Well, they did. What we didn’t do was turn him in. You will step over the line and you start dehumanizing people. You really do. And it takes the team, it takes individuals to pull you back. And part of that was getting rid of Britt Slabinski.”

Two other SEAL Team 6 leaders with a combined 35 years at the command said the removal of Slabinski and the failure to pursue official punishment was an indictment of the senior officers — they had failed one of their most basic duties, to hold themselves and others accountable for wrongdoing.

When Szymanski, who was then commanding officer of all regular East Coast-based SEAL teams, heard that Slabinski had been rejected by Team 6, he requested him as his senior enlisted adviser. The request was approved and Slabinski was promoted.

“If a guy cuts off another guy’s head and nothing happens, that becomes the standard,” said one of the former SEAL Team 6 leaders. “You’re moving the bar and buying into an emotional justification, ‘War is hell.’ If you’re not disciplining your force, you’re saying it’s OK.”

Slabinski retired from the military in 2014 after 25 years in the Navy. The operator accused of the attempted beheading has experienced difficulties as a result of his service. Last year, the command became concerned about his psychological condition, determining that he was medically unfit to deploy again. His superiors believed he had become “unglued” over the 2007 deployment. He was quietly removed from Team 6 and returned to a regular SEAL unit. He has told at least one former SEAL Team 6 teammate that he hopes to never deploy again.

“He’s just beginning to suffer for what he did,” said another SEAL Team 6 leader.

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I’ll start with my parable of a little boy from a poor home. one day playing in the woods, he found a precious stone, he loved it dearly. He couldn’t take it home for the many questions his poor parents would ask. So at the end of each day playing with it, he would bury it. The next day, he would set out early, dig up the stone, go to the nearby stream, wash it up, play with it till evening and bury it again. He was soon getting fatigued at the route he had to take every day just to play with something he loved. So he found a beautiful way out.

You will found out at the end of this thread what the brilliant young boy’s solution was. So here goes what God has been to us forever. 

God has never been mad at you, never was, never will be. But you are too scared to accept the reality that you are loved unconditionally. God’s covenant with Abraham was independent of Abraham’s actions. In blessing, I will bless you… Abraham had no part in the covenant. Years down, his descendants, Israel are on the march out of Egypt, note there was no ten commandments, so how did God deal with Israel? Pure Grace, he did good for evil unto them because he loved them. But as with all things good and undeserved, the Israelites were sceptical. Like we do: “At what point does my sin become too much of an issue with God?” “shall we continue in sin that grace may abound?” sad

The Israelites shot themselves in the foot and told God “all that you command of us, we are willing and able to do” The consequence…? They had just told God, do to me according to my own works, I don’t want to be loved unconditionally, I want my love to be measured. The Israelites wanted God to deal love unto them on a performance basis. It saddened God. His nature is love and He deals it in abundance. Before this time, their clothes & sandals grew on them, when they asked for food he gave them manna. When they complained about manna, saying “Oh Lord what is this worthless bread” God didn’t say see these ingrates and kill them, nope,  He gave them Quail. Isn’t His love pure? All that changed when the law came, you do good, you get good, you do bad, you get beat. The wrath of God was unveiled. They demanded it.

God couldn’t hold out on anger that long so he did what only he could. God became man, and made a covenant with God on behalf of men. So as you see again, as with Abraham, man didn’t have a contribution to the covenant, because HE DOESN’T NEED YOU TO LOVE YOU! The law in itself is a stumbling block, Christ said this to the Pharisees. Notice something in the way he addressed the teachers of law… Christ called Pharisees “Brood of Vipers” that the law has blinded them. Paul said in Romans “where there is no law, there is no sin”. Some “My Pastor said” Christians will say “But Jesus said, I didn’t come to abolish the law but to fulfil it”. Hmmmmmm

I will explain this now.

When you fulfil a thing, what does it mean? You satisfy the conditions in it and it is a done deal right? Let me get deeper for clarity. Lawyers on here know that you can’t punish someone twice for the same offence, even if you uncover new evidence. He is free, He is free. Hence, in the forgiveness of sins: Jesus hung on the cross like a common thief for you and I and screamed “it is finished” what did he mean? He meant: every punishment for sin, every condemnation, every sickness, has been fully paid for on the cross. He took it all on his body.

So Friends, what does “it is finished” mean to you? It means blow after blow after blow, Christ took all your punishments… And said…”… There remains no other sacrifice for sin”  Sin ended on the body of Jesus, believer, you are discharged, blameless and acquitted!!! Christ himself was the end of the law, why did the curtains of the temple tear open from top to bottom, The forgiveness of sins went in.

The law in itself is condemnation, look at the people that got healed in scriptures. they had to forego condemnation to be healed. A life of no condemnation is what we now call FAITH. Hence Christ always told those he healed… “Go, your faith has made you whole”. Put simply, Jesus meant: “thank you for coming out of the law, sin and condemnation, that’s the only way to get a taste of my pure love”.

I like to say it often but Christian apologetics hate me for this “the law was not made to be kept” Let me tell you why the law was made. The law was brought in so that the sin might increase. (Romans 5:20 NIV) I will tell you what this means. Remember the Israelites story? God made the law so that they would sin more and get burnt out, so that they would need a saviour: Jesus. The law was brought in so that man would come to the end of himself, be tired of keeping the laws and beg for a saviour, THE GRAND PLAN!

There were two people Jesus said had great FAITH in scriptures, they were the Syro-Phoenician woman and the Centurion, want to know why? They had one thing in common!!

Wait for it!!

THEY WERE NOT JEWS, THEY WERE NOT UNDER THE LAW, THEY HAD NO CONDEMNATION TO DEAL WITH!!!

I will wrap this up in a moment with the question “shall we continue in sin that grace may abound”

Let heavenly wisdom flood your heart

Paul wasn’t asking a question, he was repeating people’s popular question to him, like we do today. Paul’s answer is in the next verse…His answer was “God forbid, how can you who have died to sin live any longer in it” 

I will tell you what Paul means by God Forbid…

“God forbid” in this is context is “How can these things be?” Like: is that a question, it would be stupid and disrespectful to even answer. Paul was saying “Its impossible, you can’t live in sin, sin has been paid for, Christ is the end to sin and judgement, how can it be?” Paul even said to the Romans “There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus” BELIEVERS, PLEASE BELIEVE!!!
People are quick to take me to 1 John  1. Let me show you what it means. Discern what parts of scripture is yours and which is not.

FOR UNBELIEVERS:

“If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9)

FOR BELIEVERS

“…that you don’t sin. But if anyone sins, we have an advocate with the Father—Jesus Christ, The Righteous one” (1 John 2:1)

Sons of God hear His voice.

Remember the boy at the beginning of the story? Here was what he did and he that blows my mind every time. He pegged the precious stone between two rocks inside the stream, so that he doesn’t have to dig up and wash every day. Beautiful stuff.

Believer, you are the pearl of great price, God was tired of digging you up and washing you every day, so he put you under his blood and washes you continually with his waterfall of forgiveness, his blood. Believer you are righteous once you have Jesus. It is a GIFT.

Now, “Grace has found you, Love will avail himself to you every step of the way”. The devil has no grip on you, the sacrifice on your life is an overpayment, be free of condemnation right this moment, YOU ARE FREE!!!

I Pray that GRACE AND PEACE be MULTIPLIED unto YOU. You will know the length, breadth and depth of God’s super abounding love for you. Grace will abound towards you so bountifully and tangibly that you will experience his love so thick like a mist. Grace will envelop you. GRACE HAS FOUND YOU.

Stay Blessed.

Charles Isidi @i_am_pixelhub

I Was Wrong About Kissing Before Marriage
 UFUOMAEE

More than a week ago, I shared my counsel with a lady who was in love with a man, who had told her that he couldn’t move forward with the relationship if kissing was off the table.  My counsel to her, based on my understanding, was that I personally believed kissing is okay before marriage, but that she also needs to pray to God about it, and if and when she would engage in it.

When I initially shared my counsel with her over email, I was glad that it was private, because I knew that a lot of people would challenge that belief – but I was sure that they were wrong, and were simply being religious.  I felt prompted by God to share it publicly on my Reader Questions series, and of course the outcome was a lot of opposition.  I argued my point using – and abusing – scripture.  I took Paul’s reference to giving holy kisses out of context, because it was the only reference to legitimate kissing in the Bible.

One of the things that challenged me most was the discussion I had with my friend, Goke, on the matter.  His perspective is that you can’t give a romantic kiss to someone you are not married to without lusting in your heart.  It seems like a no-brainer, but I was of the mind that lust is something only God, who knows the hearts of all men, can judge.  But the bottom line was not about whether intimate kissing between unmarried people was spoken against in the Bible, but whether it was something God would lead you to do.  Is it wise and is it loving?

I wrote a piece a while back that God has used in helping me to get to this point of admitting my error.  The piece is WISDOM BY ANOTHER NAME, and there I talked about illicit love, that is contrary to the wisdom of God.  Also, the piece I wrote yesterday, which also challenges the whole “do not, touch not” legalism that is existent in Christianity, also challenged my basis for defending kissing between the unmarried.  I have always understood sin to be anything that doesn’t please and glorify God, and here I was trying to define sin by commandments.  So, I wasn’t being sincere.

I said I wasn’t justifying myself because I am already married.  But that was a lie.  I was justifying the counsel I had given to the lady, and so I needed to show that kissing in itself was not the issue, but the motives behind it.  But when you get down to it, the motive behind intimate kissing before marriage can’t be to strengthen the other towards abstinence, but to give place to the flesh.  So, while accusing those saying kissing is a sin of being legalistic, I was actually being legalistic, so as to win an argument.

So I confess that I was wrong on this issue, and that my advice was wrong, and my defense was insincere.  I’m sorry to all my readers for this.  I am thankful to everyone who challenged me, and all who choose not to engage me in unnecessary debate on this issue.

Part of the challenge for me getting to this point is because I feel strongly that the Puritanical doctrine is burdensome.  I still disagree that hugging, holding hands or pecking, and other sincere expressions of affection that one would do with his or her siblings is immoral to do with someone who is close to you romantically.  This is because I still believe that pre-marital romance isn’t bad, and is holy between believers.  But I crossed the line by saying that mouth to mouth kissing is permissible.

So, to the lady who I gave bad advice to, I would like to correct my counsel to you.  I’m sorry that I was not able to share with you true godly counsel, because of my own reservations on the matter.

You said that you “would never choose him over God by compromising”, so don’t compromise.  Stand by the standard that you know to be true, which is to abstain from sex before marriage, and don’t do anything that would introduce lust into your relationship.  If he still insists on kissing, then you have to accept that he isn’t the one God meant for you.  I know it is hard because you have such strong feelings for him, but trust God that He will bring someone better, who is worthy of you, and ready and able to lead you in this matter, and in marriage.

To everyone else who still believes that some kissing is permissible in romantic relationships between the unmarried, I would say let Wisdom be your Guide.  What is wise is loving, and what is loving is wise.  Also, don’t act selfishly.  Even if you think you can handle it, maybe they can’t – even if they say they can.  Why put a stumbling block in their way?  And of course, Paul’s advice to flee from sexual immorality (1 Cor 6:18-20) is indeed the wisest counsel on this issue.  We all should take heed, both the married and the singles.

A Synopsis:

The much derided immunity inherent in Section 308 of the 1999 Constitution is not applicable once the individual protected under the section ceases to function in an immune capacity. Period. Also, in rendering our judgment on whether to amend or expunge Sec 308 from our Constitution, we should take cognizance of the fact that not all Governors are corrupt. Adding to that, the section does not protect or immunize serving members of the National Assembly from criminal or civil prosecution for unlawful conduct committed while in active capacity as a legislator. Finally, Section 308, as written and intended, does not extend to Legislative or Parliamentary Immunity, referred to as Speech and Debate protection. Therefore, the section should be left intact. Executive immunity enhances harmony in a democratic political system that would, no doubt, be eroded, if the President and Governors are exposed to the vagaries of our judicial system. Most importantly, arrest and trial of those protected under the section, would paralyze activities in the affected states or at the federal level, as the case may be. That was the rationale and legislative intent of section 308 of the 1999 Constitution – defined as the thinking of the drafters based on public policy considerations. On the question of whether the immunity follows a Governor to the Senate or House of Representative, the answer is a capital NO. Immunity, for all intents and purposes, is office specific. It is neither perpetual nor inalienable. An ex-Governor who is presently a Senator or a member of the House of Representative is subject to investigation, indictment, or prosecution to the full extent of the law for any fraudulent conduct authorized by him or executed at his command. In sum, corruption, embezzlement of public funds and squandering of riches in Nigeria are seemingly insurmountable, because of the unwholesome and, if I may add, unwritten collaborative resolve of those in the judicial branch – a monumental national crisis compounded by the inability of those vested with law enforcement power (AG, Police, EFCC, and ICPC) to develop new mechanisms with a view to combating abuse of discretionary power (adjournments and injunctions) by judges, as well as, the procedural rigmarole (delay tactics) perfected by defense counsels. We must be bold, resolute, and creative in our search for real justice. And our approach to assets forfeiture and recovery must be purposeful and nondiscriminatory.

 

To Amend or Not to Amend:

At the just concluded retreat organized by the Ad-Hoc Committee on Constitutional Reform in Port Harcourt in River State, on May 27, 2012, Sec 308 of the 1999 Constitution that deals with immunity came up for discussion, and as expected, there was a demand for its review, amendment, or a total repeal.  For the purpose of record, Sec 308 (1) of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, does not by any stretch of the imagination shield or immunize any serving member of the National Assembly from indictment or prosecution for any crime committed before and during his or her term of office. 

And on a more disturbing note, the habit of Governors who have already completed their two terms, rigging and buying their way to the Senate or the Lower House with a view to evading civil or criminal prosecution for fraudulent conduct committed as Governor is outright ludicrous. Because there is no immunity covering past misconduct. Simply put, the immunity as it is in Section 308 of the 1999 Constitution, as amended, is not about the person or the conduct. It is specifically speaking, about the office. In other words, the beneficiary of the immunity clause is subject to investigation at the cessation of the protected period – as long as there is probable cause to do so on the part of law enforcement agencies. And the conduct can be revisited and reviewed to the extent of its inconsistency with established laws and orders governing the office.

Similarly, the over-hyped immunity allegedly enjoyed by serving members of the National Assembly from criminal or civil prosecution for criminal wrongdoing or fraudulent engagement is a complete fiction. Because the immunity, in the context in which it is perceived by Nigerians, is non sequitur – it does not exist as such. Therefore, the brouhaha surrounding the alleged immunity enjoyed by “lawmakers” is grossly misplaced, and the assault on Section 308 is unwarranted.

Our law enforcement agencies (Attorney General, ICPC, the Police and EFCC) should wake up to their responsibilities. Section 308 does not shield any member of the National Assembly from prosecution. Period. This is not a matter for debate; it is a statement of fact. Executive immunity is unrelated to Speech and Debate related Parliamentary Immunity. Also, it does not preclude law enforcement agencies from investigating those protected under the section (President, Vice President, Governor, and Deputy Governor) for involvement in unjust enrichment.

At this juncture, it is worth restating that Section 308 protects only serving President, Vice President, Governor or Deputy Governor when they are in office. MEMBERS OF THE NATIONAL ASSEMBLY DO NOT ENJOY ANY IMMUNITY FROM CIVIL OR CRIMINAL PROSECUTION UNDER SECTION 308. THE ONLY IMMUNITY THEY ENJOY IS SIMILAR TO WHAT OBTAINS UNDER THE SPEECH AND DEBATE CLAUSE IN THE AMERICAN CONSTITUTION – THAT IS IMMUNITY ON THE BASIS OF WHAT THEY SAY DURING DEBATES OR DELIBERATIONS IN THE HOUSE OR IN THE SENATE OR IN THE PREPARATION THEREOF. IT DOES NOT COVER THEIR UNJUST ENRICHMENT, FRAUDULENT ENGAGEMENT OR CRIMINAL CONDUCT OUTSIDE OR INSIDE OF THE NATIONAL ASSEMBLY.

For ease of understanding, I would like to reproduce the entire Sec 308 of the 1999 Constitution verbatim. The Section provides:

(1) Notwithstanding anything to the contrary in this Constitution, but subject to subsection (2) of this section –

(a) No civil or criminal proceedings shall be instituted or continued against a person to whom this section applies during his period of office;  

(b) A person to whom this section applies shall not be arrested or imprisoned during that period either in pursuance of the process of any court or otherwise; and

(c)  No process of any court requiring or compelling the appearance of a person to whom this section applies, shall be applied for or issued: Provided that in ascertaining whether any period of limitation has expired for the purposes of any proceedings against a person to whom this section applies, no account shall be taken of his period of office.

(2) The provisions of subsection (1) of this section shall not apply to civil proceedings against a person to whom this section applies in his official capacity or to civil or criminal proceedings in which such a person is only a nominal party.

(3) This section applies to a person holding the office of President or Vice-President, Governor or Deputy Governor; and the reference in this section to “period of office” is a reference to the period during which the person holding such office is required to perform the functions of the office. 

From the language of Sec 308 above, there is no part of it that tends to shield a member of the National Assembly from indictment for crime committed while in office as a member of the National Assembly or in a previous office as Governor or Deputy Governor. Specifically, Sec 308 (3) reads: “This section applies to a person holding the office of President or Vice-President, Governor or Deputy Governor; and the reference in this section to “period of office” is a reference to the period during which the person holding such office is required to perform the functions of the office.” Emphases mine.

That is Section 308 of the 1999 Constitution for you! The Section applies only to “period during which the person holding such office is required to perform the functions of the office.” In other words, a Senator or a member of the House of Assembly is not that “person” and does not need to perform the functions of a Governor while serving as a member of the National Assembly. Therefore, Sec 308 does not by any stretch of the imagination shield any of them from prosecution for criminal wrong doing that took place while serving in an earlier immune capacity or while they were in office as Governors or Deputy Governors.

The same is true of President and Vice President. In that case, you could conveniently, and rightly so, indict and prosecute any of the today ex-Presidents or Vice Presidents, if you have probable cause to do so. But first, a prima facie case for unjust enrichment must be established. That’s it. It doesn’t take rocket science to accomplish that, knowing full well the antecedents of Nigerian thieving Governors. So, the problem is not the law or the constitution, but application and the attitude of those vested with power of enforcement.

Rationale and Public Policy Arguments:

In spite of everything, the immunity under Section 308 of the 1999 Constitution is well-meant. The President, or as the case may be, a Governor, is not suitably placed to enjoy the luxury of time defending lawsuits, whether frivolous or meritorious, while in active duty as Governor or President.

Our proclivity for lawsuit knows no bounds; removal of that immunity clause from our constitution would in all probability end up doing more harm than good to our fragile constitutional democracy. Every Ademola, Usman, and Okechukwu, as well as members of the opposition parties would, through frivolous lawsuits and spurious petitions, incapacitate sitting President, or Governors as the case may be, without regard to judicial ethics or the concerns of Nigerian voters. And in the process, take them off course from real and purposeful governance.

In essence, executive immunity enhances harmony in the political process that would, no doubt, be eroded, if Presidents and Governors are exposed to the vagaries of our judicial system. Adding to that, arrest and trial of those protected under the section, would paralyze activities in the affected states or at the federal level, as the case may be. That was the rationale and legislative intent of section 308 of the 1999 Constitution – defined as the thinking of the drafters based on public policy considerations.

There is no doubt that the benefits of the Immunity Clause outweigh the defects. The defects, if at all, are traceable to the inability of those empowered with law enforcement obligations to make the Constitution live up to its true purpose as the supreme law of the land.  To that extent, it requires diligent performance (prosecution) as expected of true fiduciary (EFCC, the Police, ICPC, and the AG). It’s all about the interpretation, audacity, and genuine intent to fight and surmount the ills of corruption and unjust enrichment that irredeemably wrecked a supposedly great nation-state.

We should not act on the impulse of the moment and abrogate a constitutional framework that is imbued with the right ingredients to serve worthy national purpose – growing our democracy and  simultaneously, ensuring stability in the political system.

Granted, our core leadership team is made up of some of the most vile, greedy and shameless opportunists you could ever find on the face of the earth; be that as it may, we cannot embark on constitutional amendment just to accommodate our idiosyncrasies and every unfortunate aberration. That’s retrogressive political evolution. What would you do, if God willing, we are fortunate to have selfless and honest leaders at the helm of affairs? Amend the constitution once again to align with the new reality? No. We can do better.

We must be proactive, creative, and sincere in our approach to war against corruption and assets recovery or forfeiture. Those who are known to be corrupt should be apprehended, prosecuted, and made to forfeit their illegally acquired wealth to the state as soon as they cease to function under the protection of Section 308. According to the FBI (Federal Bureau of Investigation), “Many criminals are motivated by greed and the acquisition of material goods. Therefore, the ability of the government to forfeit property connected with criminal activity can be an effective law enforcement tool by reducing the incentive for illegal conduct. Asset forfeiture takes the profit out of crime by helping to eliminate the ability of the offender to command resources necessary to continue illegal activities.”

Today, there are thousands of fraudulent Nigerians out there on the street, including former Governors and former Deputy Governors, as well as former Presidents and former Vice Presidents, known to have fraudulently enriched themselves with public funds. They are living free and living large on our wealth. And we watch. They have no immunity and they enjoy no immunity. But we watch. They are yet to be apprehended and prosecuted by the law enforcement agencies, in spite of the fact that these fraudulent Nigerians and ex-political leaders do not enjoy any atom of immunity.

It is indeed very sad that some sections of the Nigeria political establishment, including opinion leaders and public affairs commentators so gotten embroiled in that perverted notion that once a Governor or Deputy Governor ceases to function as Governor or Deputy Governor, or is elected to the Senate or House of Representative,  he or she is still immune from arrest and trial for the unjust enrichment perpetrated as Governor or Deputy Governor. That is complete baloney. The immunity is office specific – it is over at the end of the protected period. The same rules apply to President and Vice President.

Therefore, the Section should be strengthened in order to serve the intended purpose, and not diluted by any means. Immunity and unjust enrichment are mutually exclusive. That we want to strengthen our democratic values via some constitutional mechanisms doesn’t translate to encouraging official misconduct. The rationale was to engender purposeful governance, to ensure uninterrupted governmental activities at the state and federal levels consistent with fundamental principles of democracy and rule of laws. The major constraint is the nonchalant culture prevalent within the judicial branch bordering on procedural rigmarole – unnecessary adjournments and frequent injunctive orders, without reasonable excuse or a show of irreparable harm or injury to the defendant.

Moving Forward:

Fellow Nigerians, whatever we do, we must not lose sight of the underlying imperative, designed to engender consistency and robust democratic values in our troubled political system that Section 308 represents. Therefore, we must be bold about consolidating those democratic values, without regards to the race or the social status of the culprits before and during trial. That is the first step to renewing Nigeria. It is about equal rights and justice.

You steal, you steal! Period! Availing your client with the defense of interim or permanent injunction in a clear-cut case of embezzlement as perfected by our reputable and highly respected lawyers is overtly aiding and abetting malfeasance. Injunctive relief is a discretionary (equitable) remedy – it is not a judgment on the merit with respect to the substantive case. He who comes into equity must come with clean hands, goes a legal maxim. Not exactly in Nigeria. What is so irreparable a damage about standing trial to defend allegation of fraudulent engagement against you?

If your hands are clean, and you rightly believe that you are innocent as charged, then, be willing to stand trial and defend the allegation of unjust enrichment instituted against you, instead of resorting to procedural mumble jumble to circumvent real justice. And that, my friends, is our real problem; not Section 308. This is the time we should all stand up and demand for curtailment in the grant of injunctions and other discretionary reliefs by our Judges. It is now left to EFCC to train its lawyers on how to surmount any of such motions in our regular courts. Because there is a threshold that the movant must meet to sustain any motion for injunctive relief. That, of course, is outside the scope of this essay.

As an addendum, I want to make it abundantly clear that I am not against capitalism or private ownership or private acquisition of wealth. However, I am unequivocally against over-leveraged capitalism and the prevailing culture of impunity and blatant abuse of political office by those vested with political power. To keep enriching yourself with public funds that you and your children cannot exhaust, buying cars you cannot drive or landed property you barely use shows stupidity. It is not fair. It is not right. And it is morally repugnant. If you have no idea of any capital project deserving funding; let education be free at all levels, because quality education, by any standard, is the best investment in the life of a child. Or, if that is not good enough, connect Marinna, across from Tafawa Balewa’s Square, linking Apapa and Mile Two to the Lagos/Badagry Expressway in Lagos State by an over-head bridge or an underground rail system. That is a bold project. ‘A good transportation network is important to all societies and it is vital in sustaining economic success in modern economy.’ 

Thank you.

Alex (Ehimhantie’Aiyo) Aidaghese

CONGRATULATION: 

If you are here reading this very paragraph, it means you are now one of the thousands intellectually curious Nigerians who made this article the number one on this Blog – the most searched and the most read piece of legal opinion and constitutional review piece within the Nigerian social media scene in the past three years. On October 21, 2014, the Conference Committee of the National Assembly on Constitutional Review retained Section 308 of the 1999 Constitution as it was originally written. We made the case – a compelling case for retention – you spread the news, the Conference Committee concurred, and the rest is now history.  AA May 15, 2015

Addendum:

INTRODUCTION TO JUDICIAL ACTIVISM: Making a Distinction Between Criminal Wrong Doing and The Profits of Crime, Otherwise Known as Unjust Enrichment

(By the way, what you are about to read is not part of the article. It is simply an academic exercise for those who care. For a start, the likelihood of its happening in real life or in this generation in Nigeria is very remote).

The question is: Can we indict and prosecute a sitting President, Vice President, Governors and Deputy Governors for fraudulent and unjust enrichment perpetrated while in office under the premise of “a nominal party” pursuant to Sec 308(2)?

The answer is not absolute. But first, you must be ready to engage in semantic war with the presiding judge and the defense counsel (the lawyer representing the defendant) with respect to the definition or meaning of a nominal party.

We could, in all sincerity, institute a civil action to recover or recoup the fruits of crime or unjust enrichment, if we are, applying preponderance of the evidence standard, able to prove that the owner of a specific property or bank account (e.g. President, Vice President, Governor or Deputy Governor) is only a nominal party – someone not directly involved in the case. But he or she is nevertheless connected to the case by virtue of his or her ownership of the property or bank account in question.

In other words, they are immune, but not their illegally or fraudulently acquired wealth. EFCC is within its power to seize and forfeit their properties and bank accounts to the State as long as we can prove that they are fruits of corrupt enrichment. Thus, it is probable to conclude that Sec 308 (2) does not shield or immune a sitting President, Vice President, Governor or Deputy Governor from forfeiting to the Nigerian people, landed properties or Bank accounts fraudulently acquired, if a civil action is instituted against such landed property and bank accounts. Once again, Sec 308 (2) provides: “The provisions of subsection (1) of this section [that is the immunity] shall not apply to civil proceedings against a person [that is President, Vice President  Governor and Deputy Governor] to whom this section applies in his official capacity or to civil or criminal proceedings in which such a person is only a nominal party [not directly connected].”  Emphasis mine. It is the same thing as arguing: since you are not directly connected (a nominal party), invariably your houses and bank accounts are not immune from seizure and forfeiture, because the suit is after your property, and not you as a person. 

To that extent, owners of a fraudulently acquired property or bank accounts – for example, President, Vice President, Governor and Deputy Governor – cannot avail themselves with the defense of immunity under this section, if they are only indirectly or tangentially connected to the action – a nominal party. Thus, Subsection 308(2) provides cover for EFCC, ICPC, and AGF, if they want to go after the loots of a serving President, Vice President, Governors, or Deputy Governor. Provided the action is in rem (property) and not in personam  (the person).

I want to reiterate that the action is only after the fruits of crime and not the crime itself. Adding to that, the case is not against the perpetrators of the crime or fraud, but just the loots. If you want to call it prosecutorial activism, so be it. As I said earlier, you must be ready to do battle in English Language regarding who “a nominal party” is. So it is not just establishing a prima facie case for unjust enrichment, but being able to establish by preponderance of the evidence the extent of the disconnect between the perpetrator and the unjust enrichment (bank accounts and property) that would justify civil trial or forfeiture.

Finally, given that it is a civil trial, you do not need to prove anything beyond reasonable doubt. Even if that is the standard (proof beyond reasonable doubt), you do not need to crack your brain worrying if you can prove your case beyond reasonable doubt, when trying to convict a Nigerian thief. Evidence are readily available. He is a stupid thief who rightly or wrongly believe that he cannot be convicted, even when caught in the act – he has substantial accumulation of your money – our money – to hire the best of lawyers to pervert the justice system through laughable motions for adjournment. 

(Be that as it may, it requires legal erudition and a willing court to be able to argue a motion based on the above premise. By the way, this is simply an intellectual voyaging or a fishing expedition, because no Attorney General or IGP would in his right sense institute a case against a sitting President or Governor in Nigeria to recoup illegally acquired wealth).

Thanks once again for coming this far.

Mr. Alex (Ehimhantie-Aiyo) Aidaghese*

President & CEO Alex and Partners

Skype: ehi samuel (Skype)

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Tel: =1 234 708 695 1511

Abuja Nigeria

Firstly, I hope Goodluck Jonathan had a great cup of coffee or whatever his enemies say he drinks as he watched Bukola Saraki sitting in the dock. That should be the price of disloyalty.

According to Dwight Eisenhower, there is a difference between honest dissent and disloyal subversion. Saraki subverted PDP.

If not for Saraki and the PDP Governors that decamped, APC would never have smelt the seat of power, so, I couldn’t care less, really. And I love what Steward Jonsen wrote: Who got into the dock first- Bukola or Jonathan?

Secondly, what PMB is doing is good for our democracy. Let people know they will account
for their actions- whether it happened in 2003 or 2013.

Thirdly, even though I’m fully in support of this prosecution, I also know this prosecution is a sincere persecution. We all know that if Saraki had belonged to the right side, the powers that be, would have conveniently forgotten that he ‘wrongly’ filled a form in 2003.
If he had worshipped at the temple of Asiwaju, his British passport would never have shown
up on Sahara Reporters. His case file would have gone missing the same way Fashola’s contract awards got missing on Lagos State’s website.

It is actually a witch hunt. The only difference is that Saraki may truly be a witch. So then, he has a choice to bow or to burn.

Fourthly, nothing is going to come out of this charade. It is simply a telenovela, a short-running soap full of intrigues and comedy. The
final episode has been written already. It’s a Nollywood film but it’s not going to be a block
buster. It will end similarly to AY’s dry and predictable ’30 days in Atlanta’. Many people will hiss the way I hissed after seeing the over-hyped movie.

If you think Saraki can be removed this way, perish the thought. Bukola Saraki is more
politically savvy than most people give him credit for. Be careful of the man who betrayed his father and sent him to political Siberia. The older Saraki never recovered. He went down to the grave in disbelief. The old fox was outfoxed.

Bukola is Absalom. Absalom cannot be killed by deceitful wiles or snares set by human beings. Absalom knows how to fight. Absalom had watched his father fight from when he was small. Absalom grew up with a spear in his hands. Those who should know said that Bukola Saraki sponsored either in part or whole those who are in the Senate for the first time- irrespective of party or regional affiliation. He has a bunch of serious loyalists and you could
see that in the number of people who followed him to the CCT. Even Kwara State was shut down.

Has it ever occurred to anyone why Saraki did not appear last Friday? It was not the fear of being docked or put in jail over the weekend- like so many erroneously thought. And I know
he knew the Appeal Court would not rule in his favour. But he needed time. To negotiate and
sort things out. And that is what he got between Friday and Tuesday when he appeared. Time! Time! So much happened between that Friday and Monday.

Head or tail, APC loses. If Saraki is booted out by chance, who heads the Senate? Ike Ekweremadu!

And this is the first time I’m seeing a party in power being in opposition to itself. There is nowhere APC can push Saraki
to- he belongs to them warts and all. APC cannot accept the good and reject the bad. He is their burden and responsibility and they must live with it.

:::Culled:::