The Penitent Warlord: Atoning for 20,000 War Crimes

The man who could know the truth is Bishop John Kun Kun of the Soul Winning Church in Monrovia. He was the one who turned the mass murderer into a man of God. He is a respected man in Liberia and the head of one of the country's most influential churches. He is currently in Robertsport, a coastal town 80 kilometers northwest of Monrovia, attending a meeting of church leaders from around the country.

Kun Kun is a calm man with a clear gaze. He moves as fluidly as an athlete, but his speech is as measured as that of an old man. This is his story: When the civil war flared up again in April 1996, he and other church leaders decided to do something against the terror. They decided to do the one thing they could do best in a country in which faith plays such an important role: proselytize. But this time it was the military leaders they hoped to convert. Kun Kun was chosen to speak with General Butt Naked. He went to Blahyi's military barracks in southern Monrovia, knocked on the door and walked in. The man he found there was restless and claimed that he had no time for Kun Kun, as he was taking apart and reassembling his submachine gun.

Why did Blahyi live a life that consisted of killing? "It was the only thing he knew," says Kun Kun. I think he enjoyed the fact that people were afraid of him. He liked being in command. People depended on him."

A Criminal With No Judge

Kun Kun said to him: "All I wanted to tell you is that Jesus loves you, and that he has a better plan for your life." Blahyi looked at him and said nothing. Kun Kun said a prayer and asked Blahyi to close his eyes and repeat the prayer after him. He didn't close his eyes, but he repeated the prayer. Then Blahyi went to his bodyguard and shot him in the knees for letting the bishop in. Blahyi would later ask the bodyguard's family for forgiveness. Kun Kun wondered whether it was truly a good idea to visit Blahyi again.

But he did return. And when he got to know Blahyi, he realized that he was a man who was deeply afraid and believed that he was possessed by a demon, and who was searching for a way out, which was something Kun Kun could offer him. "Let us pray together," he said to Blahyi.

Blahyi finds one of his favorite passages in the Bible, John 3:16: "For God so loved the world, that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life … Whoever believes in him is not condemned." Blahyi has found perhaps the only religion that can forgive him for committing murder thousands of times, forgive him completely and still recognize the greatness of its God in this act of forgiveness. "God has the power to change anyone," says Kun Kun, "even Butt Naked."

In his Sunday sermon, Pastor Blahyi talks about the suffering of Job, the dreams of Jacob and the miracles of Jesus. The members of his congregation close their eyes and stretch out their hands. His voice becomes louder and louder, until he is shouting as he runs between the rows of congregants, reaching up with his arm and shouting into the microphone: "God, show me my purpose. Show me my purpose, God. Show me the reason I was born." The raised hands of his listeners create shadows on the wall behind him. It looks as if large, black hands were reaching for him, hands from which he manages to escape again and again.

On the next day, this is how he describes his purpose: "I believe that God wishes to use me as a sign. No matter how far a person goes, he has the potential to change."

Perhaps there is a third possibility, one that does not involve Blahyi wearing a mask or being truly reformed. Perhaps Blahyi earnestly believes that he has changed. And the country in which he lives believes him, too. And if everyone believes it, isn't it true? If Blahyi truly wears a mask every Sunday, the skin underneath has now conformed to the mask. In that case, Blahyi remains a criminal without a judge on earth.

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