A Good Lie is a wonderful movie but when you watch it at 39,000 feet on a flight to Kampala with a final destination in Arua, in north west Uganda, it becomes a life experience. A Good Lie begins in war torn Sudan at the turn of the Millennium and traces the lives of five children when the bloody violence wipes out their entire village, all but them, leaving them orphans and on the run.
Though the 800 miles that they walk through touches on Ethiopia and end in Kenya, the trauma they faced and have to deal with will be very similar to the people we will meet in the West Nile region of Uganda as we travel with Fields Of Life to a brand new school funded by our Church, Fitzroy, back home in Belfast.
Thirteen years in a Refugee camp and our orphans, or the four that have survived end up in America and the trauma and healing continue in a cross cultural confusion. There is Crocodile Dundee in New York City humour, in a less slapstick or contrived way, and the interactions with Americans becomes a transformational process for both the Sudanese and their white “hosts”.
The underlying philosophical question is in the title. Lies? What are they? Are they always bad? Are they ever good? Centred around an English class based on Huckleberry Finn we see the bad ones and redemption in the good ones. That, however, was not what caught my attention as I lead a team with nine eager teens on a mission trip to a place they cannot even imagine as they watch other movies around me.
The first part of the movie was a traumatic viewing. The helicopters! (they roared in literally as our plane took off in Amsterdam, just for effect!) The gun fire! The screaming! The parents dying! A village murdered! Children running for cover and then walking, carrying each other, drinking their own urine to survive! More killing on route!
I couldn’t help but see the callous Amin years of Uganda’s past and the Child Soldiers of Joseph Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army in its more recent history of ruthless and horrific killings. Some of the people we are about to meet, love and be loved by have gone through this. So, by the way, had some of the actors who were former child soldiers; indeed music star Emmanuel Jai was one of them and he also wrote some of the superb soundtrack.
When you take a mission team to another context you hope for two things. Firstly, You hope that we contribute some transformation, change and hope, as it says on our Fields Of Life t-shirts, to where they are going. Secondly, you pray that in the cross cultural engagement that we are transformed, changed and given hope.
That is what struck me about A Good Lie. Yes, we hope and expect, at the beginning, that some change is going to come for our orphaned Sudanese. When they arrive in America we are relieved at the light relief of some humour in the darkness. We also expect that the white Americans who bring them in will be contributors to the transformation.
That initially is not the case. Indeed, a hard movie critic might point to a weakness in the plot being how cold and functional the American hosts are. However, what that does is give us the opportunity to see how both sides of such an engagement can be mutually redeemed.
Reese Witherspoon’s character Carrie Davis is the one turned around the most. She is a bit of an untidy, tart doing what needs to be done, almost against her will to get by, until these Sudanese boys barge into her apathy and lethargy. She is born again, not in an overt Christian way, though the movie has a lot of Scripture as pivotal points throughout, but made a new woman all the same.
There are sub plots I will not go into to spoil a movie a highly recommend but in the end we are given a real story from recent history that asks what it means to give up your life for someone else. This is about living in the legacy of who you were in your origins and past to sacrifice that others in our common humanity might have a better future. Perfect reflective fodder for a minister taking a team to Uganda!
Before I pressed play on the inflight entertainment I flicked through the KLM magazine and was caught by a quotation in bold print, “My favourite journeys are the toughest ones; they etch your soul.” It seemed to me I watched such a tough journey etch the soul of those who walked it. I also felt that this film was a tough watching journey but it is now very much etched in my soul as I head towards a people whose journey is etched in theirs. May we all be changed!