Every now and then, God hits me in the face with how shallow, self-concerned and small I have become. This past Sunday was one of those times. Two days ago I met a 22-year-old man who had recently moved to Houston. The reason: He is a Sudanese refugee.
As the words, “I am from Sudan” fell from his lips, my heart fell. I was overloaded with embarrassment and shame. I felt the force of those feelings because my days are spent haggling over power questions in the local church and dealing with all kinds of “Church Issues” that don’t have the least little thing to do with extending the Kingdom of God, justice and mercy, or helping my faith community become a grace-extending body. What’s more, is that I fear many American Christians do not even know what is happening in Sudan, particularly Darfur, and worse, I fear fewer care.
So here’s some background:
Sudan’s population is composed of two distinct cultures — black African and Arab. Since gaining independence in 1956, a series of military coups, a civil war, and severe famine have burdened Sudan with political and economic instability. The civil war between the mainly Muslim north and the animist and Christian south lasted 21 years and cost the lives of 1.5 million people. After two years of bargaining, the Arab Muslim government and rebels signed a comprehensive peace deal in January 2005.
Just as the war in the south was winding down, in 2003 fighting broke out in the western region of Darfur. The residents, mostly black African Muslims seeking greater independence from the Sudanese government in Khartoum, launched an insurrection. The Sudanese government responded by bombing villages and by backing Arab militias known as the Janjaweed. The government and the Janjaweed have killed at least 70,000 black villagers in the Darfur region. Some observers have calculated the number closer to 300,000. The Janjaweed have also been responsible for thousands of rapes and have driven some 2 million residents of Darfur into refugee camps, many in neighboring Chad.
The United Nations describes the Darfur conflict as one of the world´s worst humanitarian crises. In September 2004, then U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell announced that the State Department “concluded that genocide has been committed in Darfur and that the government of Sudan and the Janjaweed bear responsibility.” So far, neither the label “genocide,” nor U.N. pronouncements, nor a small force of about 2,400 African Union peacekeepers, has been able to stop the killing, rapes and the massive refugee situation.
Every day, black, Sudanese women are raped by Arab, Muslim, fundamentalist, terrorist who leave them with these words: “Hopefully your children will have different skin color.” As I sat next to my new friend, I realized that he and I shared two common characteristics that no one else in the room shared. We were both black and Christian! As I listened to him talk about his family, and the fact that he knew that some of them had been killed by the Janjaweed, I realized that had I been born in Sudan, the people who killed his family would want to kill me too.
I’m not sure how much I can do from my desk in Houston, TX, but I can tell you one thing: I’m going to do something. If you feel the same urging of heart that I do, please visit www.savedarfur.org As a matter of fact, I have to end this post now…I have something I have to do!