Friday, October 12, 2007

More from Darfur

Let's continue to be in prayer for our brother in Darfur:

The first time I caught sight of the infamous Janjaweed it was down the barrel of a gun - more like a semi-automatic cannon actually, mounted on the back of a truck, pointed towards me. They all of a sudden appeared in our city in Northern Darfur, as Ramadan comes to a close, and are swarming through the streets along with the myriad other types of heavily armed police and military personnel. Even the traffic guards pack heat. And there is literally nothing to distinguish one type of unit from the others, except details of their uniform colors. There is little to support the assertion that Darfur is a conflict of Arabs versus Africans - there is nothing I could see that made the Janjaweed, cavalierly pointing their guns into the market as they drove through, any different from the “rebels,” as the Government of Sudan calls them, nor any different from the official police or army. The distinctions between the different fractious elements are all descending into chaotic banditry – on both sides. My first impression of the Janjaweed was striking not because they stood out, but because they didn’t (not in terms of appearance or language, at least) – and it certainly wasn’t the first time I found myself in the potential firing line of a group of heavily armed men in the back of a pickup truck. And I know it won’t be the last.

I have been here for one month almost, and though I have never really been in personal danger, the prevalent randomness of violence has been a major adjustment. In the first week, our NGO was car-jacked at gunpoint in the city, in a series of urban car-jackings (4 in 5 days) which has set off a new wave of fearlessness, where the standard NGO car, a Toyota Landcruiser, is nothing better than a moving target. There is very little way of distinguishing between the random bandits who are stealing for the money and the idealistic and organized bandits who are stealing to support their cause for freedom against the oppressive Sudanese regime. Last week, one “rebel group,” attacked the AU peacekeeping forces killing at least a dozen and taking others captive, driving out a rival faction to an impoverished rural area where we have a health clinic, which has only been accessible to local staff in a UN helicopter escort. This week the Government of Sudan bombed the allied faction of the rebel groups (many of whom came to our clinic for treatment, where 33 are receiving emergency surgery as I write) which signed the recent peace agreement, pushing any hope of reconciliation even with the most sympathetic dissidents further out of reach. This is not even to mention the recent disintegration of the already achieved peace agreement with South Sudan.

Please pray that in the midst of this violence, and the safety precautions we must take as a result, that I will have the chance to proclaim the word of hope that Christ offers in the midst of despair. As Ramadan, the Muslim month of fasting, comes to a close, pray that I will find opportunities to point to God’s grace in the midst of a conflict where the many fractured sides all share some culpability. Pray that the legalism and judgment that come with a fast which begins every morning with chants blaring before dawn “Prayer is better than sleep!!” would give way to the festive joy with which this early Christian sermon welcomes the end of Lent: “Enter all of you, therefore, into the joy of our Lord, and, whether first or last, receive your reward. O rich and poor, one with another, dance for joy! O you ascetics and you negligent, celebrate the day! You that have fasted and you that have disregarded the fast, rejoice today! The table is rich-laden; feast royally, all of you! The calf is fatted; let no one go forth hungry! Let all partake of the feast of faith. Let all receive the riches of goodness. Let no one lament his poverty, for the universal kingdom has been revealed. Let no one mourn his transgressions, for pardon has dawned from the grave. Let no one fear death, for the Saviour's death has set us free.” In referencing the parable of the workers in the vineyard who come at different times in the day, but are rewarded the same, these words share the equanimity of God’s grace. The feast at the end of the fast is not a celebration of ascetic accomplishment, but an acceptance of the bounty of God’s great grace, and his sacrifice in overcoming death.

As I share this message during the feast ending Ramadan this weekend, pray that hearts will be open to receive the good news of life and acceptance, which has overcome death and judgment. Pray that forgiveness and reconciliation will prove more powerful than accusation and blame. Pray that Sudanese children would no longer wake up to the sound of gunshots (as I did this morning). Pray that Doctors and nurses would not give up their professions to make more money as cleaning personnel for the UN. Pray that we and other NGO’s would no longer have to distribute in our medical clinics “Post-rape trauma kits [also suitable for children].” Pray that the infant mortality rate would not be 20 times greater than crisis levels (as we found it was in a recent survey in a region we had to stop serving because of security). Pray that “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”

Come Lord Jesus

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