Save Darfur? I am a not a pastor of a high-profile community. I am not a professional writer. I am not a movie star like George Clooney, and as much as I would love to walk a day in his shoes—I am definitely not Bono. I am a high-school English teacher with a busy life, just like you. Recently however, God began to speak to me through sermons, world news and through my personal study of the Word about the way I view the world. God began addressing two issues that were clouding my lenses of faith—and it all seemed to come together as I began my study of the Book of Exodus.
As I read Eugene Peterson’s (the author of The Message) introduction to Exodus, I was struck by his characterization of the Israelites. I was captured not only by the power of his words, but by their chilling relation to the existence of many people in today’s world.
According to Peterson, Exodus is “a gripping narrative of an obscure and severely brutalized people who are saved from slavery into a life of freedom.” These lines resonated with me as I read through the first several chapters of Exodus. I found myself face-to-face with Pharaoh. I heard the words of Moses, and I began to question my responsibility to atrocities and injustices seemingly far from my control—in places like the Sudan.
What is the situation in Sudan? I encourage you to do your own research, but this is a synopsis of what is happening: In the Darfur region of western Sudan today, a violent campaign is being waged by the government of Sudan in concert with the Janjawid militia that has already claimed the lives, by some estimates, of more than 400,000 civilians. The nature of the conflict is grotesque. Each day, civilians face prospects of mass killings, rape, torture and destruction of their villages. It is the only world conflict in our own government’s history that has been labeled genocide by the Congress, the President and the Secretary of State while it is ongoing. The Sudanese government and the Janjawid militia are deliberately targeting civilians of the Fur, Masalit and Zaghawa ethnic groups, as well as Christians, and routinely use rape and sexual violence as weapons of war. Estimates are that more than 1 million civilians have been internally displaced and more than 200,000 have sought refuge in neighboring countries. The conditions in these “humanitarian” camps are dire with inadequate food, water and medicine. These camps are in need of supplies, and the Sudanese government is often reluctant to help. The United Nations recently voted to send peacekeepers to the region, but debating and political posturing continue with real no action.
As I began to work through the first three chapters of Exodus, the reality of the crisis in western Sudan in 2007 transformed from a story that captured my interest as I have surfed the web (a story the national media relegates to fringes of coverage) into a message that seemed to surgically cut through the layers of understanding I had previously built around Scripture. I began to see the faces of displaced and terrorized civilians in Darfur as the “obscure and severely brutalized people.” I began to wonder as I read Exodus 2 if God might hear the call of these people the way He heard the call of the Egyptian captives. “The Israelite cry for help has come to me, and I have seen for myself how cruelly they are being treated by the Egyptians.”
I began to understand the reality of my responsibility as a follower of Christ.
The connection between the situation in Darfur and the reading of Exodus doesn’t take scholarly exegesis. God hears the call from His people, and He sends Moses to lead them to freedom. The call to us from God through Moses in this scripture is clear: Free My people. Why, then, are we in the American Church so lethargic and so hesitant to respond en mass to the slavery, oppression and injustice of the world? Why do so many seem so full of self-help and so empty on social action? I believe part of the answer to that question might simply be found in the way I have been taught to read my favorite story in the Bible all these years. Notice in chapter 3 of Exodus, God tells Moses, “Go and gather the leaders of Israel. Tell them … I am determined to get you out of the affliction of Egypt.” God is not just talking about changing the hearts of the Israelite people. It is clear that the “I AM” wants to bring geopolitical change to the land of Egypt—physical deliverance to those who are enslaved.
Could it be that we have spiritualized the powerful message of this wonderful story into impotence? I have heard hundreds of sermons about the truth of God’s desire to free me from oppression and slavery, from addiction and thoughts; and while we all agree and recognize that God is calling us to freedom from sin, we must not ignore the equal truth in Scripture that God intends for us to be freed from real-world physical oppression—real-world physical oppression such as starvation, racism, violence and, yes, even genocide thousands of miles across the ocean. Until we as the American Church come to terms with the reality that God’s call for us is not only to free men from spiritual slavery but to work to bring the realities of the Kingdom of God to the here and now, our world will continue to suffer.
My second struggle with this scripture is the sheer impossibility of the task. Darfur is so far away from Cincinnati, Ohio, and the reality of the situation seems hopeless. Sometimes I find myself powerless to help neighbors on my own street—what could I possibly do that could impact the situation in Africa? Again, the Exodus narrative speaks truth into that hopelessness through its main character, Moses. We as the Church must overcome the perceived helplessness that is a natural response to such challenges. As God provokes us to respond through His Word in Exodus, our reaction is the same as Moses in Chapter 2: “But why me? What makes you think that I could ever go to Pharaoh and lead the children of Israel out of Egypt?”
Who am I? Who are we?
Consider that by many estimates a third of the world claims to be followers of Jesus. That is not the United States; that is a third of the world’s entire population! Can you imagine for a moment how the world might change if the followers of Christ worked together to deliver God’s people—the oppressed?
I was reminded of what Robert Kennedy once said when one of my senior English students quoted him in her paper: “There are those who look at things the way they are, and ask why … I dream of things that never were, and ask why not?”
When I ponder the illustration I heard recently from the pulpit at my church, I start to understand what Moses and Pharaoh came to understand in the Exodus narrative. Our pastor reminded us about playing tug-of-war on the playground; you always want the strongest kid on the block to anchor your side of the rope. Maybe part of the message of Exodus, not the whole message, but one we have missed, is found in realizing our responsibility to the world, to situations like Darfur, where some type of action as individuals and as communities of Christ should be viewed like that game of tug-of-war on the playground. Fortunately, our anchor is the Creator of the universe—we only need to place a hand on the rope and pull.
What does that mean to you? Pray, search; find a way to get involved.
To learn more about the situation in Sudan and how you can help, visit SaveDarfur.org.