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Commentary: Christians must take Darfur crisis personally

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Beth Reilly
Oct. 6, 2005


A UMNS Commentary
By Beth Reilly*


During a visit this year with Sudanese President Al-Bashir, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice witnessed the Sudanese security staff "manhandling" reporters and staff members. The incident angered Secretary Rice, and she demanded an apology from the Sudanese government.

After two years of the Sudanese government's participation in genocide, after two years of torture, rape and murder, it was a pushing incident that ignited action. This incident shows the significance of a situation becoming personal; when something affects us in a personal way, we act or react.

To ensure progress in Darfur, the crisis needs to become personal, mentally, emotionally and spiritually.

The crisis of Darfur began in February 2003, when several African tribes that were feeling the effects of economic marginalization united against the Khartoum government. The government retaliated with a vengeance, arming a militia that became known as the Janjaweed, "Devils on Horseback." The Janjaweed burned homes, murdered men and boys, gang-raped women and girls, and destroyed food and water supplies.

The numbers of people who have been affected are staggering. The lowest estimate of death is 180,000, about three times the number of U.S. fatalities in the Vietnam War, and the highest estimate reaches 400,000, a number comparable to our national death toll from World War II.

More than 2 million Darfurians are displaced, and 3.5 million need food. The extent of devastation on lives is similar to that of last December's tragic tsunami, which hit South Asia and parts of Africa.

Although African Union troops have been deployed to provide protection, the number remains insufficient to establish security. Life has become survival of the fittest in crowded camps where battles are waged against sporadic violence, a limited food supply and infectious disease. The genocide continues in slow motion.

There are legitimate reasons to become involved when we consider the extensive pain in an analytical or emotional way, but when we add a spiritual dimension, the case for Christian involvemaent is indisputable. Jesus very clearly stated the priorities we are to have: love God and love our neighbor. Even when a situation is complex, distant and poorly publicized, we have no excuse for our lack of involvement.

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A UMNS photo courtesy of USAID

Two displaced women in North Darfur wait for food. The United Nations estimates 1.6 million have been pushed from their homes in Sudan.
While Christians are generally successful meeting the needs we "see" in person or in the media, when the need is more obscure, harder to visualize, comprehend and remedy, we are less successful. We are failing in Darfur because most Christians remain uninvolved. Jesus commanded love your neighbor as yourself - in other words, make it personal.

The situation in Darfur has had an impact on my life because I have lived overseas and learned that whether we are American, European or African, our similarities far outweigh our differences; we all have the basic desires for love, security and happiness.

It is heart-wrenching for me to read about the conditions that mothers and children are facing in Darfur. Having a son almost 2 and daughters 3 and 5, I allow myself to imagine what life must be like for a mother in Darfur, and it would be inconceivable for me to do nothing to help those in such desperate need.

So I will continue to receive weekly updates from SaveDarfur.org as I educate myself and others about the situation. I will continue to visit my senator's office and to write letters to the president asking them to work harder on a resolution. I will be a voice for Darfur. My voice joins those of others, including leaders of the National Council of Churches, the National Association of Evangelicals and the Save Darfur Coalition.

More people must get involved. On Sept. 28, during a Senate Foreign Relations hearing, Sen. Joseph Biden expressed concern about a lack of political will from Americans. That same day, 300 Arab men on horses and camels attacked a refugee camp in northwest Darfur, murdering 29 people and burning 80 makeshift shelters. U.N. humanitarian chief Jan Egeland warned that the escalating violence during September was threatening aid for millions.

Given the severity of this situation, it is a costly mistake for Christians to sit on the sidelines and hope that others will resolve the crisis. The time has come for the tragic situation to impact one's mind, heart and soul.

The time has come to get involved ... personally.

*Reilly attends Aldersgate United Methodist Church in Fort Wayne, Ind., and is an advocate for the people living in Darfur.

News media contact: Tim Tanton, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or newsdesk@umcom.org.

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