Touchstone: A Journal of Mere Christianity
“A Refuge of Mercy” first appeared in the May 2005 issue of Touchstone.
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A Refuge of MercySudanese Refugees Serve Their Persecutors
by Faith McDonnell
The members of the Sudan Council of Churches USA could be following their own dreams in their adopted home. After enduring persecution at the hands of the Islamist regime in Sudan, who could blame them if they wanted to focus on making a comfortable life for themselves here in the United States?
Or they could be devoting all their energy to reconstructing their own devastated homeland. Now that a North-South peace agreement has been signed, Sudanese in the “diaspora” are an indispensable resource.
But they aren’t. True, the Sudan Council of Churches USA (SCCUSA), representing 38 congregations around North America, arose in response to the challenges facing Sudanese Christians in the United States. At their inaugural meeting in Kansas City, Missouri, on Thanksgiving weekend 2003, leaders of Sudanese churches expressed such
concerns as the homosexual movement in many of their host churches, Sudanese being led astray by Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormons, the materialistic and sexualized American youth culture, and the need to help rebuild Southern Sudan.
But their hearts were pierced by the ongoing genocide of African Muslims in western Sudan’s Darfur province. They well knew the measures being used by Khartoum to suppress rebellion in Darfur: villages bombed, people displaced and killed, women and children raped and taken as slaves. The same measures were used against them.
The SCCUSA believed God was calling them to reach out to the people of Darfur. With the help and encouragement of Christ Church in Overland Park, Kansas (which has since left the Episcopal Church), they began “Sudan Mercy,” a mission to Darfurians who had fled for their lives to refugee camps over the border in Chad.
“They knew they themselves could be targeted by the Arab janjaweed and government soldiers, but Southern Sudanese stepped forward saying they would go to Darfur, even if it cost their lives,” said Christ Church’s missions pastor, Tom Prichard. Even more extraordinary, the people to whom they are reaching out are their former persecutors.
In a letter published in the Kansas City Star, the group’s president, Paul Ater, explained, “The army that burned our homes and killed our families was mostly Darfurian.” As much as 75 percent of the Sudanese army was from Darfur—pressed into service by an Arab government whose philosophy is, “use a slave to kill a slave.” The letter continued, “We believe God is calling us to reach out to our former persecutors in love, forgiveness and mercy.”
Two weeks later, Sudan Mercy sent an exploratory team comprised of three Southern Sudanese and one American doctor to the beleaguered Darfuri Muslims at two refugee camps. The Darfurians were deeply moved by the Christians’ love and said it was “too wonderful a thing” that of all the people to come to their rescue, it would be the very people they victimized for so long.
The team reported the desperate need for warm clothing to protect the refugees from the harsh, cold desert, so the SCCUSA began collecting clothes for the 35,000 people in the two refugee camps. Although it would be less expensive to purchase clothing in Chad, the Southern Sudanese believed that they were to share their own garments with their former persecutors.
Abraham Beny, a former Lost Boy whose whole family died at the hands of Darfurian soldiers, helped head the clothing drive. As of early March 2005, they had filled one eighteen-wheel trailer with clothing and were starting on a second. At the same time, the SCCUSA faced the daunting task of raising funds to transport the clothing.
While the Sudanese government brazenly bombs the few remaining African towns in Darfur, and the United Nations issues impotent statements, this small band of Sudanese Christians have obeyed Christ’s call to bless those who persecute them. Meeting the needs of their former enemies, these Southern Sudanese have brought to Sudan the hope of reconciliation and relationship between Muslim and Christian. And through their selfless and sacrificial love, they have shown the world the character of God.
To learn more about the Sudan Council of Churches USA, see www.sudancouncilofchurches-usa.org.
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