After the last image was shown of a Sudanese child whose future is uncertain, the theater was completely silent. The few hundred of us who came to watch “Darfur Diaries” were in a place of mixed emotions. On one hand, we were motivated to act like never before. On the other hand, we were paralyzed by our own ignorance on how to act.
“Darfur Diaries” is an hour-long documentary shot in 2004 in the northern region of Darfur. There are countless interviews with refugees and internally displaced persons, all victims of the Sudanese government’s attempts to eradicate an entire population.
Since 2001, government-backed militias known as the janjaweed have killed, raped, beaten, tortured and starved African Muslims. Those who were lucky enough to survive still face continued attacks in their makeshift refugee camps along the border with Chad.
Overwhelmingly, the theme that comes across in these interviews is one of separation. People are separated from the land that they can trace back through nine generations of grandfathers. Husbands are separated from wives, and parents from children. Those who were in school before the attacks are separated from education. Nearly everyone is now separated from food. But worst of all, this reality is separated from the rest of the world.
The movie is almost entirely shot in the tribal language of the victims, with subtitles in English. There is no commentary, but stark facts let us know what has happened that causes people to sleep under trees and run as fast as they can when they hear a plane fly overhead. Listening to these stories from those who have had the misfortune of living them invokes pity, sorrow, fear, and regret.
Following the movie, a Nashville attorney, Clint Alexander, detailed the complexity of the situation from a policy and diplomacy standpoint. What looks like an internal affair for the country of Sudan also looks an awful lot like genocide, which means there is a moral imperative to act on behalf of the international community. Russian and Chinese economic interests complicate any U.N. involvement, just as budgetary and political concerns make U.S. intervention difficult. However, one group that can do something that has yet to act is the American church.
In America, in order to be heard, you don’t have to be right, and you don’t have to be in the majority. You just have to be loud. Churches the world over have a key opportunity to not only provide monetary and personnel resources to aid organizations on the ground, but they can also mobilize their constituents to let others know about the reality of the situation.
Every character in need of help in the New Testament is present in Darfur: the widow, the orphan, the hungry, the dying, the old, the thirsty, the naked and the prisoner. And when Christians see such a need, they have a responsibility to act. The greatest tragedy may be that this story does not get told enough. If people are not loud enough about this issue, many more will die.
The next few weeks will be critical for Darfur. On Sept. 30, the mandate for the peacekeeping African Union troops will expire, and it is yet to be seen whether or not U.N. peacekeeping forces will arrive. If not, more Darfurians will die. Says Alexander, “We are on the brink of another crisis if action is not taken.”
As I sat in my chair, it occurred to me that some of the faces I saw on the screen might only have two weeks left to live.
While lobbying, calling, and writing Congress may have positive effects, until the story of those dying in western Sudan is told more often, the separation between their reality and our daily lives grows. People are needed to tell anyone to pay attention to the complex situation. Media outlets need to be encouraged to cover the genocide more often and in more detail. The truth must be told about the countless children whose futures will be cut short by crusading militias.
My prayer is that lives can be saved in Darfur before the rest of the world wakes up and realizes that we let what happen in Rwanda (in 1994) happen all over again. My prayer is that each person who sees the common humanity we share with those half a world away will be motivated to tell this story to at least one person. My prayer is that the American church can reverse one of the worst humanitarian disasters of our time.
Too many movies have been made about genocides. We don’t need any more.