Sixteen Months in Darfur - Part 3

by Jonathan Drake

Editor's note: In this concluding installment, the author reveals how being placed in a totally unfamiliar situation has forced him to rethink his comfortable assumptions of what it means to be a Christian-but not his belief in the absolute truth of God's Word.

Ten months into my time in Darfur, the war-torn Western region of Sudan, I was faced with a situation that didn't necessarily shock me, but was, in a good way, a warning. Faisal, the head supervisor of my three food distribution teams, came into my office and sat down. I was accustomed to him coming in and sitting down, as my office was not a place that I preferred people to hang out' in, and thus create noise, and as such it was a quiet place to retreat to when the boisterous social interactions of Sudanese people became tiresome.

"Mr. Jonathan" Faisal's addressing me in this way was something I was forced to grow used to when I first arrived in Darfur. I was just shy of twenty-one years old when I stepped off that plane for the first time, and I suddenly found myself in charge of a group of men, all older than me, who chose to call me "Mr. Jonathan." Some were old enough to be my own father and it was something that at first I laughed at, but grew to be fond of. What first was a sign of respect out of duty, since I was their boss, grew to become a sign of respect of our relationship as a bizarre family, struggling together to help the helpless. They called me "Mr. Jonathan", and I called them brother, father and sister, literally.

Faisal, four months prior to my arrival, was driven from his village by the Janjaweed militia after twice successfully defending his home. He saw his sons gunned down, and his wife was brutally tortured, raped and left to die. His village was completely destroyed. At one point he pulled up his pant leg to reveal a nasty scar where a bullet had ripped through his calf. Yet in spite of these things, Faisal is the most joyful man I know. His laugh is deep, his smile is wide, and his face shines with some untold joy that I don't find in many Christians here in the U.S.

I knew these things about Faisal as I pushed my computer back, taking a break from the piles of reports I was responsible for submitting to the UN World Food Program about our operations.

"Yes, Faisal?"

"Mr. Jonathan, I have a question."

"Yes sir"

"I have worked with other NGO's, and other international staff, and I have seen the way they are. I am Sudanese, I know my own people. I know the way they behave. All of those, they are people who get angry, who lie, and who steal. It is nothing to them. But youyou are different. You and Mr. Andy, and Mr. Matt, and Mr. Dickson, and Mr. Coy, and Mr. Tim. You are different. You do not become angry with us, or with each other, you love us and you love each other. Why?"

The question of Why?' is one that we as Christians long for those around us to ask. "Why are you different?" When I hear that question I automatically think of when Peter tells us to "always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have" (1 Pet. 3:15).

This is it. This is that moment. What do I do? Faisal comes from a cultural background that is almost as different from mine as possible in this world. My understanding of the gospel is rooted in my grid' of understanding, a grid that is shaped and formed from my youth, by my parents, my friends, my church experience and anyone I encounter. It comes from the joys and sorrows of my life, as trivial as they may seem in comparison to those in Darfur.

My understanding of how to present the gospel also comes from this root, and I feared, in that moment, as I had before, that what made perfect sense to me would completely fly by Faisal's radar. Not that the truth of the gospel is diminished, or its power, but that the way that it is understood would be different, and I was not sure how to break off from my personal grid'.

As I entered into the conversation, I knew that I had ten months of relating with this man. Although it is illegal for me to share Christ in Sudan, Faisal and I had discussed religion, usually in the context of both of us asking simple questions, and so I knew that he knew the gospel, in a purely academic sense. I knew also that Faisal had had ten months of watching me as a man, in how I related to those around me. He noticed that the Samaritan's Purse team was set apart. We showed love to each other, and then, he commented, we showed love to him, as a human being, by eating at his house, meeting his family, helping his people. He could see Christ in us, and he wanted to know what that' was.

I told Faisal the answer to why'. I told him that when a man is made right before God, through the sacrifice of Jesus, he becomes the host of the Living God, and becomes the physical representation, the ambassador, of the fullness of the Godhead on earth. Having the Creator of the universe dwelling inside of you and living through you guides a man to live a holy life.

Faisal listened, as he had before, and he seemed satisfied with my answer. As a Muslim, his concept of justice and forgiveness is different from mine, a Westerner, and I knew that the description I gave to him was not fully digested. But Faisal knew that what he saw was special, and his heart resonated with it, and he was seeking the truth. I recognized that, and thought of what C. S. Lewis wrote in The Last Battle, about the Tash warrior, and how Aslan rewarded the warrior's truth-seeking heart when everyone else would have condemned him based on outward appearances.

I am not worried that my Sudanese brother did not drop to his knees and say a pat prayer, sign a card, walk an aisle, raise his hand, and stand and say to the world, "I am a Christian." I realized what it means for God to know the heart, and I figured that if I could see the desire for truth and rightness with God, then God certainly could. I placed my faith in the character of the Lord, knowing that He knows the heart and rewards those who earnestly seek Him,' and that He will judge rightly towards Faisal. I realized that I could not be the judge, and that I could not apply to this man my finite understanding of what it means to follow God.

When thinking on this situation, even now, I apply the single greatest thing that I learned while I was in Darfur-to say, "I don't know." I learned, after seeing vicious evil, and having my worldview turned upside down, that I could not, in good conscience, go forth and claim to know all that I claimed to know before. My world of seemingly black and white' truth was shaken up, and what I was left with was a rumpled patch of gray.

The overarching truth that remained was that God is God and that what His Word says is true. But beyond that, I would not be as rudely dogmatic as I had been before.

Jonathan Drake served with Samaritan's Purse in Darfur from November, 2004 to January, 2006,
and again from August to October, 2006. After returning to the U.S. in October, he was
unable to obtain a travel permit to return to the project in Sudan because
tensions have risen as the situation there continues to worsen.

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