Humanitarian Crisis


This is a video preview of an upcoming MPR project. The stats are sad, but it is the reality of our neighbors.

Here is a link to the entire project: Civil War Kids

There are little bits of good news happening in the “country” of Somalia.  Here is a video from the NYTimes about a Somali refugee who took advantage of what the US and Minneapolis has to offer in terms of education, etc. He then went back to Somalia and is making an impact on his village.  It is a great story.

Sure it won’t change the entire country, but if one person makes a difference in each village, stability will slowly return.

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A challenging story of how a successful Christian, CEO answered God’s calling reminds us that sometimes we have to do more than just sit in a pew.  Rich Stearns, is the current President of World Vision and is well respected within the international development community.  I had never heard his story before, but am amazed at how God worked in his life.

The Hole in Our Gospel, is more than just an autobiography though.  He critiques the modern church for missing a large part of the Gospel message Jesus shared.  Stearns sacrificed his lifestlye as the CEO of a chinaware company to become president of World Vision.  It is a cool story and one you should read.  But as he makes clear in this excerpt, he is not calling us to get rid of everything in our life:

However, I don’t want to also suggest that all true followers of Christ must forsake everything to bring comfort and justice to the poor. I
only propose that genuine concern for “the least of these” that finds tangible expression must be woven into the pattern of their lives and faith. That expression might involve small but regular gifts to compassion ministries, advocating on behalf of the poor to government representatives, or regular volunteering at a soup kitchen, the local nursing home, or the Ronald McDonald House…. Even Jesus did not spend every waking hour helping the poor.  He dined with the wealthy, celebrated at weddings and feasts, taught in the synagogue, and perhaps did a bit of carpentry.  Still, there is no question that His love for the poor found consistent and concrete expression in His life and ministry.

Yes, this book contains numbers and statistics that are overwhelming, even to me.  But his focus is more on telling the story about how God redeems us and redeems our brothers and sisters around the world.  Stearns will not allow you to get bogged down in the numbers, but will help you remember that each number represents a living person that Jesus died for.

Pick it up, read it, discuss it, share it with a friend.

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Here are a few recent news articles about Sudan and Somalia.  I don’t want to turn into a spammy blog, just reposting news stories, so these reflect my passions and highlight two major crises in today’s world.  These stories are no joke.

The Star-Tribune reports (from an AP wire story) that with Sudan kicking out aid groups over 1 million will lose access to food:

The U.N.-Sudanese assessment team toured Darfur from March 11-19 after the groups were expelled.

About 1.1 million people now dependent on food aid will not receive their rations starting in May if the aid gaps aren’t filled, the U.N. humanitarian coordinator in Sudan, Ameerah Haq, said on behalf of the team.

She warned that money will run out within four weeks for spare parts and fuel needed to provide drinking water for 850,000 people.

And more than 600,000 people are in danger of not getting materials needed to build shelters before the upcoming rainy season, Haq said.

We allow this to continue in the name of national soverignty – even though international laws have been broken.

Change.org’s genocide section has a great article about the politics involved and Obama’s quandaries:

According to Gerson, the U.S. and the international community thus “faces a decision”: Do we take a soft-line with Bashir in hopes that aid groups are readmitted, or do we accept the short-term consequences likely to come from increased pressure on Sudan, but that also has the potential to break Bashir’s death grip on the region?

It’s a messy political calculus, any way you shake it— either caving to Bashir’s tactics in Darfur, which hold innocent lives hostage in a no-holds-barred international power struggle, and thus nearly guarantee that this upper-hand will be used again in the future, and to the detriment of millions, or (if you’re President Obama, in particular) taking the risks that come with stepping into the ring.

If one thing is clear, it’s that any attempt to deal with Bashir will not succeed with one foot in, and one out. The full “diplomatic toolkit” must be on the table, including the credible threat of military force. It’s not a simple question of black-and-white moral certitude: Consequences on the ground in Darfur will be grave (though, they already are), and on the international political scene, Obama has to weigh the cost of further angering the Arab world at a time when his agendas in Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, and Israel/Palestine also hang in the lurch.

It’s not a one-off — it’s a diplomatic package deal. So the decision comes down to: Are the lives of the millions current subjected to the whims of Bashir’s genocidal regime worth not only the political cost of action, but the on-the-ground consequences as well?

Gerson concludes:

“Not every global humanitarian crisis justifies this kind of commitment, or else America would be endlessly overextended. But if genocide does not justify such action, it will never be justified. And we would lose the right to say, ‘Never again.'”

I’d argue that we’ve already lost the right to say “Never Again,” but that does not lift our responsibility to answer the question, “What will we do, right here, right now?”

I’d agree.

Somalia is a strongly Muslim country where people are killed for being Christians or even just non-Muslim.  The 30 Days website offers some insight into life in Somalia.

God’s forgiveness filled him with hope! Libaan’s relatives heard that Libaan had become a Gal (Somali word for a pagan). Most Somalis can’t imagine that Christians may also be people who fear God, because they assume that Christians live a very worldly lifestyle (including drunkenness and immorality). Returning to see his family Libaan insisted that he not be called a Gal. In his view he was submitted to God, the Almighty. While his family received him well at first, later they rejected him. This experience broke his heart. Somali believers are few in number. They experience loneliness and rejection even from their most beloved family members. Only encouragement and comfort from God helps them to overcome.

Be sure to read the comments on that post.

Finally, Oxfam recent released a report on condition along the Kenyan-Somali border in the refugee camps.

According to inter-agency projections5 the most likely scenario given the continuing crisis inside Somalia is that an additional 9,000-10,000 new refugees will continue to arrive in Dadaab each month throughout 2009, even if the border remains closed and despite registration delays and shortage of adequate services. In a worst-case scenario, up to 200,000 people could arrive in a very short time period. In the current situation of extreme congestion none of these new arrivals will be allocated plots or materials to construct their own shelter, and will not have access to adequate sanitation facilities. They are likely to experience delays in obtaining access to food rations and health services. Competition over water resources will increase. Cholera is already present, and a serious outbreak remains a real risk in Dadaab. The ever-increasing overcrowding and poor sanitation and waste disposal facilities, as well as the lack of investment in hygiene promotion, are only exacerbating this risk. In short, a humanitarian emergency will unfold in 2009 in Dadaab unless at least 36,000 of the existing population are immediately served in a decongestion
site near to the existing camps and new camps are constructed to receive the 120,000 new arrivals projected for 2009.

Learn more and take action.

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Is it possible to have both peace and justice at the same time? Yes, but not always.

We have some great historical examples of where peace reigned and justice prevailed. Tragically, there are probably more examples of when this didn’t occur.

The most recent and relevant is related to Sudan and the ongoing extermination of the Darfuri people.

What are Peace & Justice?

PeaceFor our purposes, peace is a freedom from civil disturbance a state of security or order within a community provided for by law or custom or a state or period of mutual concord between governments as in a pact or agreement to end hostilities between those who have been at war or in a state of enmity. (Webster)

Justiceis the concept of moral rightness based on ethics, rationality, law, natural law, fairness and equity. (Wikipedia)

So in the case of Darfur, peace would be the absence of conflict, improved security and safety around refugee camps, and a return of the refugees to their original homes without a fear of violence.  Justice would be the prosecution and imprisonment of individuals involved in illegal activities, such as rape, murder, pillaging, arson, and other similar atrocities.

Advocates around the world have been actively seeking a combination of the two to occur in the Texas sized province of Darfur in Western Sudan.  However, at times their actions and advocacy have not always aligned with the best interests of the refugees and aid workers.  I am just as guilty as the next advocate in this instance.  We have been advocating for peace since 2003 and haven’t had any real success in that regard.

Governments around the world took action… but failed the people of Darfur with their token responses.  We send peacekeepers without proper equipment, underfund them, and understaff them – setting them up for failure yet again.  What is the purpose of documenting atrocities instead of preventing them?  Yes, you must document a crime to prosecute it… but how many must die in the process?

In the past few weeks the International Criminal Court issued an indictment for the President of Sudan.  The first time such an indictment has been issued for a sitting head of state.  It may also be the first time that it is clearly a head of state allowing crimes against humanity and war crimes to occur.  Read more at the ICC’s Darfur Page.

This indictment was a clear step toward justice and holding an individual accountable for the actions they knowingly allowed to occur.  The debate in many circles is… was that a wise move?

I don’t know claim to know everything but there definitely are some problems related to this.  Everyone knew that after the indictment all the humanitarian aid workers would be either kicked out or harrased and that came to pass.  Everyone also knew that the indictment is almost impossible to enforce – Sudan and many of its closest allies are not signators (nor is the US) on the charter of the ICC.  This means that we and they have no responsibility to act on its warrants.  The president is fairly safe to travel around within those countries without risking arrest.  It is almost impossible to arrest him in Sudan because he has popular support within the capital and much of north Sudan.

So why go after justice knowing that it will be hard to serve and create everything but peace? I agree it should give Darfuri people hope that ultimately justice will be served and their death and suffering will be vindicated.  I can’t imagine that will mean much as they continue to suffer each day.

Jim Wallis gives a clear account of what has happened since the ICC indictment:

Over the past few weeks, 13 international humanitarian organizations have been expelled from Sudan at the dictate of Omar al-Bashir, president of Sudan. These actions came soon after the International Criminal Court handed down an indictment of al-Bashir and issued a warrant for his arrest for crimes of genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes in Darfur. As a result, 1.1 million Darfuris are without food, 1.5 million without health care, and more than 1 million without access to clean drinking water. If there was any doubt as to whether or not he was truly acting in the best interest of his people, his use of food and water as weapons of war show that he just does not care about the people of Darfur.

and continues

With the expulsion of these humanitarian organizations, al-Bashir has shown that he has no interest in the well-being of the people of Darfur or in bringing piece. These actions show that once again there comes a time when a political leader has so violated standards of international law and morality that he should no longer be treated as a sovereign, even in his own country, but as a criminal. Actions like this show that he should no longer be president, but prosecuted and brought to justice like the international fugitive of the law he now is. If he was serious about peace and progress, the first thing he should do is welcome the aid organizations back into his country, and without that he has ensured that this warrant will be pursued.

There is no doubt that if we continue to watch there will be neither peace nor justice.  We must act for both. Hoping and praying that somewhere along the way somebody with power will stand up and say ENOUGH and take immediate action that will end the pain and suffering of millions of innocent children, women, and men.

Other good reads include

ICC Not as stupid as the cynics may have thought

If Not Peace, Then Justice

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This is part of a recent ad campaign from World Vision. It came to me via Christianity Today’s daily news e-mail.  I thought it was thoughtful and though provoking.

What are your thoughts?

A friend commented that Not For Sale was available for free as an audiobook so I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to “read” this compelling book I had heard about before.  So I downloaded it and put off my normal podcast material for the 8 hours it took to listen.  I am glad I did.

Not for Sale: The Return of the Global Slave Trade–and How We Can Fight It shares some powerful stories about getting children, women, and even men who get caught up in forced labor – as laborers, prostitutes, child soldiers, and other gruesome situations.    The book tells stories from around the world (including the United States) of both the slaves and the abolitionists who are working to free slaves and prevent future slavery.

Sadly, most people think slavery ended in the 1800’s but some researchers suggest that there are actually more slaves today than at any point during the African slave trade.  As you can tell this is a cause that I care deeply about so I was a little biased by the book.  I think it is a short and relatively easy read and could change the way you look at the world and those “foreigners” at your local restaurant.

I appreciated that the book wasn’t just tales of sorrow and misery but that each chapter also shared the hope and beauty of freedom.   There are a lot of organizations working to end human trafficking and this book shares some of their stories.  It is a “Christian” book but it doesn’t shove Christianity down your throat – just stories.

The biggest thing that I didn’t like about the book was how the stories were interwoven.  You would be reading about one person then pause for a little bit about another and then back and forth.  This was a little confusing in the audio format, but probably made more sense in the written text.

I encourage you to read the book and take action.  The book has an excellent and helpful companion website for the Not For Sale Campaign.  The site offers relevant news, actions to take, and other was to get involved including following their blog.

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