By Brad Phillips In the April Africa Messenger, one of our directors, Matt Chancey, wrote about the importance of children not only to our ministry, but to the Church as a whole. He admitted that our work in Africa among marginalized communities had changed his perspective of where children fit into the social and religious equation. But although many of us are late in understanding the importance of children to God's plan, His enemies have been well aware of this for a long time.
In the case of the government of Sudan, and its war against its own citizens, children are the primary targets, and consequent victims, of the violence.
Children are not just the future, they are also the present. In the Nuba mountains, well over 50 percent of the total population are children under the age of 15.
Nuba children represent a great threat to the Islamist regime of Omar al Bashir. The Nuba mountains are home to Sudan's largest Christian minority. We are told that 30 percent of the total population is Christian, but many of the communities on the front lines are more than 90 percent Christian. For a government pushing a hardline sharia law agenda, the mere presence of a significant group opposed to their worldview is cause for concern.
When I speak to Christian Nubans about when they were converted, most tell me it was while they were children.
Surprising? It shouldn't be. Remember that Jesus Himself said that the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven are those having a humble faith like a little child. When children were pushed away from Jesus, He rebuked His disciples and told them "suffer the little children to come unto Me, and forbid them not, for of such is the kingdom of heaven." (Matt. 19:14)
Even though we may marginalize children in much of western society, that doesn't mean God does. It would appear quite the opposite.
That's why the enemy is targeting children. That's why the Sudan Air Force targets schools, hospitals, churches and market places. Sadly, that's why most of the people we find receiving medical treatment for ghastly burns and shrapnel wounds are children. And tragically, that's why most of the dead in this latest war have been children.
Children can be incredibly brave. On my last trip to the Nuba, I visited a displaced community living at the base of a mountain. The people had abandoned their village because it was within shelling range of the Sudan Armed Forces. Where they live, there are no wells, but a small spring was found high in the mountain, inside a cave too small for most adults to enter. So, every day, a small group of girls carry plastic jerry cans on their heads and climb the mountain. I had to see this, so one morning I accompanied them. It took two hours to reach the cave, then the girls filled their containers and began the long journey back down.
I could not believe the courage of these girls. I heard no complaints. They showed no fear. They cheerfully went about their work - alone, in an active war zone, climbing a mountain several times a day to get water for their families in hiding! After our trip down the mountain ended and we sat to take some lunch, the Sudan Armed Forces began shelling the other side of the mountain where we had just been climbing. We counted 40 shells striking the mountain over the course of an hour, shaking the ground beneath our feet - while children played around us.
We typically ask children what they want to be when they grow up. I think we have it all backwards. Maybe we should ask more adults what kind of children they want to be? I pray God may one day give me the courage of one of those little girls I walked with that day up the mountain.
As Christians, we must "suffer the little children," which is a lot different than making children suffer. Children are future leaders, and these future leaders in the Nuba mountains of Sudan are getting a dose of what it means to live under the terror of an Islamist worldview. But because of your faithful partnership with the PPF ministry, they are also seeing the beautiful contrast of compassion and love, freely given from their extended family.
The war is real. The board has been set. The pieces are moving. There are only two sides: Those "suffering children," and those making children suffer. Thank you for being on the right side. And please, keep fighting!