Into the Void: Part I

Void: An empty space. What I just witnessed never happened. You won't read about it anywhere in the news. No one is talking about it. Yet I just returned from seeing the biggest humanitarian crisis going on in Africa today... and most of the world is doing nothing about it.

Several weeks ago, I wrote about the tragic airstrikes in the Darfur refugee area called Jaac. Jaac is an administrative district in Southern Sudan on the Darfur border and has been home to tens of thousands of refugees fleeing the violence in the world's only ongoing genocide.

Jaac is also the scene of one of Persecution Project Foundation's largest ongoing relief operations. We first visited Jaac in 2005, and we're still there today. When we first arrived, we found a few hundred refugees sitting under the trees waiting to die. The nearest water supply was a two day walk. The only food was leaves picked from the trees and boiled into a mush. It was horrible.

We took action, and began pouring into Jaac whatever God placed in our hands through the generous contributions of Christians all over America.

We built a base camp and began using it as a makeshift clinic while we built a permanent structure. We brought in shipments of food, blankets, medicine, mosquito nets, clothing, and other crisis relief items.

We supported the founding of a school to teach children to read. And we gave them Bibles in their own language so they could learn about the Love that sought them out in a wilderness.

And most importantly for their physical needs, PPF began drilling wells to provide a clean source of water to the now swelling population in Jaac.

Jaac is an area largely neglected by the UN and the NGO community because of its proximity to danger and its extreme remoteness. The roads are nothing more than glorified cow trails, which washout for half the year, cutting Jaac off from the rest of the country.

Yet, Jaac is the only refuge to an estimated 200,000 people who have fled their native homes to find safety from their enemies. But recently, the drums of war have touched this "Oasis in Hell" as the Sudan Mirror described Jaac in 2009.

The ruling government in Khartoum, the National Congress Party, is angered by Darfur rebel groups who it claims are finding support and sanctuary in border regions in Southern Sudan. Consequently, the Sudan Air Force bombed two villages in the Jaac area three times in November, killing and wounding many and causing widespread panic among the local population.

Tens of thousands fled... and they ran to the only safe zone they knew: the PPF mission station in Jaac.

I recently flew to Jaac to personally see with my own eyes what I had been hearing through numerous pleas for help from my contacts in the community. We landed on a Thursday in early December, and what I saw shocked and disturbed me.

All around the Jaac airstrip, which PPF had constructed soon after our arrival in 2005, were thousands of makeshift grass huts. I estimate 18,000 people were living in just the vicinity of the airstrip. They knew the airstrip had welcomed relief to the community for years. Now, they pitched their tents, as it were, to the only lifeline they had.

The scene was heartbreaking. I walked around from hut to hut, interviewing the refugees. While surveying the scene, I saw a little eight-year-old girl named Aluet just arriving in Jaac after a two day walk. She was carrying a little bottle of milk and her twelve-month-old brother, Garang. When I asked about her story, I was told her father died last year and her mother was recently killed in the November 24th airstrike.

But Aluet's story of suffering was sadly not unique. I was also informed by medical personnel that 200 women had died giving birth in the last three weeks because of severe malnutrition.

Thankfully, the night before I landed, PPF's relief truck, Mercy, arrived. It brought blankets, medicine, and action packs that the Voice of the Martyrs donated. As soon as the truck was offloaded, I sent it to the closest town where we could buy food, and instructed the driver to purchase as much as I had funds on me to buy. But it was a drop in the bucket compared to teh tremendous need.

Tragically, all we could do was select from among the refugees, 500 families who seemed to us to need the most help, and give them what we had. It may last them two weeks.

I also discovered that the swelling population in Jaac had stretched the wells to the breaking point. Twenty five wells out of the 62 we have in the entire area of Jaac were broken because of the stress of constant use by the new refugees.

I met with the local Administrator, who I have known for years, to discuss what could be done. I could see the worry in his face. He told me his district was being largely ignored by the government because of the fear that too much attention to the area would distract and even endanger the referendum on secession that is scheduled for January 9th, 2011.

The Administrator said the fighting was much heavier than reported by the government or the press, as witnessed by the growing refugee population in Jaac. But no one was doing anything. Most western aid organizations have already sent their people home for the holidays. They will be gone until the referendum is over.

This means that the humanitarian crisis in Jaac is being overlooked and is taking a back seat to the political issues surrounding the referendum. Jaac is basically a news void - a vacuum.

But the people of Jaac don't know this. Little Aluet and her brother Garang don't know anything about referendums, or interim peace agreements, or politics. All they know is that their parents are dead, and they are orphans in a wilderness.

In the same manner, we at PPF seek not to be distracted by politics. All we know is that a community we have served for the last six years is now in a state of crisis and extreme need. And we must do something.

These victims are not statistics. These are people we have known for years. I have watched their children grow. I have worshipped in their churches and helped baptize new members. I have seen the miracle your compassion has created in a wilderness of death and despair. This is my family. This is your family. We must do something. We cannot abandon them now.