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ER puts much needed attention on Darfur

Thursday night, NBC's ER spent a little over half the episode exploring Darfur through the eyes of Dr. John Carter, who is volunteering alongside relief workers in one of the many refugee camps in that region.

The episode dramatizes the horrible conditions in which millions actually live after being driven from their villages, livelihood and homes by the civil war in Sudan - often by the Janjaweed, an Arab militia recruited from local tribes and armed by the government. Many live in squalid conditions in refugee camps (see photo from Wikipedia), and hundreds of thousands are effectively cut off from aid because of the region’s remoteness. Tens of thousands have already died of starvation and disease while those who live in the camps and surrounding areas continue to face killings, torture and rape by government forces and militias.

In addition to the millions in Darfur, over a million people are living in similar camps in northern Uganda (south of Sudan) and southern Sudan, driven from their homes by the Lord Resistance Army, a band of Ugandan rebels who torture, mutilate and kill villagers and kidnap children to use as soldiers, sex-slaves and laborers. More than 44,000 children—“night commuters”—leave their homes in rural areas every afternoon to walk several miles into neighboring cities where they spend the night on sidewalks in hopes of escaping abduction and abuse by LRA. If they don’t find one of the few refuges set up by religious or relief organizations—which may house thousands of children each per night—they are often abused or raped anyway.

That’s at least three and a half million people—many of whom are children—displaced, abducted, dying and otherwise suffering as a result of civil wars in Sudan and Uganda. That’s a population over three times that of New Orleans before Hurricane Katrina.

In Thursday’s ER episode, much of what’s reported in the news media about Darfur plays out on screen. Carter dispenses medicine to a boy suffering from cholora. The boy’s mother is brutally raped and beaten by the Janjaweed while collecting firewood outside the camp. (Women are often sent to collect the wood in leiu of men, who are killed on sight.) Her husband is tortoured (boiling water thrown on him, kicked and beaten) and then shot to death by a militia group. The government soldiers do little more than bully aid workers and look after their own agendas. The camp’s water supply is poisioned by the Janjaweed, leaving them without water. A young boy collapses from dehydration. While there were problems with the episode (ie, it over-simplified the political situation), it was a powerful and horrifying look at the unjust situation millions call reality.

That this episode aired gives me great hope that the horrendous crisis in that part of Africa is penetrating American consciousness. Between 10 to 15 million people watch ER, and that’s probably more than any documentary would draw. And story-telling is a powerful medium, sinking into and lingering in our minds. And that will move some of those viewers to act. And for that, I’m thankful.

What is happening in that small region of Africa is one of the – if not the largest – humanitarian crises of our lives. It is suffering. It is genocide and ethnic cleansing. And it is wrong. We cannot stand by and do nothing – especially as Christians. God hates injustice and calls his people to action. The need is great and we must respond. If you need some ideas, look here. Don’t stand by: do something.

(For more background on Darfur, see Wikipedia.) miscctgy