Thursday, March 5, 2009

Children in Darfur

Genocide has been going on in the Darfur region of Sudan for the past six years. Estimates are that anywhere between 300,000 and 600,000 people have been killed. Over two million people have fled the country into neighboring Chad, creating a massive humanitarian crisis.

The culpability of the government in the deaths of hundreds of thousands seems clear to most, even prompting the International Criminal Court this week to issue an arrest warrant for the President, Omar al-Bashir, for atrocities and war crimes. The specifics: two counts of "war crimes"--intentionally directing attacks against civilians and pillaging--as well as five "crimes against humanity"--murder; extermination; forcible transfer; torture; and rape.

And yet, at the same time, international aid groups are asking for a hold on the arrest of Mr. Bashir. Why? Because half an hour after the ICC's announcement, most of them were ordered to leave the country, including Oxfam, Care, Medecins Sans Frontieres, and Save the Children UK. Their expulsion will affect the care being provided to hundreds of thousands of children in Darfur. You can read more about this current situation here.

All this is to say, the tragedy in Darfur is complicated in many ways. Experts could spend hours, days, and weeks, discussing why the violence is taking place, who's truly culpable, and what can be done to bring an end to it. After all, the world has been watching it for six years without relief and a clear way out has yet to emerge.

In the end, though, the thing that is not complicated about Darfur is the affect the violence is having on Sudan's children. This week, the BBC News Online published drawings from children in refugee camps in Chad, detailing their experiences prior to their flight from the region. These drawings were collected by a group called Waging Peace and will be used by the International Criminal Court as evidence of what's happened in Darfur. I include three of these pictures below, with the young artist's names beneath:

Abdul Maggit



The note written on Aisha's picture is what prompted me to post this update on Darfur and the children's pictures. All I can say is, I read it and wept: "It is very kind to send us food, but this is Africa and we are used to being hungry. What I ask is that you please take the guns away from the people who are killing us."

Arise, LORD! Lift up your hand, O God.
Do not forget the helpless.
Why does the wicked man revile God?
Why does he say to himself,
"He won't call me to account"?
But you, O God, do see trouble and grief;
you consider it to take it in hand.
The victim commits himself to you;
you are the helper of the fatherless.
Break the arm of the wicked and evil man;
call him to account for his wickedness
that would not be found out.
The LORD is King for ever and ever;
the nations will perish from his land.
You hear, O LORD, the desire of the afflicted;
you encourage them, and you listen to their cry,
defending the fatherless and the oppressed,
in order that man, who is of the earth, may terrify no more.

-Psalm 10:12-18

Sunday, March 1, 2009

On Pregnancy, Writing, and Humiliation (or Why I Haven't Blogged Much Recently)

When Ronnie and I discovered we were expecting our first child in September 2008, I had romantic, bleary-eyed notions of what the experience of growing and bearing a child would be. And, in typical, life-isn't-what-you-plan fashion, almost none of those notions corresponded with reality.

One of those pipe-dreams was that my pregnancy would be a fruitful period for thinking and writing. What occasion could be more creatively inspiring than carrying your first child? In a sad, secretive, egotistical way (and aren't most of our delusions of grandeur "sad" and "secretive"?), I thought I would become a prolific writer of wise, memorable, non-fiction, with every passing week leading to an ingenious manuscript--or at least a series of thought-provoking articles--that would make my time of child-bearing truly "productive."

(Sheepishly, I will acknowledge with my readers how truly Protestant, American, and deeply wrong this idea is, that my task of bringing a healthy, happy child into the world doesn't really constitute "productivity." Not only is this a viewpoint I find repugnant on a societal level, but it is yet another of my personal, fleshly struggles as I pursue life in the Kingdom of God--that my value and acceptance in Christ is not dependent upon my perceived productivity, whether "spiritual," material, or otherwise.)

Needless to say, my grand scheme for creative, pregnant productivity was very quickly demolished by the unpredictable and humbling realities of pregnancy. During the second month, I purchased a journal to record my deeply reflective, poignant thoughts on motherhood and parenting. But, my very first entry, following on the heels of my first week with all-day, every day "morning sickness," was a detailed and rather self-pitying account of throwing up a lovely meal of salmon and steamed broccoli in the soup aisle of our neighborhood Kroger. Go figure.

I wish I could say this humiliating, vomitous experience was an isolated and short-lived "blip" on the landscape of child-bearing bliss, but it was not to be. By the time I arrived at my fifth month, I weighed as much as I did prior to becoming pregnant, which means I had lost a considerable amount of weight (considerable by pregnant woman standards, at least).

Literally, I spent first five months losing at least one, but usually two or three, meals a day to the gaping porcelain god of the bathroom. I catalogued a long list of things I wouldn't eat, not because they did not taste good, or because the smell troubled me (as smells often do for pregnant women), but because they were truly wretched to experience coming back up. With all the food I wasn't keeping down, my diet consisted mainly of saltine crackers, oyster crackers, Club crackers, Ritz crackers, and different varieties of cranberry juice and Gatorade.

This humbling five-month period of perpetual sickness accomplished a number of important things in the formation of my character, not the least of which being the loss of the dream of being super-healthy, mom-to-be, who does pregnancy yoga, while making a salad of spinach and arugula, while reading about holistic parenting, and creating an organic environment for our new addition. Yes, five months of saltines and juice make you realize just how limited you really are--just how incapable you are of doing anything more than your body--or your growing child--will let you.

But, getting back to the writing thing. All this is to say, I have NOT found my pregnancy to be the brilliance-inducing experience I had intended it to be. (Can you hear the laughter of the angels--and all other moms throughout history--as they hear me announce with surprise that my experience was not what I intended?) Instead, I have found it to be a period where I am grateful merely to survive--merely to get through it.

That may sound tragic or sad to you and, in some sense, I guess it is. But, I have come to a place of peace with this reality. If nothing else, pregnancy teaches you that literally you are not in control of yourself, your circumstances, or even your own body. While I would love to summon the gifts of eloquence and wisdom from within me at a moment's notice and write things that are meaningful and touching on a daily basis, the truth is, I can't. I'm not in control of those things any more than I am in control of my moody, pregnant stomach.

All this is to say, I have several blogs I would like to write, which arise from reflections on being pregnant and how that relates to other issues in church and society. I think they might have something good to say, but at the very least I hope they're interesting food for thought. But, in the end, I'm not in charge of how I'm going to feel tomorrow, or the next day, or the next day. I intend to get to them soon, but I might not. Jesus is teaching me to be content just to be, just to live, just to exist in his world, in his care, without clamoring for achievement or production. And, I'm trying to be a good student.

In the mean time, thank you, my readers, for continuing to visit, read, and comment. I hope to have more to say soon. Grace and peace to you.