Christ in the Crossfire
War and Faith in Sudan
by Gabriel Meyer
photographs by James Nicholls
Available in bookstores
The photo on the jacket of this hardcover book will break your heart — and draw you into the text. Pictured is a young Sudanese girl. She’s wearing a dress whose sleeves contain no arms. The victim of a civil war that has literally chopped off the limbs and the future of the young, the girl’s face is a mix of bruised innocence and determined courage as she looks over the rough terrain of the Nuba Mountains into the broken future of her people.
If you have heard anything about Sudan in recent years, most likely it is from someone saying how the West is ignoring the genocidal war and abandoning a persecuted people to virtual extinction. The conflict in Sudan is famous for being called “ignored and neglected.” Veteran war reporter Gabriel Meyer, a former Register correspondent, goes beyond the hand-wringing to give a personal, at times poetic, eyewitness report of the war from the viewpoint of those who suffer most: the families and children caught in the crossfire.
His story is not just about death and destruction; it also about faith, hope and even a bit of charity among the ruins. It is deeply personal, deeply moving and disturbing enough to get a reader to find a map of Africa to see that Sudan, whose capital is Khartoum, fills a large portion of the central part of the continent. It touches Egypt on the north and nearly reaches the equator on the south. The Nuba Mountains, the geographical focus of the book, is near the country’s center. A United Nations-monitored ceasefire was declared last year there as the book went to press, and the western region of Darfur is now the area of heated conflict.
In a number of visits to the Nuba region, whose people were victims of a cleansing campaign of a Muslim military government, Meyer unashamedly took sides and tried to help. The book’s dedication alone raises haunting questions: “To the memory of the children of Kauda and all the victims of Sudan’s second civil war (1983-2005).”
What happened to the “children of Kauda,” who form a ghostly presence on the first page of the book? And when was the first civil war that we apparently missed?
Meyer knows he is writing to a Western audience that knows little more than snippets about his topic, but he doesn’t apologize, though he may over-explain at the beginning.
After the brief dedication comes a 13-page introduction by a former Sudanese ambassador to the United States, who also served as a U.N. official of “internally displaced persons.” This helpful if wordy section is followed by a three-page note on the photographs, and three more pages of acknowledgements by the author. Then comes Meyer’s own seven-page introduction. This is all necessary material, but some of it would have been better placed at the back of the book. Yet once the reader gets, or skips, to Meyer’s first-person reporting, seatbelts should be pulled tight. A dramatic trip is narrated by an able reporter.
“The Anton troop carrier skidded onto the sandy tarmac of the airstrip in a cloud of dust, fishtailing its way to a halt in the bush clearing known on military maps as Charlie-5,” he writes. “It had been an eventful landing.” The story takes off from here, fulfilling the promise of its title — and finding the light of Christ in the darkest of places.
Maria Caulfield writes from
- March 19-25, 2006