Today I toured the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C. I was unprepared for how deeply I would be moved by my three hours in this museum. The sights, sounds and tributes all moved me profoundly. Twice I had to wipe tears from my eyes. The whole thing is so powerfully presented that it actually overwhelms you, with both information and emotional impact. I believe it is one of the most important museums I have ever toured.
The experience of standing in a German rail car, used to transport Jews to the death camps, was quite moving. How they got over a hundred people in one of those small cars is hard to imagine when you stand in one. But nothing was as chilling as the crematorium ovens, the shoes and personal items the dead left behind before they entered the gas chambers, and the iron door that came from a death chamber at one of the camps.
The Holocaust Museum has established a Committee on Conscience to alert national conscience, influence policymakers, and stimulate worldwide action to confront and work to halt acts of genocide and related crimes against humanity. The special emphasis of the museum right now is on the genocide in Darfur, which is a part of the country of Sudan in northeast Africa. In Darfur tens of thousands (some say 400,000) civilians have been killed and thousands of women raped by Sudanese government soldiers and members of the government-sponsored militia referred to as the Janjaweed. The Janjaweed are Arabic peoples and the people they are killing are blacks, or what they call “Africans.” There appears to be a clear religious connection to this violence, as there is in much of Africa these days.
The U. S. Department of State, and independent U.N. human rights organizations, have all documented this violence and international journalists have consistently reported it. New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof wrote that “the Arabs want to get rid of anyone with black skin…. There are no blacks left [in the area I fled].”
I am also reminded of Darfur because my good friend Monte Wilson is there today helping the refugees with real personal assistance. He is distributing food, water and health supplies as part of his ministry with the African-American Self Help Foundation. Monte’s descriptions of the conditions in Darfur are identical to the ones I read today.
One of the things that stood out at the Holocaust Museum was how the U. S. responded to the Jewish crisis during the Holocaust. When Jews were attempting to flee Europe, before Hitler began to aggressively exterminate them, we closed our borders to all but a small number (about 40,000). We were concerned about our national economy (the Depression was still impacting us as a nation), the large number of immigrants that would crowd our work force, and the problems that these Jews would present to our culture in general. Cries to keep them out won, until it was too late, and then millions had died. I have to wonder why we still do so little about places like Darfur now? We say that we went into Iraq for several reasons, one of which was to save lives from persecution and death. The effort to save the people of Darfur would take so very little, at least comparably, but the U.S. and the U.N. are doing next to nothing right now. What will happen to a people who have so much, I wonder, and yet do not love justice and mercy when it comes to places like Darfur?
There are several things that you can do about Darfur.
- Gain knowledge and use this information to pray and get involved. Check it out here.
- Write the local media letters about Darfur.
- Write you elected representatives about Darfur.
- Support work that brings life and hope to people in Darfur like Monte Wilson’s ministry.
- Pray for Christians, and all others, who are risking their lives to help these people who are being mercilessly attacked night and day and driven from their homes into a wilderness in western Sudan and Chad, the neighboring African country to the west.
Let us lift up our voices on behalf of those who are oppressed and thereby demonstrate the love of God for those in greatest need. Surely this is what Jesus calls his followers to do.
John H. Armstrong is founder and director of ACT 3, a ministry aimed at "encouraging the church, through its leadership, to pursue doctrinal and ethical reformation and to foster spiritual awakening."