2007. He spoke with such power, experience, and authority that it was impossible to look away or be distracted. He had lost most of his family and his home to the government-backed Janjaweed militias that were on a killing spree in Darfur, Sudan. No one was stopping them either. Millions of his people had fled. Depression. Sadness. But he had hope. And if he could have hope so could we, he said.
Many people who work in the field of human rights are devoted to it because they had firsthand experience at the front end. But this conversation did not happen in Darfur or one of the many refugee camps in eastern Chad. It happened in Memphis, TN. Probably the least likely place in the world for such a discussion between a genocide survivor and an aspiring young culinary arts student.
“What do you want me to do?” I asked. Honestly, his answer annoyed me. “Find a problem in this world and help fix it. Whether it's my Darfur or something else, find it and start moving forwards,” he said. I wanted something specific and got the exact opposite. Fantastic.
At this point I was living selfishly, ignoring my Christian faith and working for myself. I had known for years something was off and desired for something bigger than myself. I didn’t know what it was though. And now this man was pointing to that something bigger. Within the next few months I dropped out of culinary arts school and devoted my life to helping the people of Sudan. I had no idea what I was doing, but looking back it was the best decision of my life.
Over the coming years I would meet and talk to people who understood what real loss, desperation, and courage was. But I also saw something else everywhere I looked: silence. No one wanted to raise their voice for these people. My friends began to disappear from my world. I probably should have cared, but I did not. For the first time I was living for something bigger than me. I had purpose. New friends soon appeared, more survivors met, and a mission was born.
I have walked on the frontlines of the war in Sudan and had the privilege of being the voice of of the silenced in the halls of the powerful and to hundreds of thousands who are willing to listen. And the message I heard from the people in Sudan and was able to bring back is powerful. It is powerful because it is not a story of death, but a story of life that should be preserved. For a Christian ignoring his faith, learning that you can know who God really is in the midst of such suffering meant a new life. Concepts such as hope, compassion, and courage suddenly become real, tangible things. It is amazing how when we stand with others in their suffering, we see ourselves in them.
It’s not about the size of the crisis or why it is happening. Those things are important, but it is about the people we meet. To me, life has become more than trying to take the easy route or make a lot of money. It’s about using unique skills to positively impact others and helping others replicate that. Change does not only happen when governments and organizations generate it, anyone can make change. Suffering a world a way should not be borne by the sufferer alone. Whether we think it is small or big, to the people we can positively impact our actions are a joy for each other.
One of my favorite Scriptures is one that is usually overlooked. The author of Hebrews writes in 13:16: Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God. In modern terms, we can see that as using what we have to make an impact. Not all of us have to be in positions of power or extremely wealthy to do good. Give what you have and do good for others. It sounds simple enough.
I like the concept. Make things happen with what you have.
- Mark C. Hackett, 2012, On the Frontlines in Sudan’s Nuba Mountains