One of the benefits of being an editor is that I get free books. I love reading books and I was so struck by this passage from Passport Through Darkness (David C. Cook Publishing) that I read it out loud to my 19-year-old son, Chris and wept when I read this section. Passport Through Darkness: A True Story of Danger and Second Chances, is about Kimberly L. Smith’s adventure with leaving the comfort of corporate America to minister to orphans in the Sudan. This is the second book I’ve read about a woman starting an orphanage in a war zone, but this story stood out to me.
“Tonj was a man you would easily pass by without taking too much notice. He was not tall, not short and slight of build, though not desparately thin. In his midforties, he kept his eyes downcast unless you caught and held them; then they were piercing. This piercing first happened to me immediately after I noticed his right hand. It was not just that his thumb was missing, but from his index finger to his forearm was one smooth line. His outer palm and wrist bone were also gone.”
Kimberly is collecting stories from villagers who were affected by the Janjaweed, or thugs that pillaged, raped and burned down villages during their invasion. The Janjaweed were Arab militia that terrorized the Darfur region of the Sudan. Tonj had prayed, “When the Janjaweed invade, please God, let me not be in the field or away from my family. Make sure that I’m at home and with them so I can protect them.”
“God answered Tonj’s prayer. When the day of the Janjaweed invasion came, Tonj was home. But there was nothing he could do except to watch the violence unfold upon his family.”
“Trying to form a plan, Tonj tightened the huddle he had around his family. He hoped to protect their hearts from the violence, as well as save their lives. Perhaps sensing Tonj’s intense love for his family, more Janjaweed encircled him. They ripped him from his family’s arms and pushed him to his knees.
“While beating him with their pangas (machete), they yelled obscenities at him and called him an infidel. They demanded he call out “Allah Akbar!’ Tonj refused. He cried. He looked at his family, trying to say to them, “Be strong. Be still. Pray and wait.” But only his eyes could speak.”
“Disgusted with Tonj’s refusal to worship Allah, the Janjaweed kicked him over to his side. They left him there to bleed and watch as they turned their attention to his wife.”
While they raped his wife, they laughed and yelled, “Will you worship Allah?” Tonj cried out in agony – but no praise for Allah came from his lips. All seven men raped and beat Tonj’s wife while Tonj and his children watched in horror.
Smith admitted to Tonj after he shared his story that she feared that she may not have been as faithful as him. “Please tell me, how did you manage to suffer such extreme persection – and even more horrifying – witness the rape and torture of your wife and still not give into the Muslims’ demand to worship Allah?”
“With his steadfast and simple theology, Tonj replied, ‘Allah isn’t God, so how could I worship him?” Tonj told Smith that he never owned a Bible and couldn’t read it if he had a Bible. “He was introduced to Jesus through word of mouth and explained, “I know Jesus is the son of God and that same Jesus died on the cross for me and my family. Why would I betray Him because of evil men?”
I was convicted at the simplicity of Tonj’s faith. He loved God, never read the Bible and who knows what church he attended or how much church he attended, but he had such a love for God that he refused to worship another God. Even while watching his wife raped and tortured, and his children dragged away, he still refused to worship Allah.
Tonj’s story has marked me for life. I want to know Him in such a way that I could put Him first above my own life, my reputation, my position, and my family. I encourage you to read this book.
Tonj’s story reminds me that Christianity isn’t based on how much you read the Bible or attend church. Christianity is having a relationship with Jesus. Don’t get me wrong, I believe you should read your Bible and attend church. But if you don’t have a vibrant love relationship with Christ, then you are caught up in duty and works.
I implore you to know Him. To love Him. And above all, pray for peace in the Sudan.