- - Wednesday, April 25, 2012

I have seen what happens when the world turns its back and looks the other way. For 20 years I have worked in Sudan, helping its people struggle through the horrors of starvation and murderous attacks. During Sudan’s civil war, the people in the south were being butchered. Shockingly, it took the deaths of more than 2 million before the world finally called it genocide.

When President George W. Bush came to office, he didn’t look the other way. Instead, he engaged all parties and forced them to sit down to negotiate what we hoped would be an end to the violence. Those discussions resulted in the agreement that led to the independence of South Sudan.

I was in President Omar al-Bashir’s office on the day the International Criminal Court indicted him for war crimes. I pleaded with Mr. Bashir to continue the peace process, explaining that although he could not change what he had done in the past, he could set a new course for his people by working for a lasting peace. Two years later, on July 9, 2011, I was in Juba sitting behind Mr. Bashir as he gave a speech during the Republic of South Sudan’s independence ceremonies. He spoke of peace, but within days, he began to attack his own people in South Kordofan and the upper Blue Nile.

Last week I traveled to South Kordofan, where 800,000 people slowly are being annihilated, victims of ethnic cleansing. According to Mr. Bashir, their only crime is that they are black and they won’t bow to his radical Islamic government. For the past nine months, the world has largely looked the other way with this humanitarian crisis.

In the Bible, Jesus gave us an example in Luke Chapter 10 about a man who was beaten, robbed and left for dead on the side of the road. Leaders passed by and saw that the man desperately needed help. But they continued on their journey, looking the other way. Then a Samaritan came along and had compassion. He bandaged the man’s wounds, put the man on his own animal and took the man to an inn to care for him. America historically has been that good Samaritan: defending the weak, standing up against the strong and providing liberty and justice for all.

I know President Obama cares about the situation in Sudan, and I have encouraged him to engage the leaders of the region, Malik Agar of the Southern Blue Nile, Abdul Aziz of South Kordofan, South Sudanese President Salva Kiir and Mr. Bashir, in a Camp David-style meeting. I think Mr. Obama’s personal influence in bringing those leaders together could help promote a lasting peace.

Now I am asking him and his administration to do something that may sound unusual for a preacher of the Gospel. I am asking him to use our Air Force to destroy Mr. Bashir’s airstrips - the airstrips his military uses to launch bombers that carry out daily attacks in the Nuba Mountains. The Nuba people don’t want American soldiers - they can fight for themselves. They just want to be free. But they have no defense against bombs dropping from the sky on their villages, schools and hospitals.

As a pilot with 40 years of experience, I can assure you that an airplane doesn’t do well with holes in the runway. I certainly am not asking the president to kill anyone, just to break up some concrete to prevent the bombers from taking off. I think that by destroying those runways, we can force Mr. Bashir to the negotiating table. This needs to happen soon because Sudan’s rainy season is coming. If we continue to turn our backs and don’t act, it will be too late for thousands of men, women and children. We need to make it possible for Samaritan’s Purse and other aid agencies to reach these suffering people. The coming rainy season and impassible muddy roads will leave us with airlifts as our only option. But with Sudan’s MiG fighter jets and Antonov bombers overhead, we simply can’t risk the lives of our staff.

The situation is desperate. I personally saw children starving to death last week while in Sudan’s Nuba Mountains. All they had to eat were insects, leaves from thorn bushes, roots and tree bark. It is only going to get worse. Please, Mr. President, take out Mr. Bashir’s runways and enable the humanitarian agencies and the United Nations to feed the Nuba people, bandage their wounds and help them on their way so they can live in peace.

May God bless America, and may God bless our president.

Franklin Graham is president and CEO of the international Christian relief organization Samaritan’s Purse and the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association.

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