An intimate crowd gathered in St. Joseph’s Auditorium, Monday, Oct. 5, to hear Rev. Heidi McGinness, a Presbyterian pastor, speak about her experiences with slavery in Sudan.
She was introduced by Loras student Andrea Lozama. Lozama listed all of the awards that McGinness has received for her work in Sudan, including the Martin Luther King Humanitarian Award and the Global Peacemaking Award.
McGinness is the American representative of CSI, or Christian Solidarity International. It was founded in Switzerland in 1978, and has testified on behalf of persecuted Christians, not only in Sudan, but in Iraq and Egypt as well.
The slavery crisis in Sudan began during the 23 year civil war between the largely Arab, Muslim North and largely Christian or traditional believing south. Torture, rape and abduction of people to make them slaves were all extremely common in Darfur and South Sudan. Omar Al Bashir came to power in Sudan in a coup and instituted Sharia law and a jihad against non-Muslim Sudanese. McGinness has made 11 trips to Sudan since the beginning of the war. She also was quick to emphasize that these atrocities are the work of extremists, not normal, pious Muslims. One story that she shared is that of 30,000 lost boys and girls who attempted to escape from Sudan through Ethiopia and eventually to Kenya. Of those 30,000, only 13,000 ultimately survived.
“The evidence about slavery there is irrefutable,” McGinness said. 5 million have been displaced by the civil war and many of those have been made slaves. Even when South Sudan achieved independence in 2011, there was no provision for the release of slaves, as such a provision may have compromised their ability to form a country.
The Jihad on behalf of the Sudanese government as well other Jihadist movements world wide are not geographically isolated. They rely on coordinated propaganda efforts to recruit fighters from around the world. She compared the recruitment of young people into jihad among ISIS, Boko Haram, and the Janjaweed, to the propaganda and recruitment efforts by the 3rd Reich.
She played a news report, interviewing her and those affected by the war and genocide. It documented the stories of those who had narrowly escaped death. She stressed the stories of those victims who displayed forgiveness in the face of tragedy.
McGinness, who was born in Germany, is no stranger to genocide, and grew up during the midst of the Holocaust. She was saved by two American soldiers and emigrated here at 10 years old. She believes in trying to establish a dialogue between native born Americans and immigrants and refugees to bridge the culture gap that they face as a barrier.
“We have such wonderful siblings from around the world,” Said McGinnis.
“She really is a good example of what St. Francis said, ‘preach the gospel, and when necessary use words,’” said John Balong, an audience member.
As of now there are no international efforts to free the slaves that remain in South Sudan or Sudan. CSI receives no government funds and relies entirely on donations to provide aid to refugees and ransom, often in the form of cattle vaccine, on behalf of slaves.