Haroun was a peculiar boy. Appearance wise, he generally looked the same as the other boys playing in the Darfur refugee camp in northern Chad. Like the others, he was skin and bones and dressed in hand-me-downs or whatever clothes that were able to make it in from outside aid. It was Haroun’s songs that had made him stand out.
He started singing Jesus songs when he was five, back in their homeland in Darfur, in Sudan. It was just before the mass bloodshed that came by way of the Janjaweed. Things were bad before when, from the exhausted northern African terrain, this nomadic tribe would arrive on horses and camels, in search of water for their livestock.
They made it their business to raid the Darfur farming communities for their resources. Turbans covered their faces, except for the eyes. But later, the conflict would escalate when the Sudanese government recruited the Janjaweed to handle the rising rebel problem in western Sudan. Once the Janjaweed were outfitted with government-funded artillery for the fighting of these rebels, and with the aid of government air strikes, hundreds of thousands of Darfur civilians would later be found dead.
But before this, Haroun sang. It started out a light, playful hum. Later, words were added, words about Jesus’ love. What was so extraordinary was that Jesus’ name had never been mentioned to the little boy, and such songs surely had not come from his parents.
As a rule, Christian beliefs were followed by persecution, not to mention exclusion, which is the same as death in a community where everyone depends on each other. It was understandable why the songs had made Haroun’s family afraid.
At first his parents tried to keep Haroun quiet or to have him sing something more agreeable. The next day he’d be found outside, singing again in the fields. Where did the boy learn this? When asked, Haroun explained how a man dressed in bright white visits him in his dreams and puts songs inside his heart.
In time, Haroun’s songs grew increasingly more particular to the village. They were about how Jesus would save the people there. In 2003, the Janjaweed were granted power by the government. The same year Haroun and his friends would play games together in the streets with dusty bare feet under the hot sun.
It was met with hushed astonishment when the kids who’d been playing with Haroun came home singing about Jesus. A sharp, disciplinary smack to the cheek from the mother to show the seriousness of the matter to the crying child, were accompanied by reprimands and threats. “You mustn’t sing that!”
At this, the sniffling boys would claim, “It hurts keeping it inside.”
When the news arrived that the Janjaweed were moving toward Haroun’s village, the people were panic-stricken. The land seemed hotter and whiter than usual, washed out by the harsh light of the sun. The damp presence of impending blood permeated the air, like the smell that comes before the first storm of the rainy season.
The daylight bled through the dust stirred by the panic. People were hurrying, crying, seeking hiding places in vain. There was nowhere to go. In the village center, around the well, Haroun and eleven other boys stood holding hands in a circle, singing. The small church of boys sang the songs Haroun had taught them. They sang loudly, worshipping Jesus, singing “Jesus will protect us.”
The singing voices rose above the alarm of the village, drawing many to the circle of boys. Fearfully, some of the people joined in. “Jesus will protect us!” They held hands, trembling and singing.
After seeing thousands of armed soldiers guarding the village, the Janjaweed turned north. Why weren’t they informed? The rebels must have arrived, outnumbering them considerably. But to the village inhabitants, this army of angels seen by the Janjaweed was hidden. God had protected them.
As the sun sank in the west, the African sky exploded in brilliant color toward neighboring Chad. The village inhabitants moved safely across the land to the place of refuge, wondering about the God who had saved them and who puts songs in the hearts of little boys. With them they carried Haroun’s songs.
In Chad, like Darfur, the Christian minority would be ostracized. The people smiled and helped each other along, knowing the future hardships they faced. Yes, things would be hard, but they were not afraid, for theirs was a God who saves.
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