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News – Anguish and joy in Chad

January 2008 | by Michael Paton

Anguish and joy in Chad

Many were shocked by recent reports of an alleged kidnapping of 103 children in the African country of Chad.

Initially, seventeen French, Spanish and Belgian nationals were arrested. They were said to be involved with the French charity ‘Zoé’s Ark’ (rhyming in French with ‘Noah’s Ark’), trying to smuggle the children to families in Europe.

The children were claimed to be orphans from Darfur, in Sudan. Later, all the adults were freed except six foreigners belonging to the charity. These could face a sentence of up to 20 years hard labour if convicted.

Chad is a landlocked, sub-Saharan country with a population of 9 million. It is one of the poorest countries in Africa. Its home secretary appeared on BBC TV news to say that many of the children were from Chad, not Darfur, and not orphans at all.

Some of the parents interviewed on television said they thought the charity would give their children a better way of life, but never gave permission for them to be taken out of the country.

What was not reported in the media was that the government of Chad did not place these children with one of their non-governmental organisations helping with the influx of refugees from war-torn Darfur. Rather, they were sent to a Christian orphanage until they could be reunited with their families.

Place of peace

The orphanage, known locally as Bakan Assalam (‘place of peace’ in Arabic), is in the north-eastern town of Abéché. It is staffed by Chadians and foreign workers belonging to the MPFST (Franco-Swiss Protestant Mission to Chad). This began work in 1952 as the French-speaking branch of the Sudan United Mission.

A French spokesman for the evangelical mission, Marc Siedel, pointed out that as well as caring for orphans, the mission looks after under-nourished babies, runs a primary school and works among street children in capital city Ndjaména.

In addition, it runs dispensaries and a lending library for the poor. The mission works with evangelical churches in Chad to help some of the poorest people in the country, while sharing with them the wonderful gospel of the Lord Jesus.

It was moving to see scenes on television as families many miles away in eastern Chad were shown pictures of the 103 children in the Abéché orphanage. Some wept when they could not recognise their children in the photos; others rejoiced as they saw photos of their children.

It is encouraging to see that, in placing these children in this particular orphanage, the government of Chad has recognised the value of more than half a century of work by MPFST, caring for Chadians in the name of Christ.

Michael Paton

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