Former Child Soldier Turned Bishop Stresses Importance of Arms Trade Treaty

NEW YORK – As the United Nations prepares for a crucial week of Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) negotiations, a number of Christian leaders with firsthand experience in countries that have been war-torn by the illegal distribution of weapons are speaking out as to why restricting the sale of arms is vital.

Bishop Elias Taban, President of the Sudan Evangelical Alliance, will share his story at the U.N. when delegates from more than 100 countries gather this week to discuss international laws that will restrict the sale of arms. Bishop Taban shared in a phone interview with The Christian Post on Monday that in Sudan, the threat of small arms like guns and rifles is a lot more worrisome than the shadow of nuclear war that larger nations in the world are often concerned about.

Taban, who was forced to serve as a child soldier when he turned 13 for the first Sudanese Liberation Movement, believes that God is always in control. He believes that the U.N members will listen to his story and the stories of many others who have experienced the atrocities of war firsthand.

"I call it an answer to prayer when we are able to get the world together to talk about small arms and ammunitions control. Because I think that small arms and ammunitions have done more damage and more lives have gone than the threat of nuclear power that we are so much concerned about," Bishop Taban began.

"My expectation is that we will definitely convince them. My prayer is that the major nations like the U.S., the U.K., Germany, (and) China should be able to stand alongside the U.N. and listen. Steps have to be taken towards that, because it is really something that is killing the world."

The bishop shared that when Christians are targeted, the church is very concerned, and now openly advocating for arms control.

"Last year, one tribe killed 300 people just in a day's attack. And this year, another tribe retaliated and killed 600 people in another attack, and this is an experience that I have never lived through even as a child soldier. Even in 40 years of life of war in Southern Sudan, I have never seen a killing in a day like that," Bishop Taban revealed. "So the small arms are more deadly to us than the nuclear weapons that the world is so scared of. So I believe that in order for the church to bring peace in that area of the world, it needs to be on the forefront of the control of small arms and ammunitions and I think that is what the church of Sudan is up to now."

As a Christian leader, he affirmed that people should be able to defend themselves, but that people also need to trust God before anything else.

"A lot of times in the Bible, when there is a lot of killing, it is when people need to have a direction of God, and in most cases even if you have weapons you will not be able to defend yourself. Biblically speaking, God has put us on Earth to be good stewards, which means to control and take care of His creation. And one of the things we have to make sure is that we do not create something that causes a lot of destruction or is used for that purpose."

"If we can regulate the sale of iPhones, why can we not regulate the sales of ammunitions that are killing innocent lives," the bishop concluded.

Stan Fikes, President of Value Petroleum, Inc., who has been working as a missionary in Sudan since 2003 and has been helping underprivileged people like orphans and widows recover from the hardships of war, believes that there is a necessity for an arms treaty because the illegal trade of weapons threatens the lives of everyone in the region – not only civilians.

"When I travel to Africa, and I have traveled three times this year, I have to plan ahead and think what is the situation on the road I will be traveling on. For instance, almost all the roads in Sudan over the past several years have been in a situation where you couldn't pass because you could be attacked," Fikes began.

"There's a large resistance army, there is a large militia, so you have to constantly think ahead and plan. This is a nice example of what prohibits us from reaching isolated areas in conflict zones where there are a lot of arms that can threaten our personal safety. So there are areas that suffer – the poorest and the most isolated, because we can't reach these areas because the arms are significant in number and we have to worry about it."

Fikes explained that when it comes to the ATT negotiations, there are different countries looking at the issue from different national interests.

"But my expectations are that this will be agreed upon, and all the nations have to either agree or abstain – so if any nation says no, it doesn't move forward. I think there will be a version that passes, and it won't please everybody, but we are very hopeful – especially in Southern Sudan, there are weapons everywhere, as much as one-tenth of the population may have small arms there," he said.

Galen Carey, Vice President of the National Association of Evangelicals and a longtime employee of World Relief, has served for over 25 years as an overseas missionary in countries like Mozambique, Croatia, Kenya, Indonesia and Burundi. Carey shared with CP how his own adopted son had to escape life as a child soldier fueled by the illegal trading of arms.

"As Christians, as humanitarians who support evangelical work, we try and make sure that supplies and weapons do not fall into the wrong hands," explained Carey, who also served as the regional director of Africa and oversaw work in Sudan, Liberia, Congo, Rwanda and a lot of other areas where conflicts have taken place.

"I have an adopted son, a Congolese son, who was about to be taken by rebels until he fled for his life. When I met him he was in a refugee camp in Mozambique, and so he became part of our family. He would have never have had to leave if it wasn't for these weapons that were fueling the war in Congo," Carey revealed.

"And when we lived in Burundi, we actually were at a Bible study when the town was shelled by rebels who had taken control of some of the hills outside the town, and so there were shells landing all around us. So it is not only just local people, but also missionaries and humanitarian workers and even military who are threatened by this loose control of weapon."

Carey believes that it is perfectly legitimate for the government to use weapons for self-defense and to keep the peace, but not to wreak violence and harm others.

"In Romans 13, it talks about how the government has a role in keeping the peace, and that should be respected. Nobody is saying that that shouldn't be done. The government's ability to keep the peace will be greatly enhanced if they do not have to deal with terrorist gangs and drug lords and other groups that cause these conflicts," he urged.

"We are concerned about the poorest and most affected people in the world, and they are the people who don't have the resources to move around, to build bomb shelters. Those are the people that we as Christians need to care for, and treat lovingly, as Jesus taught us, so anything that we can do that minimized the level of conflict around the world will move us closer to that goal."

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