Aid Worker Sees Troubled Region, But No Lost Cause

Emergency workers look through debris i i

hide captionEmergency workers look through debris at a destroyed police station in Nazran in Ingushetia, Russia, on Monday. A suicide bomber targeted a truck at a police station in Russia's restive North Caucasus region, killing at least 25 people and injuring more than 160 others.

Musa Sadulayev/AP
Emergency workers look through debris

Emergency workers look through debris at a destroyed police station in Nazran in Ingushetia, Russia, on Monday. A suicide bomber targeted a truck at a police station in Russia's restive North Caucasus region, killing at least 25 people and injuring more than 160 others.

Musa Sadulayev/AP

At least 25 people are now dead as a result of the worst attack in the Northern Caucasus region in years; more than 160 are injured. The attack happened Monday in Ingushetia, west of Chechnya, and follows hard on the heels of the killings of two humanitarian workers in Chechnya last week.

On Wednesday, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said, "Some time ago, we got an impression that the situation regarding terrorism in the Caucasus has significantly improved. Regrettably, recent events have shown it's not the case."

Many Americans whose opinions don't usually align with those of the Russian president view the cycling violence in the Northern Caucasus as similarly without hope, but I don't.

I worked in Chechnya and the region for more than nine years, half of it in a post-9/11 world and, unbelievable to many, as a follower of Christ. Yes, a Christian walking the bomb-cratered streets of Grozny caring for Muslim children and refugees. I experienced the horrors and the tragedies of the wars — both of them — Yeltsin's and Putin's. I also escaped the literal minefields of ethnic and political roulette between the Russian FSB (formerly the KGB) and Muslim war merchants, which oddly enough turned out to be more dangerous than the war itself.

You ask: Why go to a place like this? Places with stories of horror like Grozny, Argun, Urus-Martan. Aren't the Chechens all Muslims by heritage? How can a Christian love them? Don't they hate us? There all terrorists! As a Russian Spetsnaz soldier once mockingly said to me, "Why would you come to this place of insanity to care for Chechen orphans? We will be putting a bullet through their heads five years from now!"

David LeCompte

hide captionDavid LeCompte has lived in some of the most war-ravaged areas of the world — from Chechnya to Tehran. LeCompte is the author of No Escape from Grozny: A Christian Working in War-Torn Chechnya.

Courtesy of David LeCompte

Yet in the time that my family and I went to Chechnya, we saw simple acts of kindness give hope to many living in the middle of an active war zone. In a defining moment one bitterly cold afternoon in January 2002, one of the reasons I had come to Chechnya became very clear.

It was during one of our humanitarian care-package distributions that we visited a severely bombed out maternity ward in Grozny. More than 50 expecting Chechen women were huddled into a small room with bullet-scarred walls. A crude wood stove struggled to radiate warmth as the women covered themselves in thin cotton blankets. After a few embarrassing moments of apologies from the head nurse for the deplorable conditions of the ward, we began to visit the women and distribute winter blankets and care packages. A lady in her mid-20s struggled to her feet, and with tears trickling down her cheeks, said, "Before you came today, we believed that the entire world thought of Chechens as terrorists. But because of your visit, we now have reason to believe differently. Thank you for seeing us as decent people and bringing us hope. Please tell your friends that we are not all terrorists."

In every situation — whether caring for children, pregnant mothers, or refugees — I was never judged on whether I was an American or Christian, Republican or Democrat. To those in Chechnya, it didn't matter — nor should it have.

I was someone who showed concern for their plight. I was a human being just like them, who cared and brought them hope. That is what I believe God wants for all mankind — to find hope in the midst of despair.

That is why it is important to continue to go into these areas of the world with help and hope. Even if it seems small, hope can make a difference in others' lives. As Bono from U2 sings, "Every generation has a chance to change the world." It only takes a small light to illuminate the darkest situation in places like Chechnya, Iraq, Afghanistan, Darfur and Gaza.

Unfortunately, wars, ethnic turmoil and political power struggles are destroying human lives. Chechnya was and remains a dangerous place — I've seen it — but not hopeless. There is hope for the Northern Caucasus just as there is hope for other war-torn regions around the world. I've seen it.

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