Kim Pattison is the program manager overseeing activities for Samaritan’s Purse at the Maban County Hospital near Bunj, South Sudan.
“Peace on Earth and goodwill towards men” is the anthem for most at Christmas, but in South Sudan such hopes were shattered. A few days earlier, a military uprising had shattered the fragile peace of the new country.
By Christmas Eve, violent rebellion was spreading from town to town, dragging the fledgling nation back into its long history of war. In Maban, a county bordering Sudan where Samaritan’s Purse runs a hospital and provides food and nutrition assistance for refugees fleeing attacks from Khartoum, the new threat spreading from the south was one more worry to add to the ongoing conflict in the north.
A single doctor and a handful of dedicated national staff quietly rang in Christmas Eve. They were busy working around the clock to keep life-saving services up and running in a county poised for battle.
It was not a night of peace in Maban. Early in the evening, tension snapped the discipline of soldiers in the market and shots and grenades were exchanged. As the first victims were rushed to the hospital, less than a mile from the fighting, Dr. Evan Atar gave last-minute instructions to move critical medical supplies into the bush to protect them from looting and then turned to the scrub sink to prepare for surgery.
It was a moment like many others in his 10-year history in Sudan: one more opportunity to forsake his safety and one more time to take up God’s call on his life to heal and bring hope.
When the last bullet was removed and the last incision sown hours later, he left the surgical theater to find an abandoned hospital. In a country like South Sudan, where few families have escaped the last decades of conflict unscathed, mere rumor of war ignites a frenzy of action to move families and possessions into the safest place available—the bush.
His patients had all run, limped, or been carried far from the center of conflict. In tribute to his leadership, most of his staff remained despite the panic, ready to lend whatever help they could.
Fortunately, the fighting that night was short-lived, and only a handful of men required medical help. But when the anesthesia wore off, Dr. Atar faced the night’s next challenge.
Waking to an empty hospital, the men panicked for fear that retribution would come find them in the hospital. No enemy is more powerful than fear, and this fear was strong enough to goad men riddled with bullet holes and half dead to leave the safety of their hospital beds and run from imagined pursuers.
Dr. Atar’s next job as their physician was to talk sense into them.
Against their fear, Dr. Atar’s own calm, born out of his faith in Jesus Christ, prevailed. It is no secret that he hinges all his hopes on the grace of God—grace when he faces danger, grace when the power to heal is beyond him.
In 10 years conducting surgery in conflict zones, 10 Christmas seasons where Christ’s promised peace doesn’t seem to exist, Dr. Atar’s acts of courage and selflessness have been proof to his patients and staff that there is a love that nullifies all the senseless power-struggles and hate racking their country.
Such love was born on Christmas Day, given to the world to conquer the darkness of our hearts, comfort, reconcile, heal, and bring us finally home before the throne of God.