Baroness Caroline Cox of Queensbury, the daughter of an eminent British surgeon, was recommended by Margaret Thatcher in 1982 for a life peerage and appointment to the House of Lords. As the UK president of Christian Solidarity Worldwide, Lady Cox now spends her days with persecuted Christians in some of the most devastated nations on earth.
Lady Caroline's heart of compassion has also taken her to one of the worst cauldrons of suffering-Sudan. This biblical land of the Cushites is also Africa's largest, containing an area greater than most of Western Europe. The fading twilight of British colonialism gave independence to Sudan-and a legacy of civil war that still rages today between north and south. In the name of jihad, the Muslim north has waged war on the Christian and animist south, resulting in two million dead.
"You can't calibrate human suffering," Cox says. "But Sudan ranks as the greatest suffering in that calculus," she says. Because of the hasty and ill-conceived transition to independence for Sudan following World War II, Cox says "Britain has a heavy load of guilt" for what transpired.
Lady Cox flew into Nyamlell eight weeks after the southern Sudanese village was attacked by 2,000 Arabs on horseback. Most of the men of the village were killed, 282 women and children were abducted into slavery, and then Nyamlell was torched.
"Thank God you've come," one man told her. "We thought the world forgot us."
Cox met another man who sold his cattle for $900, and then went on a desperate quest to track down his wife and children to redeem them from slavery. He bribed an Arab informer to find the location of the slave owner, but only had enough money to buy back his wife and one of his daughters-he had to leave one sobbing daughter behind.
As Cox toured the surrounding areas, she was stunned. "It was a complete scorched earth policy," she says. "We saw women and children mowed down, burnt crops and burnt villages for 20 kilometers."
One villager told her, "They took my sister as a slave, and they burned all the crops and stole or killed all the cattle, so I only have tamarind seeds to give to my sister's children." Another man told her, "We Christians feel so alone. We have nothing. You're the only one who's visited. Doesn't the church want us anymore?"
Lady Cox flew into Bahr el-Ghazal with exiled Roman Catholic Bishop Macram Gassis. He was the first bishop to visit the area in 10 years, and he was able to celebrate mass under the spreading branches of a giant tamarind tree-the only cathedral available.
As people lay dying of starvation all around the outdoor service, children sang hymns and played musical instruments, their faces alive with joy. "If you could see that joy it would move you to tears," Cox says.
"We must tell our brothers and sisters," the Bishop remarked, "that the people here are still full of hope and they still smile in spite of suffering and persecution. Those smiles put us to shame."
The bishop told the assembled throng, "Many of your people have been sold into slavery, but for me that is not to become a slave. The real slave is the person who does injustice to brothers and sisters, and who kills him."
"You, however, are children of God-no longer slaves but free," he added.
Some of the emaciated people attending the outdoor service had no clothing to wear, and seemed embarrassed by their nakedness. "This is not real nakedness," the bishop told them. "True nakedness is to be without love. Therefore be clothed in love-this is Christianity."
On Cox's trips to Southern Sudan with Christian Solidarity Worldwide in 1999 and 2000, her team was able to secure the release of over 600 slaves. They also have taken in thousands of dollars of medical supplies.
"God is with the persecuted church," Lady Cox says, as she reflects on her missions of mercy. In her travels she also visits many affluent churches in North America and Britain. "I yearn to hear a prayer for the persecuted church," she says, "but too often there is a deafening silence."
"We agonize so often over trivia," Cox says. She accuses the affluent churches of obsessing over internal politics, and spending too much time "contemplating their own navels."
Lady Cox has unusual energy for a woman turning 65 in July. "My brother inherited my mother's good looks," she quips, "and I inherited my father's nose and his stamina." Over the course of a three-day visit to Southern California, she will give seven talks to various groups, before leaving on another fact-finding trip to Indonesia.
Before she goes into dangerous parts of the world, she confronts her own emotions. "Obviously you have fears," she says. "I get my fits of faithless, fearful dread. Family and home is very precious to me. But when I get that I don't usually talk about it," she adds, " because there's no use in spreading gloom."
"I don't want to get my guts blown out on the side of a mountain," she admits.
"I remember I had my fit of faithless fearful dread on a Saturday afternoon and the next morning I went to church," Lady Cox says. The Baroness attends the Anglican Church near her home in Kingsbury. The gospel reading that morning was from Mark, chapter 10. "The passage said, 'He who is not prepared to leave houses or brothers or sisters of father or mother for my sake is not worthy to be my disciple.'"
"And that morning there was an extra bit I'd never noticed before," Lady Cox recalls. "I'm not sure I've noticed it since, but it was there that morning," she adds.
"It said, 'But he who does leave houses and brothers and sisters and father and mother for my sake will find new brothers and sisters, even under persecution.' We have found wonderful brothers and sisters under persecution," she says, "and we come back so enriched, receiving more than we can ever give."
Mark Ellis is a Senior Correspondent for ASSIST News Service. He is also the Assistant Pastor at Calvary Evangelical Free Church of Laguna Beach, CA.