Tears of the Sun
Having just returned from a mission to Nigeria, I watched this new major action film, Tears of the Sun with great interest.
Tears of the Sun begins with some real life news footage of violence and murder in the streets with a voice-over reporting on a brutal new civil war in Nigeria. Muslim Fulanis have overthrown the Christian Igbo government of Nigeria, assassinated the president and his family, and are launching a massive ethnic cleansing campaign to wipe out the Christian Igbos.
Actually the news footage used in the beginning of Tears of the Sun comes from another West African country, Sierra Leone.
With the background of this military coup and vicious civil war, we are introduced to Lieutenant A.K. Waters, a veteran officer of a navy SEAL unit aboard the aircraft carrier USS Harry S. Truman off the coast of West Africa. Lt. Waters is ordered to lead his extraction team to evacuate an American medical doctor and some foreign missionaries at a mission station in the east of Nigeria.
Dr. Lena Kendricks is the only physician available to the war-mutilated people of her Christian village. From the beginning she is seen to be stubborn and steadfast, refusing to leave her mission hospital unless the about seventy of her people who want to leave with her can go too. With Muslim forces only hours away from the village, the SEAL team begin the evacuation. At first, Waters tends to obey his orders, and not get involved in what his captain describes as "not our war". However, when the missionaries who refused to leave with the evacuation team, and the patients who could not move, are slaughtered, Waters determines to take the survivors of the village on the perilous trek through the dense jungles to neighbouring Cameroon.
As they move through the jungle on foot, the SEAL team and refugees are themselves inexplicably pursued by a relentless army of Muslim Fulanis.
As they pass by a village where Muslim soldiers are torturing and slaughtering Christian villagers, Lt. Waters has to choose between following his orders and obeying his conscience.
Tears of the Sun is an intense and suspenseful action film depicting graphic and brutal violence. There are scenes of excruciating cruelty depicted. However, Tears of the Sun is no mindless Hollywood fiction. It graphically and accurately depicts the kind of atrocities perpetrated by Muslim forces against Christians in many parts of Africa in recent years, including Sudan. The burning of churches, massacring of Christians, beheading of ministers, chopping off of the breasts of nursing mothers, burning alive of Christians, and other atrocities depicted in this film, are exactly what has happened in many of the conflicts where Muslims are waging war against the Christian population of Africa.
When Waters witnesses the slaughter at the Christian village and mission station where Dr Kendricks had been serving, his heart is softened and he decides to turn back and save as many as he can.
The slogan on the posters advertising Tears of the Sun declares: "He was trained to follow orders. He became a hero by defying them."
The entertainment industry is saturated with examples of rebellion against authority. Glorifying disobedience is a standard stereotype in Hollywood. Indeed, one could ask why should a commander of a SEAL team expect his men to obey him if he won't obey his superiors?
In the context of this scenario, the Special Forces officer on the ground takes the initiative expected of Special Forces operatives by acting on the information he alone had in order to save lives. One can indeed clearly see depicted in this film, that we are also answerable to a higher Law. In fact, the film ends with the powerful quote from Edmund Burke "The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good people to do nothing."
As the SEAL team witnesses the carnage waged in the name of Allah, they willingly go along with their team leader in engaging the enemy and saving lives.
In addition to the extremely graphic and intense scenes of violence, the film unfortunately has very unacceptable foul language and profanity. The language used is offensive, but nowhere near offensive as the reality of the atrocities waged by Muslim militants in Africa.
The film begins with the suggestion that God has left Africa. When one of the foreign missionaries who elects to stay with the invalid patients at the mission hospital says to Waters: "Go with God." Waters replies: "God already left Africa!"
When a missionary is beheaded (not seen on the screen) there is strong symbolism with white doves flying away from the village. Missionaries are killed, innocent women and children suffer, people are tortured and brutally murdered. So has God left Africa?
At the end of the film it becomes apparent that God is at work through those who care enough to risk their lives for the sake of others. Some who have seen the film have commented that the perilous trek through the dense jungles is reminiscent of the story of Exodus, with Moses leading his people out of Egypt and with Pharaoh's army in hot pursuit. Others have wondered whether the title of the film should not be more appropriately called Tears of the Son?
The major themes in Tears of the Sun are unselfish sacrifice and courage in the face of intense danger, compassion for the poor and needy, especially for widows and orphans, a passion for freedom, and the need for trust and teamwork. The Christian missionaries are depicted as true samaritans, good neighbours caring for those in desperate need. The American soldiers who give their lives to save African villagers from Muslim mass murderers epitomize the Christian principle of self-sacrifice: "Greater love has no one than this, than that He lay down his life for another" (John 15:13).
One of the Nigerian women is quoted as saying at the end: "God will never forget you."
The heroes of this film are reluctant at first, committed by the end. The rigours of the mission and the struggle of the inner man are plain in their faces. The torments of witnessing vicious atrocities and the turmoils of conscience are well depicted. It paints a bitter picture: disobey orders to save many others while losing some of your own, or obey orders and lose many others but save your own.
The SEAL team are a perfect example of supportive team members, never questioning their commander during combat or offensive manoeuvres, and following their orders to the letter. Lt. Waters is also a good example of a commander, leading by example, even asking his men for their opinions and input before embarking on a particularly dangerous course of action.
The technical advisers have brought to the film a look of military authenticity and accuracy as to the atrocities perpetrated by Muslim militants in Africa. Tens of thousands of Christians have been killed by Muslims in Nigeria in recent years.
Ultimately, it would appear that a major purpose of the film is to cultivate compassion for those suffering injustices in Africa. May the people of America not forget Africa, and may we who are Africans not forget God. The only hope for Africa is to turn back to God in repentance and faith, and apply the Lordship of Christ to all areas of life.
Dr. Peter Hammond has been a missionary to the persecuted Church in Africa for over 21 years.