Peace mission brings Sudanese activists to Md.

Pair touring U.S. to draw attention to nation's woes

September 26, 2004|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,SUN STAFF

A Sudanese prelate touring the United States to gather support for peacemaking efforts in Africa's largest country brought his message to fellow church leaders and volunteers in New Windsor last week.

The Rev. Haruun Ruun, executive secretary of the New Sudan Council of Churches, spoke passionately of refugees, aid and stalled peace talks. He wove geography and economics into a brief history of the war that has devastated Sudan for more than 20 years for an audience at the Brethren Service Center, a faith-based, international relief organization in the Carroll County town.

As leader of the Sudan-based church council - an ecumenical organization that helps member churches provide social services, education and relief - Ruun's firsthand war experiences have taken him to refugee camps rife with disease and violence that only international efforts can allay, he said.

During the past week, the 62-year-old Presbyterian minister delivered the same message to officials at the United Nations in New York and to federal agencies in Washington.

"It is a question of educating, and that is what we are doing," Ruun said. "We have to change attitudes to achieve unity in our country."

The same international discourse that helped stem the violence and racism in South Africa must help Sudan, Ruun said.

"People in the U.S. are taking our suffering seriously and talking to their government," he said. "This trip will reinforce that."

Emmanuel LoWilla, executive director of the Reconcile Resource Centre for Civil Leadership in Sudan, who is traveling with Ruun, said peace in Sudan is in the world's best interests.

"If you stabilize Sudan, you stabilize Africa," said LoWilla, 44. "This is the center of conflicts. We need to create a region of harmony."

Sudan is home to more than 30 million people. The Christians are predominantly black Africans living in the southern half of the country. Muslims, residing in northern Sudan, hold the power.

Southern Sudan's advantage is its rich natural resources - oil, minerals and farmland. For now, Ruun said, the south remains "in the Stone Age with no development, education, health services or roads.

"The north and south are home to distinctly different people," Ruun said. "This is a racial war complicated by the fight over oil. Oil should have been a blessing, but it has made the situation worse."

The network of churches in Sudan and their faith partnerships worldwide are vital to the peace process, the visitors said. After years of war that have contributed to the deaths of more than 2.5 million people and the displacement of another 8 million, churches are one of the few surviving sources of aid.

"Our churches are the only things functioning in civil society," Ruun said.

LoWilla said, "Religion has been used to divide us, but it can help us bring peace."

Peace talks are expected to resume next month, Ruun said. In anticipation of peace, millions of refugees are returning.

"There are huge numbers, and some have started moving already with nothing," Ruun said. "They will end up at the church doors."

LoWilla said, "People are moving now, and we expect disaster. We are telling the United Nations that and hoping they listen."

Roy Winter, executive director of the Brethren Service Center, will be traveling to southern Sudan in January to work at a church camp. His visitors have helped prepare him, he said.

"The Brethren Service Center reaches out to many in need around the world, but we seldom have the opportunity to meet and hear firsthand from our partners in that work," Winter said. "Dr. Ruun conveyed, in a very personal way, the difficulties the people of Sudan are facing, but also shared his hope for the future."

At the service center Thursday, Ruun recalled a conversation he had several years ago with an American politician.

"The man asked me what was there for America in Sudan, a poor African country thousands of miles away," Ruun said. "I answered - humanity."

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.