Building A Culture Of Peace Within The Context Of War

Judy McCallum is a member of Knox Church, Spadina, Toronto ON, and is on the Renewal Fellowship Board.

Sudan has had a lot of exposure recently in the news, raising questions and posing an ethical dilemma to Canadians. We have been forced to consider the ethics of Canadian business involvement in a country undergoing civil war and what the responsibility of Canadians might be when we are linked to war in another country. How — or should — we be involved?

I had the privilege of spending two months in Sudan this spring, working with the Fellowship for African Relief, and was given a glimpse into the ravages of war on a country. Before I left for Sudan, I knew many facts, especially that the war in Sudan is a result of many interrelated factors. I knew that the war has religious roots: Muslim vs. Christian, and that the current government has declared Jihad against the southern Christians. I also knew that the war has ethnic roots, the primarily Arab North vs. African South, and economic roots, the South is rich in natural resources including oil. And finally I knew that the instability of the whole region (the Horn of Africa) contributes to the ongoing war in Sudan.

I had heard the statistics regarding the results of fifteen years of war upon the people of Sudan. I was aware that up to 7.5 million people have been displaced by the war, many around the capital city, Khartoum. The most recent estimate I heard was that there were up to 3 million displaced people in and around Khartoum, making up to 40% of the population of the city. Countless families have been torn apart by the war. In the camps up to 70% of the households are headed by women with their husbands killed or away for economic or political reasons. I had heard about the slavery that was taking place in Sudan. The UN reports that there have been more than 14,000 "abductees" or, more accurately, slaves who are mainly women and children. It is estimated that 2-2.9 million people have been killed since 1983, when the current government came into power. More than 1 million southern Sudanese are living in exile outside of the Sudan. Finally, I was told that 94% of the Sudanese population (both North and South) live below the poverty line. The reality of these statistics is hard to comprehend from the vantage point of our comfortable Canadian existence.

After two short months living and working in Khartoum, I realized that the issues are even more complex than I had initially thought. The government is not just oppressing the South, but also anyone who doesn't agree with its interpretation of Islam. Therefore both Northerners and Southerners are suffering. Moreover, the fighting is not only between the North and the South, but there is also fighting within the South between different ethnic groups.

Being a Canadian in Khartoum was a fascinating and challenging experience, all the more so since one of the main foreign investors is currently a Canadian oil company, Talisman. On being introduced as a Canadian, the first observation made by the Sudanese people pointed to the Talisman connection. In the northern Sudanese context this Canadian connection was looked upon with favour; there were obvious benefits of the flow of oil to the country. However, upon digging deeper and getting to know more Sudanese, notably those from the South, who had experienced the ravages of war, I realized that this Canadian involvement was seen as contributing to the many atrocities against the people of southern Sudan. While Talisman does not represent the full extent of the Canadian presence in Sudan, the nature of its participation overshadows all other involvements.

At a recent meeting in Ottawa which brought together Canadian humanitarian agencies working within Sudan, Sudanese from northern and southern Sudan, and Sudanese in exile, the topic of Canada's involvement in the situation in Sudan was discussed. The need for developing a "culture of peace" was expressed over and over again, as well as the important contribution that Canada can, and has made towards this growing hope, in spite of the Talisman involvement. Many ideas were presented as possible encouragements to the building of peace in Sudan.

Some have suggested that development and economic growth (especially oil revenues) will lead to peace, and that, therefore Canadian involvement in the oil business in Sudan is justified. Others advocate for the "People to People" peace process, an initiative that the church, including the Presbyterian Church of Sudan with support from the Canadian International Development Agency, has promoted. Still others argue that involving women in the peace talks between the Government of Sudan (GOS) and Sudan Peoples Liberation Army (the main southern opposition to the GOS) is critical and that there is a great need to do more work at the grass- roots teaching about peace.

I personally believe that Canadians have much to contribute to building peace in Sudan, not through oil revenues, but through the encouragement of the Sudanese churches in their role of promoting peace. A good friend working with various churches in Sudan shared his conviction that the Sudanese church is poised for revival, a glimmer of great hope on an otherwise dark horizon.

Bringing economic wealth into the context of war will only exacerbate the atrocities. It is only through changed hearts and minds that a true culture of peace can be built. Thus, peace must not be based upon economic wealth, but rather upon a God-given understanding of our responsibility to one another and, ultimately, upon heavenly wisdom.

The passage in James 3:13-18 came to mind for me as I mulled over what a scripturally-based culture of peace would look like. Here we find two types of wisdom discussed: one that leads to a culture of war and one that leads to a culture of peace. The source of these two types of wisdom is the key to their results; earthly wisdom is demonic, while heavenly wisdom is from God. Earthly wisdom is described as being sensual, envious and self-seeking, and leading to confusion and every kind of evil. In contrast, a way of life that is based upon heavenly wisdom may be characterized as pure, peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full mercy and good fruits, without hypocrisy and partiality. What does this mean for Canadians and especially for our relationship with Sudan?

1. The wisdom to deal with this situation must come from God, not from ourselves.

  • We need to pray to God for the wisdom to know how we should live and act.
  • We need to pray for the Sudanese political leadership in the north and the south of Sudan, that God would change their hearts and give them the wisdom needed to build peace.
  • We need to pray for the church in Sudan, that they would be the salt and light in their communities, promoting heavenly wisdom.
  • We need to pray for the surrounding countries, for peace to come to the region.

2. We need to live lives that reflect the characteristics of heavenly wisdom and as a result sow seeds of peace: we need to make sure that we are not self-seeking, but pure, without partiality and without hypocrisy.

  • First in both our personal lives, we need to ensure that we are preaching a peaceful lifestyle that we are not living day-to-day.
  • We also need to take responsibility for the actions of our government and Canadian companies who represent our country in the Sudan. It was commented on a number of occasions that the Canadian government's response to the Talisman situation smacked of hypocrisy. On the one hand many Canadians are working with the Sudanese to promote peace and our government itself is involved in this process on many levels. However, the complicity of a Canadian company in providing the government with some part of the resources needed to carry out their genocide only serves to undermine these initiatives. Talisman defends its actions through many fine-sounding arguments, but when held up to the light of James 3, we realize that their involvement in Sudan is based on earthly wisdom, that it is for self-gain, and not based on heavenly wisdom.
  • We need to reach out to the Sudanese in our own communities, who have lived through pain and grief and as one Sudanese woman mentioned are "children of abuse" having lived through a culture of war and need to be welcomed into a true culture of peace.

(A couple of books that could be read are Paul Marshall's book, Their Blood Cries Out, and Peter Verney's book, Raising the Stakes: Oil and Conflict in Sudan.