Episcopal missioner works to bring peace to Darfur

The Rev. Lauren Stanley is the Episcopal Church's only Missioner to Sudan.

[Washington Window] The Cathedral College’s comfortable, wood-paneled library is thousands of miles away from the humanitarian crisis in Darfur, a vast, war-ravaged region of the Sudan. But the small group therein is paying rapt attention to the Rev. Lauren Stanley, the Episcopal Church’s sole Missioner to Sudan, as she tells them even here, they can – and must – act.

“The minute people stop paying attention to what’s happening in Darfur, the [United States] government will stop doing something about it,” she said. “You’re the people. If you speak, our government will act. So we need you to act.”

This can begin, she said, by visiting the weekly action network at www.savedarfur.org to petition President George W. Bush to press the U.N. to impose international sanctions on Sudan mirroring those announced by the U.S. on May 29. And it can continue with a commitment to learn more about the situation in Sudan, and to educate others.

In the last four years, around 450,000 have died in Darfur and 2.5 million have lost their homes, Stanley said, a crisis on the scale of the genocides of East Timor, Cambodia and Rwanda.

“This has been going on for four years,” she said. “We know about it. But not enough is being done.”

Since July 2005, when Stanley traveled to Sudan to serve in the Episcopal Diocese of Renk, working for peace in the region has become her personal crusade. After her return to the U.S. last November – she was called home by the Diocese of Virginia’s Bishop Peter James Lee amid concerns for her safety – she has continued to advocate for the troubled region.

Dressed in a purple-patterned jalabaya and Birkenstocks, Stanley offers a quick overview of the situation – a “Darfur 101” – at a Brown Bag Lunch sponsored by the Cathedral’s Center for Global Justice and Reconciliation, referring to a much-folded map.

Darfur, a region of western Sudan, is an arid plateau made up of three provinces, Gharb Darfur (West Darfur), Janub Darfur (South Darfur) and Shamal Darfur (North Darfur), with the Jebel Marra mountain range rising in the center.

In the region, there has been a “very complicated history of ethnic tension between Arabs and blacks,” she said. Add to that a fierce competition among the tribes for diminishing land and water resources, and the situation was a starving lion waiting for a kill.

The causes of the current conflict, which began in February 2003, are complex and are complicated by a “long-term intermingling of the races,” Stanley said. But the warring factions are essentially the Janjaweed, a militia group of Arab nomads from the Northern Rizeigat tribe on one side and a variety of rebel groups, including the Sudan Liberation Movement, from the farming Fur, Zaghawa and Massaleit tribes on the other.

The Sudanese government, a military dictatorship based in Khartoum and led by President Omar al-Bashir, has been accused of inciting the Janjaweed to rout the Darfurian farmers and providing the militia with funding to help its cause.

The resulting atrocities have caused millions of Darfurians to flee their homes, seeking refuge in camps elsewhere in the region and in neighboring Chad, where conditions are dire and aid workers are often refused access.

Sliding a DVD into the machine, Stanley stands silently while a short documentary she compiled about the crisis in Darfur plays on a small TV screen.

Ice cubes cease clinking in cups as the group watch the images of war – mass graves, villages burning, corpses rotting in the desert sun, refugees waiting for water and food – and digest the accompanying statistics.

“There is a genocide going on, the [Sudanese] government is involved and it needs to stop,” Stanley said. “The church is saying we need to pay attention to this.”

She hands out literature – lots of it – and green rubber wristbands that read, “Not On My Watch.”

Wearing the wristbands, the group members head back to work, but Stanley’s story sticks in their solar plexus, as does her call to action.

If every one of them takes action, and if Stanley can keep telling her story, someday, she hopes, there can be an end to the killing.

First appeared in Washington Window Vol. 76, No. 8 July/August 2007 as

Not on my watch

Missioner works to bring peace to Sudan