Sudan: Changing the Future vs Repeating the Past

Sudan village

A woman walks through her village in Nimule, near the Uganda border. CRS peacebuilding aims to spare villages like this from a resurgence of violence. Photo by Karen Kasmauski for CRS

by John Lindner

“Rwanda changed us.”

I quote Michael Weist, CRS vice president of Charitable Giving, and a longtime CRS veteran.

In 1994, within the span of 100 days, 800,000 Rwandans were murdered during a grisly ethnic massacre made all the more ghastly by having been perpetrated by fellow Rwandans.

I detect a distinct atmospheric shift in any room of CRS headquarters when the subject of Rwanda is raised. Veteran CRS staffers take Rwanda personally.

Initially, I thought I knew why that might be. One example: our colleague Dave Piraino is married to Natalie, a Rwandan. She lost 100 family members to the massacre. Directly and indirectly, CRS experienced deep loss in Rwanda.

Still, the reaction to Rwanda that I see here in HQ is not primarily one of an injured party. On the contrary, the feelings seem more closely associated with guilt and perhaps a touch of professional embarrassment. There’s no question that many in the agency believe that, had they seen it coming, they might have helped prevent at least some of the bloodshed.

In fact, I think many are convinced they could and should have seen it coming.

So, if you want to know why southern Sudan is the center of one of CRS’ most urgent pleas for donor support, indeed, an unprecedented plea, ask folks who worked for the agency in 1994, the ones who were personally and professionally shocked by Rwanda.

Today, they see ahead in Sudan signs they recognized in Rwanda only in hindsight.

This time CRS intends to do something about it. Actually, we have been doing something about it. We call it peacebuilding.

This article briefly defines that term. But there’s more.

Tomorrow, I’ll talk about how I arrived at a definition of “peacebuilding” during a discussion under a tree in Nimule, Sudan.

Learn more about CRS’ work to achieve peace in Sudan.

CRS web managing editor John Lindner traveled to southern Sudan to report on peacebuilding. This is the first of a set of posts on the work the Church and CRS are doing in southern Sudan.

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