lives in the balance


    I’ve spent the better part of my day reading about what is happening in Darfur in preparation for a worship service we are going to devote to what is happening there and in other parts of Africa. Between the news of famine, AIDS, malaria, and all the other things that afflict the continent, Darfur stands out because it is genocide. My research has been colored by this quote from Margaret Mead:

    Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.

    In his State of the Union speech Tuesday night, President Bush said, ““We will continue to speak out for the cause of freedom in places like Cuba, Belarus, and Burma — and continue to awaken the conscience of the world to save the people of Darfur.” He didn’t give any specifics. I have no need to doubt his sincerity and I don’t think his words or actions are going to be what changes things on the ground in Sudan, if Mead is right. And I think she is. So, with determination to become one of those thoughtful, committed citizens, I share what I found today.

    As far as understanding the situation in Darfur, I found the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum description helpful:

    Sudan’s Khartoum-based government is fueling ethnic and racial violence by using the Janjaweed militia as proxies against Darfur insurgents who launched a rebellion in early 2003. But it is civilians who are suffering. Government-sponsored actions include:

    • INFLAMING ethnic conflict
    • IMPEDING international humanitarian access, resulting in deadly conditions of life for displaced civilians
    • BOMBING civilian targets with aircraft
    • MURDERING and RAPING civilians

    Darfurians who have fled the violence provide chilling testimony. One refugee told New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof that “the Arabs want to get rid of anyone with black skin. . . . There are no blacks left [in the area I fled].”

    The death toll exceeds 100,000 and may be more than 400,000. And the crisis continues—the lives of hundreds of thousands more hang in the balance today.

    I also loved that the museum is working to apply the lessons we all say we learned from the Holocaust. They also have a disquieting slide show called “Staring Genocide in the Face.” Please take time to watch it.

    Save has a post called Unity Statement that’s worth checking out for the specific things that can be done to help change things in the region, some big and some small. They also have resource packets for worship services of different faiths. In the Christian packet, there is this prayer from a Darfurian woman:

    I want to join my prayers to many other voices. Every few months we are driven away from one refugee camp to the other, so far in the desert where nothing, nothing at all exists. This is no way for a human being to live. Now way to live in such a shocking place — uncultivated, waterless, treeless, and barren region. Everything is burning, Lord, around me, around us; in me, in us. Everything is barren — hell, hell. Yet, Lord, we believe you are there beside us. We pray for all the Africans living now our same condition. Bring back peace and tranquility to our beloved country. Peace which is desired by everybody, the old and young, rich and poor, women and men. Amen, amen — let it be so. (© Gloria Silvano, Sudan/CAFOD)

    They also offer a sample prayer for use in our worship:

    Loving God, we know there are tremendous problems facing the world — natural disasters, civil wars, violence, disparities in resources, and sickness. We confess that there are days when we look the other way, change the channel, or pretend the problems don’t exist. We say that the problem is someone else’s concern or displace the blame. We are not confident that we can make an impact and we fear failure for ourselves and on the behalf of others. We might even think that moving to make a difference will change us in ways we will not like or make us uncomfortable. Before we begin, we desire to give up on our opponents and on the victims. Forgive us for our faintheartedness and selfishness, for failing to love others as we should, and for failing to believe that you have empowered us to protect our brothers and sisters. Remind us, Holy One, that some faithful persons refused to give up on us and that You have not given up on any of us. Amen.

    Sojourners also has a worship packet and includes this prayer from the United Nations:

    Merciful and compassionate Spirit,
    Be present to the suffering people of Sudan
    Shelter the widows and the children
    Comfort all who are weary and afraid
    Bring relief to those who hunger and thirst
    Center our thoughts with those who suffer in silence
    Move us to recall our shared humanity
    Unite us in our determination to respond to injustice
    May we never forget! May we never forget!
    Hear our prayer. Make our action swift.

    The prayers bring me to another Margaret Mead quote:

    Prayer does not use up artificial energy, doesn’t burn up any fossil fuel, doesn’t pollute. Neither does song, neither does love, neither does the dance.

    I don’t know what happens when I pray for Darfur. I’m not giving God any new information. I’m not casting some sort of magical spell. I’m challenged, therefore, to articulate what it is I’m praying for. After today, I’m praying to be changed, to be made uncomfortable. One of the things I’ve said about turning fifty was I felt some relief because I was coming to terms with my limitations. When I was thirty, I thought I was running out of time to change the world. At fifty, I didn’t feel that pressure any more.

    I’m wrong. The call to be faithful and committed has no age limit.


    Photo is from photo essay, “In Darfur, My Camera Was Not Nearly Enough” by Brian Steidle.


    1. Milton, I wish you well in your prayers and in your actions. I’m not exactly sure what prayer does either, but I have faith that you will pray in a way that draws you and the congregation into the humanity of the Darfurians and our Christ.

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