For over 20 years, Sudan has been ravaged by wars that have stolen two million lives and displaced over four million people. Amid these desperate conditions, the Reverend Dr. William Lowrey fights for peace and reconciliation for the people of Sudan and South Sudan. His unique approach drew on the rich wisdom of the indigenous Nuer and Dinka peoples, as he integrated their traditional peacemaking methods with modern theories of conflict resolution.
Throughout most of his life, the Rev. Lowrey has been driven to combat injustice. It started with his work to promote racial reconciliation in the American South in his Mississippi church and with other social organizations. There, he honed his ability to work across cultures, and became inspired to take his peacemaking skills to work abroad.
The Rev. Lowrey first took his family to Sudan in 1991, while working with the Presbyterian Church. He soon became involved in the complex hostilities of the region—traditionally between Muslims in the north and Christians in the south, but later between the Dinka and the Nuer people in what was then southern Sudan.
In the south, he dedicated himself to observing Nuer and Dinka peacemaking methods, and discovering the deep wisdom of their traditional practices. Becoming part of the community, he came to understand the decentralized nature of leadership for both tribes, and recognized that in their communities, everyone had to be involved in making peace. “No matter how poor, how uneducated people are,” Lowrey explains, “there is a rich knowledge base in them, and you can only tap into it by listening to them.”
Drawing upon their traditional rituals and shared symbolism, he established a series of People-to-People Peace conferences through the New Sudan Council of Churches (NSCC) in 1998. The results were groundbreaking. At the end of the conferences, the Dinka and Nuer signed a covenant to end their tribal war and sealed it by sacrificing a bull, which signifies wealth for both of the tribes. By stepping over the bull, they publicly pronounced their commitment for a new peace.
The Rev. Lowrey readily acknowledges his family’s dedication and sacrifices for grassroots peacemaking, which inevitably put them at great risk. In the mid-1990s, his wife and daughter barely survived a Sudanese aerial bombing while helping to organize a women’s tailoring cooperative. “All of our family members have experienced the pain, risk, and difficulty of work in southern Sudan,” Lowrey explains. “We embrace the same sense of calling to someday achieve a full and complete peace.”
Today, the Reverend Lowrey is willing to talk even more openly about the risks. Indeed, it was after his story was written that the Tanenbaum Center learned of the death threats made against him personally and, later, against key leaders who participated in the face-to-face conferences. When we asked him why he had not shared this sooner, he explained simply, that he had opted to keep silent because talking might put some of his compatriots still in the Sudan in danger. Such risks are common in peacemaking, and he knew that revealing this information at that time could have been counterproductive to the larger peace process.
Reverend Lowery was the Director of Peacebuilding at World Vision International for ten years. His experiences in Sudan helped build and facilitate regional networks of peace in more than 35 countries. During his time at World Vision, a larger peace between the northern and southern regions of Sudan came to fruition when the Comprehensive Peace Agreement was signed in 2005. Encouraged by the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) and the Government of Sudan reached an agreement to end the endemic north-south civil war. Then, in 2011, an overwhelming majority of South Sudanese voted to secede from Sudan and an independent state of South Sudan was officially announced in July 2011. Reverend Lowery helped develop a process for the newly formed nation to direct conflict-sensitive programming and alleviate possibilities of violent outbreaks. However, unresolved conflicts linger between the two nations and the new nation of South Sudan is still developing infrastructure.
His work continues, as Reverend Lowrey has supported and trained peacebuilders in multiple countries, sharing the wisdom, skills and secrets from a lifetime of religious peacemaking.
This video was made possible by grants from Carnegie Corporation of New York and the Henry Luce Foundation. The statements made and views expressed are solely the responsibility of Tanenbaum. Tanenbaum’s Peacemakers in Action program is also supported by the Leir Charitable Foundations.
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