Eastern Mennonite University

Fall / Winter 2006

Threats by Gun-Toters Drive Home Lessons

David Anderson Hooker
David Anderson Hooker (second from left) leading a Sudanese workshop with Babu Ayindo (foreground).

STAR facilitators tend not to look for instant results from their trainings. (Read more on Strategies in Trauma Awareness and Resilience [STAR].)

Think about it. If a school principal travels from Uganda to Virginia for a training, she must then return home and start figuring out how to apply her new knowledge to the thousands of traumatized people flooding into her school for help and safety.

It’s going to be months, probably, before she drops a line to STAR on how it all worked out.

David Anderson Hooker, part-time professor at CJP, was lucky, though. He got to see STAR put into action so quickly, it may have saved a life or two.

Violence From Out of Nowhere

It was October 2005. Hooker and two CJP alumni, Babu Ayindo and Tecla Wanjala, were in the last lap of a 10-day STAR session being held in a rustic compound in southern Sudan owned by the New Sudan Council of Churches. More than three dozen people had come to the session, some of them traveling for two days over rough terrain to arrive at the cluster of mud huts.

Suddenly a pickup truck filled with young, angry-looking men arrived. Two men brandished rifles, several others machetes. They smelled of wine and had bloodshot eyes.

STAR workshop
STAR workshop before it was interrupted by the gunmen.

They accused a local woman named Grace, who lived and worked in the compound, of enabling the wife and child of one of the men to abandon him. (Actually Grace had given the wife and child a ride to visit the wife’s sick mother, some distance away.)

They demanded the wife and child back. Alternatively, they planned to replace them with a woman and child taken from the village. The county administrator – no more than 30 years old or so – stepped out of the STAR session to talk with the men.

Stopping the 'Cycles of Violence'

Sounding as if he were leading a STAR workshop, the administrator spoke of the cycles of violence in which Sudan had been caught and noted that this had caused trauma for everyone. He stated that these cycles would have to be broken if Sudan is to ever enjoy peace. He explained that if the village gave a woman and child to the men, they and their families would suffer more trauma, leading to more violence in the future.

The men agreed to leave the village and to meet at the police station later that day to talk about other ways of dealing with their grievance. Hooker never found out exactly what solution was devised – probably the wife and child finished their visit and returned home – but violence was averted.

“I didn’t think this guy [the administrator] had been paying much attention for the last six days,” Hooker says with a chuckle. “And here he instantly applies the lessons we’ve been trying to get across.”

The incident served as the final focus of Hooker’s STAR session, providing fodder for discussing justice, peace, and healing in the southern Sudanese context.

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