God's Politics

God's Politics

An American Military Observer in Darfur interview by Becky Garrison

An interview with Brian Steidle, a former American military observer in Darfur and the subject of the documentary film and book The Devil Came on Horseback.

Briefly explain why you were in Darfur.

I had been in Sudan for seven months prior going to Darfur. Even though I was in Sudan, I had very little idea what was going on in Darfur. At the time, I was looking for adventure and a job that paid well.

How did your experience in the military inform your work in Darfur?

All my colleagues who served with me in the military did so because we wanted to protect people who couldn’t protect themselves from an oppressor. As I was a military contractor observing the cease-fire, we were neutral military observers. We thought we were doing a good job monitoring the cease-fire but in reality that wasn’t the case. It became very frustrating and I quit the job because you couldn’t do anything but count dead bodies and watch people’s lives being destroyed in front of us.

Why do you say your camera was not nearly enough to cover what you saw?

I took pictures but that was it. I didn’t have the capability to stop the fact that 400,000 people – and counting – are dead as a result of a government killing them because of who they are.

What’s happened in Iraq has caused the U.S. to lose a lot of moral ground. Apparently, the Sudanese government is cooperating with us regarding intelligence on al Qaeda. Our government continues to appease them. The only way to trump that is to have the American people stand up and say “Hey, we want this to stop.”

What led you to create the documentary The Devil Came on Horseback and the book?

I always planned on writing a book that described my journey. Originally, I wanted to do a documentary about the women in the compound but it changed into telling the story of Darfur through my eyes.

When I saw The Devil Came on Horseback at the Tribeca Film Festival, the pictures were so gripping and surreal I thought I was watching a fictional movie.

I was there and I can’t believe what I saw. When people see the over 2,000 images I’ve taken, I hope they’re going to be motivated to get involved in this crisis.

What’s your reaction to the faith community’s response to this situation?

I’ve spoken at numerous churches and synagogues. In particular, the response I’ve gotten from the Jewish community has been tremendous. While Christian organizations are very supportive of our work in Darfur, many of them are not as supportive as they were with the campaign against genocide in the South. There the battle was between Christians and Muslims. Since the Darfur situation pits Muslims against each other, I don’t see the urgency from some very powerful Christian groups. I’d like to see them step up to the plate this time.

How can religious organizations such as Evangelicals for Darfur have a positive impact on this situation?

Too much lecturing can drive people away. I run into people every day who don’t know what Darfur is. We can reach them through events where there are tables and information available about the situation but where there are also activities going on. Everyone is enjoying themselves as they learn. I was involved with Young Life and we did a lot of really fun events along with our teaching.

What organizations are you currently involved with and why?

I work with Hope Artists: Helping Other People Everywhere (HOPE). This is an advocacy movement targeted to youth between 18 and 30. The money raised through cultural and arts events will go to Global Grassroots (, which is working to rebuild the lives of the genocide survivors. We want people to have hope that Darfur can be a hopeful situation. Hollywood movies portray Africa at its lowest point in history, but there’s another side of the story. For example, Rwanda is now the Silicon Valley of Africa. Liberia just elected the first women president in the continent. Even the diamond trade in Sierra Leone is starting to get regulated. We need to inform and educate people but also give them a sense of hope that change is indeed possible.

Becky Garrison’s publications include the forthcoming Rising from the Ashes: Rethinking Church (Seabury Books, October 2007). She will be speaking at Greenbelt Festival 2007 and Soularize.

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posted August 9, 2007 at 10:07 am

How difficult could it be for 25,000 Christians (or more) to buy plane tickets to Sudan and go to Darfur and march into that region and care for the hurting and stand in peaceful opposition to the murderers doing the killing?
There are at least than many claiming to be Christians that rally together against President Bush on any given weekend in DC.
If the Gospel was preached and lived out in the Christians that went to Sudan, then there would be mass conversions of people to Christ Jesus. There is great peace within the worldwide Christian community. Let’s start promoting that and saving lives.
“God’s Politics” and Jim Wallis could sponsor the effort with coordinating the people.
Let’s roll.

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Rick Nowlin

posted August 9, 2007 at 10:46 am

How difficult could it be for 25,000 Christians (or more) to buy plane tickets to Sudan and go to Darfur and march into that region and care for the hurting and stand in peaceful opposition to the murderers doing the killing?
I hope you have your plane ticket …

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kevin s.

posted August 9, 2007 at 1:16 pm

I think one thing would be a definitive action plan. I am not a military strategist nor a policy-maker. I hear I am supposed to save Darfur, but what does that mean? People tend to get more involved when they know what they are for and why they are for it.

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posted August 9, 2007 at 4:31 pm

If you go to, you can learn about specific actions you can take on behalf of Darfur AND why.

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kevin s.

posted August 9, 2007 at 6:02 pm

So there is a definitive call to send peacekeeping troops. Other than that, however, there is no policy proposal on the site that I could find.
The site commends President Bush for doing more than any other leader to provide peace and security in Darfur. What has he done? What do we want to see more of? What if we send in peacekeepers, and things get nasty? Does he need to have an exit strategy? How can we be sure this doesn’t wind up being another Iraq? Should that matter? Should we leave Iraq to tend to Darfur? If so, why?
According to some, our presence in Islamic countries produces terrorists. Will our presence in the Sudan do the same? What if the terrorists descend upon Darfur? Will we be responsible for making things worse?
I don’t ask these questions as polemic. I think they are worth asking. Maybe I am ignorant of the answers.

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david b

posted August 10, 2007 at 2:44 am

I’m sorry. I won’t be able to make the trip to Darfur. I have to go hear Ms. Garrison (above article’s author) speak at Soularize in the Bahamas. Emergent church issues are just so important and I simply must learn more. Certainly what I can learn in the Bahamas is much more important, right? I’ll return to the heartland of America with a renewed insight about how to do church better, I mean more authentically, than everyone else. It’s not that there’s no ministry to do where I live or that Darfur isn’t one of the biggest problems facing our world, it’s just that the Bahamas are really pretty and I’ll really feel cool for being emergent.

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posted August 10, 2007 at 3:52 pm

This is my first time reading this blog and I had some questions for the people who respond. Is this what you do with your fait? Sit and read blogs and then disagree with them? Then disagree with each other? and then the process starts over again when you get the blog back in you e-mail? Quit reading blogs and act.

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posted August 12, 2007 at 4:45 am

I’m sorry. I won’t be able to make the trip to Darfur. I have to go hear Ms. Garrison (above article’s author) speak at Soularize in the Bahamas.Posted by: david b
Nice ad hominem. Hope you feel better.

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Kevin s.

posted August 12, 2007 at 10:31 pm

” Quit reading blogs and act.”
Lame: Spending too much time on blog sites.
Lamer: Visiting blog sites just to insult the people who post comments on said blog site.
Lamest: Following up this insult with a call to “act”.
I act by serving in my church, and I have no guilt about that fact. Join in the discussion or don’t.

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posted August 16, 2007 at 8:26 pm

Any particular reason why NO ONE mentions the fact that radical islam is at the heart of the slaughter in Darfur? If there was ANY American responsibility, no matter how indirect, we know the libbies would be screaming at the top of their lungs.

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posted August 31, 2007 at 3:41 am

I won’t be able to make the trip to Darfur. You have said it very well.

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