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Churchwide Gathering of Presbyterian Women
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Debbie Braaksma

Debbie Braaksma, area coordinator for Africa for the PC(USA), talked about reconciliation and education and reconciliation programs in South Sudan during her presentation on July 19. Photo by Leep Zelones.

Does the river of hope flow in South Sudan?

By Yvonne Hileman

Debbie Braaksma, area coordinator for Africa for the PC(USA), cited Thursday evening’s scripture, Ezekiel 47:1–10: “There was a river too deep for me to wade. . . .”

Then she said, “In my five years as a mission coworker in South Sudan, there were times I asked, does the river flow through South Sudan?” She added what she saw was suffering—suffering from the devastating effects of a 22–year civil war. More than two and a half million died in the war. She said the people still suffer, even as they celebrate their independence.

Debbie told plenary attendees that 48 percent of the children of South Sudan are malnourished. She said 80 percent of Presbyterian female leaders whom she surveyed in one village believe women must bear suffering without complaint, and that 70 percent of them believe men have the right to beat women. Only 15 percent believe they have the right to choose their husband.

“The women have lived in a culture of violence,” Debbie said, “deprived of education.” There are three times as many boys as girls in schools. More than a third of Presbyterian church schools meet under trees. A teenage girl is more likely to be a wife than a student.

Despite these sobering realities, there is hope. National independence allows for church growth. And there is rejoicing—as in 1 Peter—because of faith in things that cannot yet be seen. The people’s prayers are heartfelt, and Presbyterian Women is bringing water, education and healing to the people of South Sudan. Birthday Offering grants have funded RECONCILE’s trauma-healing programs and ACROSS’s teacher training college―“the best in South Sudan,” Debbie said. Interethnic tensions are prevalent, Debbie told those gathered, but the grants are having a major impact.

“We are better together,” she said, alluding to an earlier declaration by PC(USA) leaders Gradye Parsons and Roger Dermody. “There is a strong river of Presbyterian education flowing in South Sudan,” she said. “And the education of women has been shown to correlate with child health.

“Some organizations build schools but not peace. PW gets it! PW supports reconciliation and education,” she said. “Many pieces are still needed for good education, but we each have a role. Thank you, PW, for committing to South Sudan for another three years.”

Not only has PW committed to South Sudan as an area of mission focus for the coming triennium, but the Gathering offering (received on Friday morning) will fund water wells in Akobo, an area of great interethnic tension.

An Offering for South Sudan

Each triennium, at the Churchwide Gathering, a special offering is received during plenary to benefit a specific mission need. At this Gathering, the offering will fund building as many as twenty water wells in Akobo, South Sudan. As Elizabeth Nyawok, an elder in South Sudan who is one of our international guests, told Daily Horizons, “Women risk attack each time they must go for water and food for their families.” Women often must go in the middle of the night and walk as far as ten miles for fresh water.

During Friday morning’s plenary, Alice Wyatt told those gathered, “Your gift today will allow water to flow in Akobo.” Muriel Stephens said, “Presbyterian women can and are changing the world. Open your hearts and purses wide!”

The offering was received in buckets to symbolize the difficulty women in South Sudan face in providing life-giving water for themselves and their families. At the most recent count, Friday’s offering raised $38,555 for wells in South Sudan!

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