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A fragile peace agreement was signed in South Sudan last week

The world’s youngest country may finally know peace

by Kathy Melvin | Presbyterian News Service

John Yor Nhyiker Deng, general secretary of the Presbyterian Church of South Sudan (PCOSS), served as an ecumenical representative to the 223rd General Assembly (2018) in St. Louis and has been actively involved in the peace process. (Photo by Debbie Braaksma)

LOUISVILLE — Last Wednesday rival factions in South Sudan signed a peace agreement to end the country’s devastating civil war. The world is holding its breath.

Sharon Kandel, Presbyterian World Mission regional liaison for South Sudan, along with her husband Lynn, who have been living in the war-torn country as mission co-workers for more than four years, are praying fervently for a lasting peace.

“While there have been other agreements signed in the past, we do feel like this agreement has a better chance of succeeding and so are cautiously optimistic about the future,” she said.

Since South Sudan’s birth as a nation in 2011, over 50,000 people have been killed, more than 1.9 million have been internally displaced and 1.8 million have fled the country. Many children in South Sudan have never known a time of peace. Many have never attended school or gone to bed without fear.

Under the threat of international sanctions President Salva Kiir signed a peace agreement with rebel leader and former Vice President Riek Machar in August 2015. Machar returned to Juba in April 2016 and was sworn in as vice president. Just three months later, violence broke out again between the two factions. Both sides blame the other for violating the ceasefire.

As if the violence was not enough, the people of South Sudan are threatened with an epic, man-made famine. Opposing forces more often target civilians rather than one another. In South Sudan, they have raided cattle and burned homes and fields. Because so many have been forced to flee, people cannot plant crops or must abandon them. Estimates are that thousands face immediate starvation and more than one million are in danger.

The Rev. John Yor Nhyiker Deng, general secretary of the Presbyterian Church of South Sudan (PCOSS), served as an ecumenical representative to the 223rd General Assembly (2018) in St. Louis and has been actively involved in the peace process.

The South Sudan Council of Churches — on whose executive committee Yor serves — was an effective advocate for peace at the High-Level Revitalization Forum (HLRF), convened by the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia recently.

“This peace agreement is the result of the Church’s involvement. The churches were invited by IGAD into the peace talks. There were several peace agreements since 2014, but we believe this one will last because of the Church’s involvement. The meetings were opened and closed by prayer, so God’s spirit was involved.”

The Rev. Debbie Braaksma, coordinator for the Africa Area office in World Mission, hosted Yor at the Presbyterian offices in Louisville last week. She has a special love for South Sudan and its people. She and her husband Del Braaksma lived in South Sudan as mission co-workers for more than five years. They served with the RECONCILE peace institute. Created by the New Sudan Council of Churches, RECONCILE is a Christian organization that seeks to bring peace and healing to communities broken and hurting from decades of war. RPI gathers faith and community leaders from around the country and strengthens their skills in resolving conflicts and recovering from trauma.

“Rev. Yor stressed the importance of the international community’s monitoring and evaluation of the peace progress to make sure it lasts and that this brutal civil war ends,” she said. “I am so pleased that the 223rd General Assembly passed a comprehensive overture on South Sudan which provides our Office of Public Witness in Washington and United Nations office in New York with a strong foundation for advocacy and encourages our congregations to accompany this advocacy with prayers and support.

The Kandels, and mission co-worker Leisa Wagstaff, who live in Juba, are currently in the United States visiting churches. The Revs. Shelvis and Nancy Smith-Mather, who had been living in Yei the last few years, are currently working in the refugee camps in Uganda, where many South Sudanese have been displaced. Shelvis is principle of the RECONCILE peace institute. They are continuing to train others in the peace process, as well as conducting trauma healing workshops. Mission co-workers Bob and Kristi Rice remain in Juba where he serves on the faculty of Nile theological college and she serves with the South Sudan Evangelical Presbyterian Church.

All are anxious to return to South Sudan and continue their work.

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