“What are we going to do with these people who are shedding tears day and night, who are wounded in their hearts, about these children who are suffering? How can the church be a light in the situation? How can we give hope? God has entrusted us with this responsibility, to be the voice of these people.”
This was the anguished cry of leaders of the South Sudan Council of Churches (SSCC), contained in a pastoral message recently issued by the council. SSCC officials composed the message following a visit to refugee camps in neighboring Ethiopia, accompanied by international ecumenical leaders. According to United Nations estimates, an additional 100,000 people have poured across the border in the past year, bringing the total number of South Sudanese citizens displaced to the Gambella region of southwestern Ethiopia to more than 350,000.
The 2015 Agreement on the Resolution of the Conflict in South Sudan (ARCSS), brokered by IGAD, the community of nations in the horn of Africa, has not brought peace to the country. In fact, the SSCC warned that the situation has gotten worse, becoming “a multifaceted conflict with dozens of parties, factions, forces, militias, communities, warlords and other leaders.” When the agreement expires next year, it is likely to remain almost completely unimplemented.
Deteriorating conditions in South Sudan have displaced nearly 3 million people, driving many to seek refuge outside the country. United Nations agencies believe that as many as 6 million people — half of South Sudan’s population — are struggling to find food. “Our national economy has collapsed while our rural areas are suffering famine,” the SSCC leaders lament. “We believe that both the economic decline and the famine are man-made, a result of mismanagement, blatant corruption, insecurity, lack of governance and the rule of law, but above all the failure of leaders on all sides to prioritize the needs of the people over their own political and personal interests.”
The council called on the soldiers of all factions to refrain from killing, raping and looting, and, in particular, to stop targeting civilians. The council also urged the government of South Sudan to crack down on corruption and to slash military spending, using public resources to rebuild the nation’s tattered economy instead. In addition, the council called on IGAD nations, the U.N. and the international community as a whole not only to sustain their generous welcome and humanitarian assistance to the people of South Sudan, but also to “prevent the flow of yet more weapons into the conflict” and to assess why the ARCSS has failed, in order to identify more robust strategies to build peace in the region.
Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) partners have asked members of the PC(USA) to pray, to give and to take other actions to help South Sudan find its way to peace, justice and reconciliation. “We need your prayers and support, in all ways, including advocacy,” said the Rev. Peter Gai Lual, moderator of the Presbyterian Church of South Sudan and Sudan. “It gives us strength and hope that we are standing as Christians together until we have peace.”
In particular, Presbyterian World Mission urges people of faith in the United States to:
- For the safety and well-being of all of South Sudan’s people, particularly those who have been driven from their homes by conflict and hunger.
- That all of the parties to South Sudan’s conflict will put the needs of the people above their own personal interests and will find genuine commitment to a peaceful future.
- That leaders of IGAD, the international community and international agencies will find renewed energy, wisdom and insight to identify strategies to promote peace-building, reconciliation and reconstruction in South Sudan.
- Learn more about the situation in South Sudan. See World Mission’s South Sudan website, the Presbyterian Peacemaking Program and Presbyterian Ministry at the United Nations’ “Swords into Plowshares” blog, and Presbyterian Disaster Assistance’s South Sudan webpage for more resources.
- Write to members of Congress and the secretary of state to share your concern about the situation in South Sudan. Urge U.S. officials in particular to:
- Press IGAD to convene new talks to revitalize the peace process and to provide diplomatic and financial resources to enhance the prospects of successful, implementable outcomes.
- Insist that all parties declare and respect an immediate cease-fire and ensure the opening up of corridors for the delivery of humanitarian aid.
- Increase support for the United Nations, specifically for the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS), and urge other nations to do the same.
- Lift up the food crisis in the region and commit emergency funds to alleviate hunger through both U.S. government agencies (such as USAID) and through the United Nations and other international organizations.
- Sign up for Action Alerts and other advocacy resources from the PC(USA)’s Office of Public Witness.
- Presbyterian Disaster Assistance (PDA) and Presbyterian World Mission are accompanying our South Sudanese partners as they respond to the crisis. PDA supports Presbyterian Relief and Disaster Assistance as they provide emergency relief and work to improve health and food security. Through World Mission’s South Sudan Education and Peace Building Project, RECONCILE (Resource Center for Civil Leadership) and the Presbyterian Church of South Sudan address the root causes of the war through peace-building, trauma recovery and education ministries. Please support this work by making gifts to:
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