by Kathy Melvin | Presbyterian News Service
LOUISVILLE – Longtime Presbyterian mission co-worker Leisa Wagstaff is currently “sheltering in place” as fighting escalates in Juba, South Sudan. Efforts are underway to evacuate her to a safe location. Other South Sudan mission co-workers are currently traveling in the U.S., visiting churches.
Rather than celebrating South Sudan’s fifth anniversary of independence, residents were surrounded by intense fighting in the capital city of Juba. South Sudan is the world’s youngest country.
BBC and several other international news organizations are reporting that fighting between South Sudan’s government and forces loyal to Vice President Riek Machar has killed more than 200 in Juba. Wagstaff said, by phone, that gunfire and large explosions are happening all over the city, and heavy artillery is in use. The UN Security Council called on the warring factions to immediately stop fighting, fearing a repeat of the events of December 2013 that degenerated into a wide-ranging conflict where tens of thousands died.
Presbyterian World Mission and the Presbyterian Ministry at the United Nations are working with the moderator of the Presbyterian Church of South Sudan (PCOSS), Rt. Rev. Peter Gai Lual Morrow, on an appeal for an increased response from the United Nations.
Wagstaff said she feels supported and cared for by PCOSS colleagues, who are themselves caught in a crossfire between rival forces.
“Pakwan, a PCOSS church elder and longtime friend to PC(USA) mission personnel, called [to check on me], reporting his community was in the midst of fierce fighting, and he and those living under his care were stretched out on the floor, hoping and praying that they would not be in the line of stray bullets. This is the reality for many residents of Juba since Friday,” she wrote.
Morrow, who also serves as chair of the South Sudan Council of Churches, is making an urgent request for prayers.
”We request all brothers and sisters in PC(USA) to pray very hard for this beleaguered South Sudan so God may fully intervene at this time for the implementation of what is called the Comprehensive Peace Agreement. Let’s uphold this hope: that peace will come to this country,” he wrote in an email Saturday.
Let us pray: Gracious God, we lift before you the people of South Sudan who seek to end the escalating violence. Five years ago, we rejoiced with our sisters and brothers as they voted for independence and became the world’s newest nation. Now, our hearts are heavy as a deep conflict threatens to destroy all for which they have strived. We mourn with those who lost loved ones in this unrest, with the children and adults who have become traumatized again and again, with those who are injured, imprisoned, and hiding, and with those driven from their homes. We pray for a just and lasting cease-fire, and for our brothers and sisters as they face the tasks of building a future together. God of reconciliation, we ask you to send your Spirit of unity and peace to guide the people and the leaders of South Sudan from violence and into the paths of peace and justice. We pray for our partners in the Presbyterian Church of South Sudan, the South Sudan Evangelical Presbyterian Church, RECONCILE, the South Sudan Council of Churches, ACROSS and mission co-worker Leisa Wagstaff; may they feel your presence with them. Strengthen them by the power of your Holy Spirit as they witness to the strong love of Christ, advocating for peace and justice in a situation that is only hopeful because we follow a resurrected Christ, in whose name we pray. Amen.
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