Ecumenical Delegation urges Heads of Churches in South Sudan to work together in efforts to achieve peace in the country

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[Juba, South Sudan, TCT] A high status delegation of church leaders from the ecumenical family in Africa has urged South Sudan church leaders to be united in their quest to bring change in the country. The five-member team said this while on a solidarity visit to Juba in August.

The leaders drawn from All Africa Conference of Churches (AACC), Association of Members of Catholic Episcopal Conference (AMECEA) and World Council of Churches (WCC) visited South Sudan on a mission to meet and pray with church leaders, and to encourage and urge politicians to work towards the goal of peace in South Sudan.

The delegation was led by Retired Archbishop of Anglican Church of Kenya, Eliud Wabukala. It comprised of Moderator Rev. Dr. Jesse Macharia Kamau, Rev. Dr. Lydia Mwaniki, Ms. Afiwa Allahare and Mr. Daniel Wang’ombe Kiriethe. The South Sudan Council of Churches (SSCC) hosted and facilitated meetings for the delegation.

In a meeting with the heads of the SSCC’s seven-member churches, the heads of churches urged members of the ecumenical family to actively advocate for peace in South Sudan. They encouraged them to redouble their efforts to persuade all parties involved in the peace deal that was signed last year to implement the requirments of the agreement.

“The implementation of the peace agreement is a priority for stabilization of the country”, the heads of churches told the delegation.

In a statement presented to the delegation by the SSCC General Secretary, the leaders argued that

“In order to help restore hope to the people, South Sudan should be allowed to grow its economy. This can only happen if there is a reduction in trade taxes and barriers, acceptance of the South Sudanese currency in the region, and support in infrastructure development,”  

“Only with a growing economy can peace be sustainable” said the leaders in their statement. 

The SSCC, also wanted protection for the people from violence and looting lately experienced in the country. It also wanted the leadership and the military of South Sudan to understand that the army should be there to protect the people, not to frighten them. SSCC leaders emphasised that humanitarian aid should be allowed to reach all people in need.

Past collaborations and ecumenical work

The ecumenical team was in the country to pray with the people of South Sudan and to get first-hand information on the crisis for the purpose of advocacy and support.

The team leader, Archbishop Wabukala, recalled the various visits the ecumenical body had made to the country. He regretted the current situation that the country found itself in.

“After the referendum vote, we thought South Sudan had arrived. Unfortunately, your situation with the violence in 2013 and July 2016 broke our hearts. We felt discouraged and saddened,’ he said.wabukala

Archbishop Wabukala (standing) addressing heads of churches of South Sudan in one of the meetings. 

Continue in solidarity and unity among yourselves

In a homily delivered by Dr. Kamau, the ecumenical team encouraged the people of South Sudan to continue trusting and hoping in God. Dr. Kamau drew from the history of God’s people in the Bible who passed through harsh situations, but came out of them victorious.

“We can never teach God how to help us…We cannot tell God how to care for us. But let us trust and obey God. Let us inquire from the Lord, how he wants us to speak.” he said. “Ours is to believe in God and put our hope in him. We are in a turbulent time. Politicians can be rough not only here but everywhere in any country…But God is saying “believe in me’…We are waiting for God’s intervention…let’s talk to God in unity as Christians.”

He encouraged the church to continue praying for South Sudan and urged the church in South Sudan to be united.

“Maintain solidarity among yourselves…We came here to stand with you in solidarity. We urge you to stand in unity because unity is one way through which God rescues his people,” he said.

He asked the church to be above political divides and tribal differences, and to remain as the people of one kingdom: the kingdom of God. He pleaded with them to work out their differences in a non-violent way.

Learning from each other: Lessons from Kenya

In the meeting, two members of the delegation, Lydia and Daniel from Kenya, shared with church leaders present how the church in Kenya learned from mistakes it made during the 2007/08 post-election violence. They encouraged the church in South Sudan to avoid being partisan in the current political stalemate in the country.

“Our experience of 2007/08, and recent events for election reforms in 2016, has proven to us the potential and influence of the church when it is working together. When the church decides to unite and speak in one voice, politicians listen. The church must give the guidance needed using its moral authority. You all have the obligation to provide guidance to political leaders,” the two delegates said. “We must warn you… [that] war divides us; it makes us forget we belong to a Higher Being.”

Church leaders highlighted problems facing South Sudan

Responding to the delegation’s sentiments, Archbishop Paulino Lukudu Loro of Roman Catholic Church, appreciated the team for remembering to visit South Sudan at a time when there was a lot of fear and uncertainty.

“Apart from war and violence, our country is faced by numerous problems. These include illiteracy, hunger for power, and greed for wealth…Our leaders have allowed themselves to be taken over by greed [for] power and wealth,” he lamented.

Bishop Enock Tombe of the Anglican diocese of Rejaf, and a member of the Joint Monitoring and Evaluation Commission (JMEC), a body charged to oversee implementation of the peace agreement signed in 2015, while appreciating the visit, also deplored how the leadership in South Sudan was unable to agree and share the country’s resources equitably.

“Our leaders do not know how to share resources. Due to poor management and war, our economy is collapsing…We are currently living in misery. It would be appropriate for the church to take care of the vulnerable through provision of relief,’ said Bishop Tombe.

He decried the issue of tribalism, which has made it difficult to have a united national army.

“The national army is currently formed on [a] tribal basis, which has made it difficult to have an army which is united,” he said. “The question of creating a national army is urgent and has to be addressed.”

Bishop Tombe asked the delegation to use the information they had gathered to advocate on behalf of the people of South Sudan.

“We should look for solutions from those who have experienced this kind of challenge before,” he said.

He regretted that the peace granters for the deal signed last year had relaxed, and that is why no proper implementation of the peace agreement happened.

In its statement, the SSCC said that many of its members were affected by the most recent violence.

“It was reported that 300 were killed in this recent fighting, but many more lives have actually been lost through the violence, due to hunger, disease and other effects the conflict had. Church personnel, clergy too, were also among the dead,” the statement said.

The SSCC said that the economic situation in the country was growing worse each day with food prices rising. It was pushing people into poverty.

“Many farmers have not been farming or harvesting their crops as [the] insecurity in [their] villages increases, reducing the availability of food. Numerous schools, health facilities and other basic services have closed or reduced operations. Many young people who should be involved in meaningful economic activity and education are now used to fight in this senseless conflict,” the statement added.

The SSCC asked the visiting church leaders to continue supporting the people of South Sudan residing in their countries.

“We ask your churches to provide a welcoming safe-haven and home for South Sudanese in your communities. Please host them and pray for their ability to return to their homeland,” SSCC said.

In conclusion, the meeting came up with recommendations that had been successful in other countries, which if implemented succesfully, may help to resolve the current crisis in South Sudan.

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