Peace message to South Sudan

August 17 – 18, 2016 Conference.  The All Africa Conference of Churches (AACC) organized an ecumenical high-level solidarity mission to South Sudan from 17 to 18 August 2016 in the framework of its Peace and Advocacy program. The aim of the mission was to express the solidarity of the Church in Africa with the Church and the people of South Sudan at this difficult time. It was also aimed at assuring them again of the prayers of their brothers and sisters all over the world and of the support of the AACC. It was important, so that they can stand firm and keep their prophetic voice, when the political leaders seem to be overwhelmed.

What the churches in South Sudan are doing. During the recent crisis, churches welcomed internally displaced people on their compounds and offered them basic necessities, in collaboration with the humanitarian agencies on the ground. They really became a sanctuary for many people. In order to strengthen their unity as the body of Christ, the South Sudan Council of Churches (SSCC) organized a meeting on 13 August 2016, which gathered almost 200 bishops and pastors across various Christian denominations, a historic event for the Church fraternity in South Sudan. During the meeting, they issued a common message on what they wanted to see happening in their country. In the document, they said: “We must now come together to lead God’s people to peace. Not just the peace that is signed with ink on paper, but also the peace that loves your neighbor and prays for those who persecute you” as recommended by the Bible. And also: “We have considered as member churches of SSCC to speak in one voice and walk in unity. Because a Church united is a wellspring of goodness for all”. The message is also urging them to refrain from using the pulpit to spread bitterness and division.

What women are doing.  Women also had been organizing a series of prayer and fasting meetings once every month, which are well attended. The latest had over 500 people in attendance. One of the participants, who work with the government, has also initiated a similar prayer session held every Monday.

The way forward.  The AACC will continue to pray for the country; help South Sudanese church leaders in advocating with relevant stakeholders in the region for peace in South Sudan; encourage its member churches to advocate with their respective governments for peace in South Sudan; help in the post-conflict reconstruction process; help in trauma healing processes; encourage women all over Africa to stand with the women of South Sudan in prayer.

Conclusion.  The ecumenical high-level visit was well appreciated by the various stakeholders. The AACC is pledging its willingness to continue accompanying the process towards peace and healing in South Sudan. It will endeavor to work with the South Sudan Council of Churches by providing expertise, guidance, resource persons and advocacy tools, whenever possible, in order to give to the people of South Sudan hope for a better future.

Adapted from Report of the Ecumenical Solidarity Mission to South Sudan, dated August 18, 2016, Nairobi.

 

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CASS applauds South Sudan progress

August 9, 2016

The recent meeting of the Assembly of Heads of State / Government of IGAD Plus held on August 5, 2016 in Addis Ababa opened a new window of hope to recover the lost peace process in South Sudan.

The Coalition of Advocates for South Sudan (CASS) applauds IGAD Plus for its “call upon the parties to desist from any negative rhetoric that undermines the Agreement to Resolve the Conflict in South Sudan (ARCSS) and to honor their commitment that they have entered into upon the signing of the Agreement and urge them to fully implement it as it is the only framework for durable peace, reconciliation and national cohesion”. The full implementation of the Agreement is the remedy for the existing march toward tribal genocide and anarchy.

We appreciate the government’s acceptance of the deployment of the “Protection Forces” and extension of the UNMISS mandate as well as the willingness of Hon. Taban Gai to step down upon the return of Dr. Riek Machar to implement the ARCSS with President Salva Kiir Mayardit.

CASS urges the two main parties in the conflict to swiftly and conscientiously restore, respect and fully implement the nearly collapsed Agreement. Lack of implementation and delays have been the cause of immeasurable human suffering and lawlessness.

CASS urges the African Union and the United Nations to deploy only well trained, well disciplined, well equipped, and well led soldiers with a strong mandate and clear chain of command to correct the failures of forces in both Malakal and Juba.

CASS urges the government of national unity, urgently, to allow and facilitate humanitarian aid to reach the people who desperately need it.

CASS urges the Diaspora and South Sudanese diplomats to be cautious on the use of social media and actively avoid divisiveness, tribal hate speech, misinformation, and any action which may hamper progress toward peace.

CASS urges the UN, AU, IGAD and Troika to remain highly engaged in South Sudan to assure full implementation of the Agreement. To that end, CASS encourages Secretary of State John Kerry to appoint a separate special envoy for South Sudan to allow the necessary engagement.

As citizens, let us speak with one voice to end the violence, to facilitate humanitarian aid, and to progress toward a just and lasting peace.

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South Sudan churches ask for prayers and advocacy to end violence

Global partners in South Sudan continue to ask for prayers, but also for advocacy.

The fragile cease-fire in the country is holding for the moment. The Rt. Rev. Peter Gai, chair of the South Sudan Council Churches and Moderator of the Presbyterian Church of South Sudan, said by phone July 15 in the afternoon that for the moment, the city feels calm.

Presbyterian World Mission Africa Coordinator the Rev. Debbie Braaksma spoke with Gai and assured him Presbyterians in the U.S. are standing with them. The South Sudan Council of Churches has called for a national day of prayer tomorrow, Saturday, and he is inviting all PC(USA) congregations to join them in prayers this Sunday. He also spoke about the importance of advocacy.

“The advocacy is not only necessary to stop the fighting, it will provide hope so that the South Sudanese know that they are not alone and to know that people in the other part of the world are standing with them,” he said. “It will be very encouraging for Christians to know that members of the Presbyterian Church USA are actively advocating for peace. “

The Revs. Nancy and Shelvis Smith-Mather are PC(USA) mission co-workers in South Sudan, and are currently in the U.S. speaking to churches. They are gravely concerned for their partners and friends.

“God allows our family to accompany South Sudanese partners at the grassroots level, and as we sit together under mango trees and discuss peacebuilding, our colleagues lift up the need for continued pressure on their political leaders, encouraging them towards peace,” Nancy Smith-Mather said. “During those conversations, I am deeply grateful to know that the PC(USA) Office of Public Witness in Washington, D.C. and Presbyterian Ministry at the United Nations in New York are bringing our partners’ voices to the table to influence U.S. international policies. While called to different roles and functions, working together creates greater impact, and we give God thanks for uniting our efforts towards peace.”

Meanwhile, the Presbyterian Mission Agency is calling for an increase in humanitarian assistance for the people of South Sudan. In an action alert issued this afternoon, the Office of Public Witness said thousands are in need of assistance.

“The United Nations estimates nearly 40,000 people have been displaced during the crisis while at least 7,000 of them took refuge in different churches or parishes,” the alert states. “To make matters worse, the central warehouse of the United Nations World Food Programme has been looted.”

The warehouse held one month’s worth of food and nutrition supplies for more than 220,000 people.

“We know that the basic humanitarian needs of our sisters and brothers in South Sudan is vitally important to their continued work for a just and lasting peace,” said Ryan Smith, Presbyterian representative at the United Nations. “Humanitarian needs and peace are so closely linked that we need to ask that the international community as well as our own government in Washington, D.C. to focus on both in order to help the people of South Sudan live into their full potential.”

By Kathy Melvin and Rick Jones | Presbyterian News Service

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‘Continue to pray because we don’t know the future’

Although all PC(USA) mission co-workers have left South Sudan, there is grave concern for those who are left behind.

One of those left behind is the Rev. John Yor, General Secretary of the South Sudan Council of Churches, a PC(USA) global partner. He said while there is a fragile cease-fire, reports are that people are being profiled and killed based on their ethnic group. “No one’s hands are clean,” he said.

He reported that stores are being looted and there is no food available in the capital city of Juba. About 30,000 troops from Uganda have entered the country, with the stated purpose of rescuing Ugandan nationals, but many in South Sudan fear they will stay and further complicate an already unstable situation. There are rumors that the Republic of Sudan to the north may try to intervene as well.

The Rev. Philip Obang, General Secretary of the South Sudan Presbyterian Evangelical Church, said, “The situation is Juba is better than it has been in the last six days so your prayers have been answered. Continue to pray because we don’t know the future. We do not know how things will proceed for a sustainable peace. Pray that God will intervene so that the two sides can reconcile and stop the war.”

South Sudan Presbyterian Evangelical Church Moderator the Rev. James Par Tap, said the country is being dragged into a leadership crisis. “Ugandan troops have moved in. U.S. intervention is a must to rescue this country and save lives. The peace agreement reached in August 2015 was brought through pressure by Christians. We urge all Christians in the U.S. to pressure the leadership of the United States to put an end to this human suffering and to pray for us.”

Both South Sudanese church leaders said hunger is a pressing issue now. Traders are not willing or able to bring food into the country and the little remaining food has been taken by looters.

The Presbyterian Ministry at the United Nations is having high-level meetings to share communication from PCUSA partners in South Sudan. The Office of Public Witness is also engaged in meetings with senior officials at the White House.

“The opportunity for the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) to bring the concerns of our partners to decisions makers at the United Nations is an important dimension of the Church’s ministry to bring Christ’s peace to the world,” said Ryan Smith of the Presbyterian Ministry at the United Nations.

By Kathy Melvin | Presbyterian News Service

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Prayer request from Bishop Abraham Nhial

Dear all,
I am writing to ask you all, your families, friends and Churches to pray for us in South Sudan. The recent fighting has killed many people and displaced many from their homes. But the Church of God is still united with each other and with Jesus. Together, we are brothers and sisters, in Jesus Christ.

This is my prayer. God, you rule all the peoples of the world. Inspire the minds of all people of South Sudan, give to them the vision of peace, love, unity, truth and justice, that together we may be one people through the One in whom we all are one, your Son Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, for your prayers. God bless you all.

Yours in Christ’s service,
Bishop Abraham Nhial

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The people of South Sudan covet your prayers

This is a July 9 (Saturday) report from a Presbyterian mission co-worker based in Juba:

        On Thursday morning, a PCOSS officer remarked that he was happy to awaken to calm in the city of Juba. The news of a scrimmage between the two factions of soldiers and the secret murders and disappearances of strategic members of the opposition had left each of them with a restless night and fear that before the end of the day, South Sudan could relapse into full-scale war. The huge presence of soldiers was a testimony of this possibility.
          On Friday morning after struggling to get to the Juba office (two buses – one of which broke down on the way – and trudging some distance through slippery mud), the official and other colleagues were adamant that we must all leave the office by noon because the situation was quite tense. By early afternoon, the roads were full of people struggling to get away from possible bullets and toward a place of safety.
         A PCOSS sister took the time to stop by my place on her way home. She wanted to check on me, pray with me and bring me a few vegetables just in case the situation got bad. She said that the PCOSS is responsible for me and wanted to make sure that I would be okay if the city disintegrated into chaos.
          Less than 30 minutes later, unrelenting gunfire was heard. I hunkered down and prayed that the people still trying to get home would reach safely. When another PCOSS official called, his concern for the country was echoed in his voice. He sounded so broken.
From reports I received on Saturday, many soldiers were killed. The number of civilians injured or lost in the crossfire is still unknown. For the moment, the city seems calm. It is definitely quiet although this should be a day when people are celebrating, for it is the anniversary of the country’s independence.
          The South Sudanese citizens are tired of the conflict. They just want to live in peace and prosperity. Let us continue to pray day in and day out. See prayer page.

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On Unilateral Decisions within South Sudan’s Presidency

Sudan Advocacy Action Forum (SAAF) has advocated for a just and lasting peace in South Sudan since prior to the new nation’s independence. We are grateful for the prospect of peace, reconciliation, forgiveness, accountability, and healing following the signing of the Agreement on the Resolution of the Conflict in the Republic of South Sudan (ARCSS) in August 2015. The return of Dr. Riek Machar to Juba to assume his role as First Vice President has given the people of South Sudan hope for stability and protection.

As were many South Sudanese and friends of South Sudan at large, SAAF was seriously disturbed by the Op-ed published in the New York Times, allegedly co-authored by President Salva Kiir and First Vice President Dr. Riek Machar. Dr. Machar quickly rejected having played any role in preparing or approving the article. Following further investigation, it was reported that the article was written and authorized by President Kiir’s press spokesperson Mr. Ateny Wek Ateny without the knowledge of the alleged signatories.

This suggests that there remain within the staff of the Presidency those who do not support the peace agreement and requirements that it prescribes for the Transitional Government of National Unity (TGONU). Mr. Ateny must be held accountable for his specific actions and all who do not support the implementation of the ARCSS should be removed from the staff of the Presidency.

The South Sudanese people have endured over two years of a particularly brutal and inhumane civil war. Even with the recent establishment of TGONU, as prescribed by the ARCSS, the country still continues to face insecurity, economic instability, and humanitarian catastrophe. To avoid security and economic pitfalls, SAAF urges the Presidency and the TGONU to assure immediate and full implementation of the ARCSS with emphasis on compliance with section 8. Powers, Functions and Responsibilities to be exercised by the President, the First Vice President and the Vice President through consultation and mutual agreement.

Dr. Eleanor Wright, SAAF Moderator

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What is wrong with the world?

Ferdinand Von Habsburg-Lothringen’s participation in a panel discussion at Catholic University in Juba on April 22, 2016 follows:

I wanted to share a few ideas with you today, so let me start with a quote from Pope Francis… “War does not begin in the field of battle. Wars begin in the heart of … misunderstandings, divisions, jealousies.”

– Our imagination, our wounds, our anger, our stories and experiences can give a core to violence long before it occurs. In the same way, we can love ourselves and others and build peace long before peace agreements are signed. We must fight our own internal battles first and try to win them or risk losing the war that could continue to destroy our country of South Sudan!

I want to look at three areas briefly today: Where do we find ourselves, what are our challenges and finally, how can we journey to a better place.

Where do we find ourselves?

– I have often wondered why we talk of cycles of violence. When I was reading and reflecting, I thought I found an answer. Firstly, trauma, which is a form of psychological re-living of violent event(s) around us and to us, recreates the very clearest sensation of the original pain, potentially negatively impacting on our thoughts and behavior. Many of us feel it and know it, but perhaps we call it something else.

– So I ask myself, when did the troubles in many parts of the country begin and are we reliving them? Many conflicts are at least 20 years old or one generation ago, and many of the very people who commit acts of violence against each other today are among those who were breast-fed on stories that give birth to today’s hatred and despair, whose parents saw and experienced some of the first problems. Trauma can be transferred to another generation. A full cycle.

– The process of prejudices becoming ingrained in young children happens even as they develop their language. And so we are saying that we learn our world views with all their biases from our earliest moments with our parents, our relatives.

– So, we may not only have pain imprinted on us because we happen to have been born in Sudan, grew up in Southern Sudan and now are becoming adults in South Sudan. But we also often learn things that we have to unlearn from behavior.

Challenges we face

This leaves us with a tremendous challenge: where does the problem lie? But also, how do we begin to solve it?

– G.K. Chesterton was once asked by someone, “What is wrong with the world?” He famously replied, “I am.”  I believe that this question, but especially the answer, is key to our thinking. I am wrong with the world. The person central to the story even though we are in South Sudan is I, or you, or she, or he or they, not only our leaders. And we are not perfect, are we? We are human, and we make mistakes; we are blessed, and we bring goodness. And we are wounded by our pasts. Often our first reaction when the world is not right is to blame others. No one wants to be seen as vulnerable or wrong. As children we can still hear ourselves saying: It was not me, it was him or her!

– Now if we are to go by some statistics for how conflict has affected South Sudanese, we see anywhere between 40% and 60% of people surveyed have been severely affected by violent conflict. Whatever these statistics tell us, we can be sure that three civil wars have had a profound and negative impact on people.

– Even 21 years after the genocide in Rwanda a study shows that 26% of the population continues to have symptoms of trauma. One in every four Rwandans. Thus we can say that the effects of conflicts will likely be with us for generations.

– In the 90s people fled with their children (many of you were those children) and in 2013, those children have now grown up and flee with their own children.

– Many of us are enslaved by our past, or the past of our parents and their parents. Deal with your past, or the past will deal with you. And so we are alive, but not fully living. As one Rwandan professor said, “You need to do more than survive – you need to make a kind of journey, to be able to live again.”

– Can we blame leaders, or the international community, or any other group for what has happened all those years? I will not answer that, but if we do, we also have to blame ourselves. By our actions, our words, even by our silence, we are to blame. When we joke about others or other communities, when we tell our children that the enemy lives over there or that they cannot marry into this tribe or that, then we feed the great monster that may later destroy this nation. We can all be part of the problem but above all we must be a part of the solution.

How can we journey to that better place?

– I mentioned a journey that we must all make each day, and until the end of our lives. But before you go on a journey, what do you do? You calculate where and how far to go, what you need to complete it, etc. This journey is not any journey, it is the most important journey towards peace within ourselves, with our fellow citizens and therefore with God. Without this journey, South Sudan will not exist as a nation.

In October 2014, when 75 people from all over the country had spent one month together in Yei reflecting about peace, they were asked what they would do on reaching home after the training. Many had big plans but I recall one man saying: “I will try to explain my journey towards peace to my family, but I am not sure I will succeed.”  You can see that he was calculating how far he would have to go: to undo his behavior, to explain why he was going to do this, to justify that he was not going to behave in a certain communal way, but look at his wounds and try to heal. You see the risks!

– On a hard journey, you need a good walking stick. That support should be your family, friends, perhaps a counselor, a church leader. People who are not afraid that you are going on that journey, who will not try to tell you: No! Stay with us!

Ask yourselves, “What kind of a world do we and our children want to live in?” Tell yourself, “There is a better way.” And deny the lie that war and violence is inevitable and that enemies must be fought and killed – we are speaking about brothers and sisters, not enemies.

– Imagine that you are showing your children the way on that journey. Do you choose for them a road of bitterness and death? Do they know that you are choosing that road for them? Do not give your children your wounds, bear yours yourselves. Their journey should be a peaceful journey in a peaceful world.

– We also need good sign posts that show the way – they warn us when we have to stop, or move, or go one way or another… If we understand what harm internal wounds do to us, how they can affect our behavior negatively, then that understanding guides us to be careful, to slow down, and perhaps even to change direction. Living directly out of the anger of our wounds will lead to far more serious consequences.

– One of my favorite passages is Ezekiel Chapter 37 that talks of a valley of bones – a vision of hopelessness and lifelessness: Our bones are dried up and our hope is gone.

– What are we waiting for to give us hope? Money, cars, power? What will heal our wounds and make us and our nation whole will not come from these but from silent reflection. When I stop making noise, then in the silence I will find the place where I am broken, wounded, dying. I may choose to understand that this pain holds despair that can destroy me or I may say that this pain holds a promise that can transform me, one day at a time.

Finally…
– What is wrong with the world? I am.
What is right with our world? We are.

– Reaching into that woundedness of mine, I need to listen to your woundedness. Because the whole that is the nation of South Sudan has been broken, you and I. Your truth must become my truth and we will see that we are no different one from the other… We have all been wounded. With compassion, I can indeed suffer with you or him or her on our journey together in search for life. I free you for you to free me, by the grace of God. And forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.

If we each understand one another’s suffering then the wounds are the very way through which we can all become wounded healers ourselves – a new vision as the dry bones come to life, filled with the new Spirit. A new body, with all its beautiful parts coming to life, through healing… A fellowship of the weak, where strength is hidden in the weakness. I cannot say: I am reconciled or I am healed because I have not reached the end of the journey yet. I must face myself and others each day, sacrificing my pride, cooling my anger, telling my children a new beautiful story. If we know that our journey is a long one and that we are sending all our children on it, too, then we have no time to lose… True community, true nationhood is a fellowship of the weak.

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Candidates, what is your policy on South Sudan?

The Coalition of Advocates for South Sudan (CASS) sent requests to the leading presidential candidates regarding their policy on South Sudan. The letter follows:

We, the Coalition of Advocates for South Sudan, write to request your policy on South Sudan should you become President of the United States of America.

Coalition of Advocates for South Sudan (CASS) is a U.S. based group representing tens of thousands of South Sudanese members of the Diaspora and their American friends. The group was established in April 2014 in response to the civil war that broke out in South Sudan on December 2013 after the country’s independence in 2011. The mission of CASS is to help establish a just and lasting peace in South Sudan, and its advocacy is directly informed by events on the ground and by South Sudanese who urgently seek justice, peace, end to violence, and the establishment of a democratic nation with equality for all.

The United States, under the Clinton, Bush and Obama Administrations, has worked tirelessly to support peace in South Sudan; and the U.S. has saved the lives of countless South Sudanese by providing humanitarian aid for people forced to live in some of the most desperate conditions on our planet. Americans representing every faith, race and occupation have lobbied Congress and successive Administrations to end mass atrocities in South Sudan, and Congress has repeatedly demonstrated steadfast bi-partisan support for these efforts. Americans have opened their homes, churches have rallied support, and schools and communities have provided opportunities for South Sudanese who have sought safety in the United States. Many, hope to one day return and rebuild their country. 

In South Sudan, a fragile peace agreement was signed between the warring parties. Its implementation must be enforced and the country will require the ongoing friendship of the United States for years to come to help a nation that was isolated and devastated by decades of war overcome the trauma and challenges it faces to develop the capacity and infrastructure to govern and develop in a way that best serves the people of South Sudan. The U.S. must support their tireless efforts, while seeking to provide humanitarian aid to those in need, protection for those in grave danger, and justice for those harmed in such horrific ways during the current civil war.

Americans have shown great love and care for the people of South Sudan, and we are extremely grateful. We thank you for considering our request for your policy on South Sudan, and we look forward to your response.

For the Board of Directors and membership:

Kwaje Lasu

Chairman, CASS

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GoSS to hire 20,000 Zimbabweans, not South Sudanese?

The Voice of the Diaspora, Coalition of Advocates for South Sudan, advises priority in GoSS hiring of South Sudanese in country, other East African nations, and in the West, rather than Zimbabweans. This will require the establishment of a well-resourced listing of South Sudanese, including those in the diaspora, who have specific skills based on training, education and experience.  Read more

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