From time to time on this blog, I go on about how in many parts of the world, it is the church that is the main organization in society able to deliver goods and services to the people. I’ve found this to be true, for instance, in South Sudan where the weak government struggles to make its presence felt while the church is in every last village and community.
The church isn’t perfect but at least it’s there and provides a basic sort of social infrastructure. It was a view best summarized for me by a Sudanese priest who told me last summer: “We are the church. We are always on the ground!” Unfortunately, as I’ve noted before, western media seem incapable of understanding what a different role the church plays in a non-western context.
There’s a new report from the British Parliament’s International Development Committee that reaches this same conclusion and calls for its own Department for International Development to be more intentional about partnering with the church.
This is particularly true on education, say the report’s authors:
When allocating funds for its development projects, DFID should as far as possible seek to strengthen and complement the limited internal capacity that already exists within South Sudan. We have some concerns that DFID’s decision to fund the United Nations rather than the Episcopal Church of Sudan to deliver its school construction programme misses an opportunity to do so.
The same is true for the important work of peace-building and reconciliation that is going on in South Sudan. The report highlights the role people like Archbishop Daniel Deng Bul of the Episcopal Church of Sudan have played in negotiating peace in some very difficult situations:
It will clearly take time to build the capacity of the GRSS, army and police to take on primary responsibility for peacekeeping and mediation. In the meantime, DFID must not disregard the constructive role that the Sudan Council of Churches can play in this area.
Reports like these are easily lost in the swirl of government paperwork and I don’t expect any major changes in policy. And it’s worth noting that the report has a bleak outlook on the immediate future in the world’s newest nation—that is probably the major take-away here. Still, it’s nice when the government can start pointing out what has long been obvious to all involved, and maybe begin to shape policy in new directions.