Folks who know I’ve spent some time in Sudan have lately been in habit of beginning conversations with me like this: “Isn’t the news from Sudan awful?!”
I never quite know how to respond. On the one hand, yes, it is true: what filters out in the wider world—and onto top-of-the-hour NPR newscasts—is pretty bad. On the other hand, Sudan and South Sudan are both hugely complex places that make me uncomfortable rendering sweeping judgements. Yes, it seems renewed war between north and south is a real possibility. On the other hand, there’s news of a (church-led) peace conference in Jonglei, a separate, non-border part of South Sudan, which, before the doings of the last few weeks, has been a source of awful news. At the same time, a conflict that has been going on for nearly a year continues in the Nuba Mountains and elsewhere along the border.
So when people ask me this question, I—who have no special insight or knowledge beyond what is publicly available to all—usually say, yes, there’s been some bad news but I have a lot of hope about the future.
One reason for hope centres on the ongoing role of the church in peace-building. Several Catholic and Episcopal bishops recently met in Yei and articulated some of their hopes for the future. The statement is worth reading in its entirety but here are a few extracts:
The Church is not only for Christians nor for South Sudanese. The Church identifies with the poor and oppressed of any creed, ethnicity or nationality, wherever they are…. We bring to the world not the voice of politicians, parties or movements but of the people on the ground, who are suffering a humanitarian tragedy and whose human dignity and human rights are not respected by their own government.
Martin Luther King famously said, “I have a dream”. We too have a dream, a vision, a conviction. Our dream is based on Gospel values; on the Church’s prophetic stance on justice and peace; and on the dignity of each human being, created in the image and likeness of God. Where others see problems, we see the presence of God and the opportunities which God’s presence opens up for us. The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, for he has anointed me to bring good news to the afflicted (Luke 4:18). Our dream is an expression of this Good News….
We dream of people no longer traumatised, of children who can go to school, of mothers who can attend clinics, of an end to poverty and malnutrition, and of Christians and Muslims who can attend church or mosque freely without fear. Enough is enough. There should be no more war between Sudan and South Sudan!
Blessed are the peacemakers; they shall be recognised as children of God (Matthew 5:9). We take this very seriously, and we stand committed to do all in our power to make our dream a reality. We believe that the people and government of South Sudan desperately want peace. We believe the same is true of the people and their liberation movements in the Nuba Mountains and Blue Nile. We do not believe, however, that a lasting peace will come unless all parties act in good faith. Trust must be built, and this involves honesty, however painful that may be. We invite the International Community to walk with us on the painful journey of exploring the truth in competing claims and counter-claims, allegations and counter-allegations. We invite them to understand the peaceful aspirations of the ordinary people, and to reflect that in their statements and actions.
So, get involved in Sudan. Pay attention. Become an advocate. Do what the bishops are asking and walk with Sudanese on “the painful journey of exploring the truth.”
Is the news awful? In many places, yes. Is the situation without hope? Absolutely not.