An appeal from the heart

IMG_3731Bishop Abraham Yel Nhial of the Diocese of Aweil, South Sudan has written an open letter to South Sudan’s political leaders. It expresses some of the deep frustration that so many South Sudanese are feeling with their leaders.

A MESSAGE FOR SOUTH SUDAN POLITICAL LEADERS AND CITIZENS

I want to appeal to South Sudanese political leaders, that if you believe in God, you must also believe that killing is a sin. Can you believe in God and not believing that killing is a sin? You all the times go to church to pray, what really do you pray for? What does God means to you and your faith? I thought that you, our leaders in persons of President Salva Kiir and Dr. Riek Machar knew what God’s will is for you in your leadership as leaders of our beloved nation over the last eight years? It is very unfortunate that both of you are forgetting why God gave you this responsibility to lead this nascent and fragile young nation.

Brothers in Christ, our leaders of South Sudan; God’s will for you President Salva Kiir Mayardit and former Vice Dr. Riek Machar is to bring peace, reconciliation and forgiveness among yourselves and to our innocent civil population who are dying because of you. South Sudanese have dangerously broken apart under your leadership. Please turn back and see by yourselves the damages that a month long war has caused this nation. How many people have died? What reasons have they died for? Have they taken part in your political debate in Juba? Give peace a chance!

Juba, Jonglei, Unity and Upper Nile states have lost all citizens that you would want to vote for you tomorrow to unjustified war. What message will you tell the remnant? All the remnants and those who are directly or indirectly affected are left with terrible trauma and or physical damages.

President Salva Kiir and Dr. Riek Machar, if you turn to peace, reconciliation, forgiveness and national healing, both of you will be remembered as great sons of South Sudan in this generation and generations to come. Please think and make your decisions wisely!

All in all, allow God to change your hearts! Scripture says, “Beyond all these things put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity. Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts to which indeed you were called in one body; and be thankful” (Colossians 3:14-15). We, all Christians of South Sudan have one mission. Our mission in this fighting in our beloved nation is to plant peace, forgiveness, and national healing where hatred and unjust killing had been planted.

I believed all Christians have peace to offer to our politicians who lost the vision and the mission of South Sudan as a nation. It is also our role as Christians to encourage our people who are silently grieving for the killing of their beloved ones to accept reconciliation and forgiveness as the only way forward so that their contrite hearts are inwardly reversed. I appeal to all Christians to stand strong through the storm of conflict with message of peace in our heart knowing that this conflict will come to pass. Blessed are the peacemakers (Matthew 5:9). Be a peacemaker!

Finally, we all are heartbroken because of the wrong direction our nation has taken and continues in it. As a servant of God, my advice to you all is to take charge of your life and take charge of the future of our nation; don’t allow being used by desperate politicians.

Above all, lets continue praying to God to bring divine intervene soon and restore back the South Sudan in just peace; our hope is in Jesus alone. Jesus is the true foundation of our unity without Him we will never be united.

Written by Rt. Rev. Abraham Yel Nhial

The Bishop of Diocese of Aweil

Episcopal Church of South Sudan and Sudan (ECSS &S)

Northern Bahr el Ghazal State

Republic of South Sudan

Bishop Abraham’s ministry in the Diocese of Aweil features in chapter 15 of my new book, Backpacking through the Anglican Communion. Bishop Abraham is also the author of a book of his own, Lost Boy No More.

The ministry of reconciliation in Kakuma

IMG_3731This morning, I spoke with Bishop Abraham Nhial of the diocese of Aweil in South Sudan. (I have visited with Abraham several times, including a visit to the critical Abyei region.) When South Sudan’s violence broke out two weeks ago, he was in Kenya visiting his family and was unable to return home. Instead, he travelled to Kakuma Refugee Camp in northwest Kenya, a place he lived for nearly a decade in the 1990s.

Kakuma is part of the archipelago of Sudanese communities in Kenya. One major impact of Sudan’s second civil war was the creation of an international southern Sudanese diaspora. Hundreds of thousands sought refuge both within Sudan and without, in camps in Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda, and elsewhere. From there, some were resettled in places like Australia, Canada, and the United States.

Although the end of the war in 2005 induced some people to return, many thousands still remain abroad. Because Kenya is more stable and has better schools than South Sudan, many South Sudanese send their children to school in Kenya because nothing in South Sudan is able to match the quality. In addition to Kakuma, many Sudanese have moved south and there are now fair-sized Sudanese communities in places like Eldoret, Nakura, and Nairobi.

A church service at Kakuma Refugee Camp, Kenya, c. 1995
A church service at Kakuma Refugee Camp, Kenya, c. 1995

Bishop Abraham reports that there are new arrivals in Kakuma, fleeing South Sudan’s violence in a wearingly familiar pattern. It is difficult to ascertain just how many new people have arrived but some, he said, had come all the way from Bor, which surprised me given the distance.

The church remains a significant presence in Kakuma and Abraham’s purpose in visiting was to meet with church leaders and church members. During the 1990s, there were frequently significant tensions between the Dinka and Nuer communities in Kakuma. Although the ongoing violence in South Sudan is primarily political in nature, it does have ethnic elements—often as a result of leaders who find benefit in stirring up such tensions—and there was concern such tensions could spill over into Kenya again. Abraham met with Christians in Kakuma from several ethnic groups to teach about the ministry of reconciliation that belongs to all Christians and to encourage them to refrain from violence. Two other bishops who were in Kenya are doing the same with other Sudanese communities. To date, such efforts appear to have been successful and those eager to replicate South Sudan’s violence in Kenya have been thwarted.

Abraham also reported that he has been in touch with his diocese and “all seems OK.” He is unable to return there currently because flights have been cancelled. Based on what he had heard—and this is confirmed by all the news reports—the main areas of the country that are affected remain a swathe from Bor through Malakal to Bentiu. Abraham also said that unlike the previous civil war, it does not seem as if civilians are being deliberately targeted. Small victories.

These, of course, are second-hand reports. What was important for me about the phone call was the reminder of the church’s work among South Sudanese in Kenya. It is a model of the kind of small-scale, grassroots reconciliation work that will never grab headlines but yet remains of critical importance in preventing the spread of violence—and, we hope, of working towards a durable peace.

UPDATE, 31 December: This e-mail from Bishop Abraham just came in, in which he describes his visit to Kakuma:

Dear all,

I would like to inform you all that I arrived safely today to Nakuru where my family live and I thank you all for your prayers. The mission was successful because of your prayers, we had celebrated the birth of Jesus Christ at Zone Parish where more than 3,000 Christians attended the church.

On Friday December 27, 2013, I met with pastors from Nuer and Dinka, who are serving South Sudanese people in the Camp. These pastors has demonstrated their call as peacemakers and ambassadors for Christ for reconciliation as they preached the message of peace, forgiveness, and unity of our people in their Churches. They promised me that they will keep the unity of our people regardless of what politicians are doing now in our beloved nation. We refused to be divided. We are Christians and we are one before God. I am proud of them.

However, these pastors need urgent training on peace building, mediating and reconciliation for them to be more effective in the Camp and back home. They are willing to go back to South Sudan as a team to preach the message of peace, unity and love to our people.

If your organization or a church is willing to come to train them or sponsor the training they will appreciate it very much. Also, today in Nairobi the Dinka and Nuer pastors, community and youth leaders are meeting to work together as peacemakers.

Again, thank you all for your prayers and advocacy work you all are carry on for your brothers and sisters in Christ in South Sudan. We appreciate every thing you do to stop this fighting. Happy New Year 2014. God bless you all.

Yours in Christ’s service,

Bishop Abraham Nhial

(Some of the photos in this post have been collected from private individuals in the course of my doctoral research. Please do not use them without first contacting me. Bishop Abraham features in my new book, Backpacking through the Anglican Communion, which contains much more about the history of the church in South Sudan.)