The logic of violence in South Sudan

In the past week, there’s been sustained violence in Yambio, the capital of Western Equatoria state in South Sudan.

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Main St., Yambio

A friend in the area wrote me this:

Beginning from Wednesday last week has been very hard for Yambio, many people have been killed. A delegation from Juba came in to try to sort out the issues. They left yesterday. [There are] many IDPs [internally displaced persons] in various points including the UPDF [Ugandan army] base in Nzara airstrip, ADRA compound in Yambio and other churches. Starvation is getting high.

The news is somewhat surprising because Western Equatoria has been largely remote from the ongoing violence in parts of South Sudan that began in December 2013. This news report frames the conflict as being one between members of the Zande and Dinka ethnic groups. There’s probably some truth to that, though as always it’s important to understand the long history.

The Zande are an agrarian people and the Dinka are cattle-keeping pastoralists. I don’t want to essentialize people, but I remember on a visit to Western Equatoria once seeing several Dinka driving a huge herd of cattle down the road. (Our car had to pull off to the side.) On either side of the road were the farms of the Zande. It’s basic, but you can see the potential for conflict right there.

But there’s a more recent history as well. Yambio is the heartland of the former Zande kingdom, which was dismantled with the coming of colonialism. Dinka are more recent arrivals. During Sudan’s second civil war in the 1980s and 1990s, the rebel Sudan People’s Liberation Army—dominated by Dinka—”liberated” western Equatoria early on but then ruled the territory in ways that made many Zande resent their presence.

In any event, this recent violence in Western Equatoria pales in comparison to what is going on in other parts of the country, where horrific reports are emerging of violence involving Dinka and Nuer. But I highlight this episode for two reasons.

First, it shows the logic of violence. When a state can’t stop violence—indeed, when it becomes a perpetrator—people start thinking that violence is a legitimate recourse to “resolve” grievances. In this case, the particular grievance appears to be the governor. As South Sudan’s civil war stretches on without any meaningful resolution, the logic of violence is that it will only spread until it comes to seem as if it is the only way to address conflict.

Second, I was struck by the note my friend sent me. The government comes. The government “sorts things out.” The government moves on. And what remains? People whose lives have been changed, who are seeking refuge and who are now displaced. What happens to them? The cumulative impact of these “small” outbreaks of violence is only to further destablize and set back the country.

My friend, who works in the church, concluded his e-mail by saying that church leaders are meeting to consider their response. I shall share more information as I receive it.

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South Sudan, four years on

It is July 9. Four years ago on this day, I was in Juba, South Sudan as the newest nation in the world was inaugurated. After decades of civil war, South Sudan at last had achieved its independence. It was a day that was palpably full of hope, expectation, and wonder.IMG_3318.JPGIMG_3322.JPG

Now, those memories seem like a terrible joke. In the intervening four years, South Sudan has fought brief battles with the north. Most cataclysmically, since December 2013, parts of the country have been consumed by civil war.

I am in the process of writing finishing a dissertation about South Sudan during its earlier civil war, the one between 1983 and 2005. What has struck me most powerfully in these last 18 months is the sheer number of parallels between the conditions on the ground now and what was reported two or three decades ago. You would have thought we could have moved past this but, no, unfortunately, it seems we cannot.

When this latest round of violence began, I had a lengthy series of posts reporting what I had heard in phone calls and e-mails from friends across South Sudan. In time, I ended that series not because I stopped caring but because it didn’t seem as if many people cared. I have continued to stay in touch with friends and church colleagues in South Sudan and abroad, continued to attend conferences related to the matter, and continued to keep the country and its churches in my prayers. Meanwhile, South Sudan’s spectacularly inadequate leaders participate in periodic “peace negotiations” in some of Africa’s finest hotels, make all the right noises—and then fail to effect any improvement in the suffering of their people.

So where does that leave us now, “us” here meaning people who don’t live in South Sudan but feel a great attachment to its people and its churches and so desperately want to see them succeed? On the fourth anniversary of independence, three thoughts come to mind:

  • First, while it is true that the effects of the violence in South Sudan are horrific, it’s not the case that these effects are equally spread across the entire country. The entire country is not equally consumed by civil war. This is important, if for no other reason than that we should not write off the entire place as beyond our help.
  • Second, the causes of this violence are deeply, profoundly complex. It has to do with the prevalence of small arms in the country, existing patterns of religious leadership, opportunities for young men, the lack of infrastructure in the country, and a whole lot else. One part of this is the division between two major ethnic groups, Dinka and Nuer, a division we should note that is largely due to policies pursued by the British colonial government. It is this division, however, that tends to get all the attention.
  • Finally, at one conference I attended, there was much despair about the present situation. But one person who has been involved in South Sudan for a very long time said at the end of his presentation that his grounds for hope came from the possibilities of working with and through small-scale, local institutions. He had largely given up on the existing national leadership and national institutions, but he did think there was lots of potential for working at a more grassroots level in various places of the country. He didn’t say this at the time but I immediately thought, “Oh, the churches.”

Speaking of the churches, many Christian leaders—under the leadership of the Anglican archbishop, Daniel Deng Bul—have come together to launch a National Platform for Peace and Reconciliation. One focus of this work has been training people for reconciliation work at a grassroots level. There are two short videos about this work.

It is very easy to lose hope when thinking about South Sudan. Christians, however, believe that new life follows moments of death and despair. The reconciling work of the church—however limited, local, and small-scale—remains the grounds of whatever hope I continue to have.

South Sudan, three years on

Three years ago today, I was in Juba, South Sudan for the birth of the world’s newest nation. After decades of civil war, South Sudan broke away from Sudan under the terms of a negotiated peace settlement.

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It was an overwhelming day. I remember walking out to the site of the celebrations around 6.30 in the morning. The streets were full of people with an eager energy. At the site itself, there were crowds and crowds of people dancing and singing and celebrating—including some Anglican priests.

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(I’ve been posting more photos from three years on my Twitter feed this morning.)

There was this powerful sense of hope for the future, that at last, after so much war, South Sudanese would be able to set their own course. I remember speaking to one bishop who was near tears as he told me, “I know so many people who did not live to see this day.” Every word he met in a profoundly literal sense. There was a sense of obligation to those who had died to craft this new future together.

As I recall, the actual events surrounding independence were rather banal. They began late, the speeches lasted too long, the sound system didn’t work so well, the crowds began to get impatient, and the jaded foreign correspondents started smoking. It was hot, of course, and for those of us out in the cheap seats, it was not always terrible comfortable.

As I walked away that afternoon to write a story about the event, I remember holding these two contrasting emotions together: on the one hand, the sheer joy and expectation; on the other, the banality and mundanity of any major event. Independence was something special and unique, of course, but it was also something that took place fully within the context of daily life and was shaped by that context of lateness and verbosity.

In the three years since independence, the news from South Sudan has not often been good. A dispute between South Sudan and Sudan led to a shut-down of oil production. The health and welfare indicators in the country continue to be among the worst in the world. Most significantly, since December of last year parts of the country have been embroiled in a metastasising civil war.

It is hard, in reading about South Sudan, to think back to that sense of hope and expectation which was so strong three years ago. And I wonder if that’s not because we haven’t also lost sight of that second emotion, the sheer banality of everyday life. In all of the big plans for the future and big discussions about the political future of the country, it is easy to lose sight of the daily existence of so many South Sudanese.

So I am grateful on this third anniversary of South Sudan’s independence for the continued work of the church—in its work for peace and reconciliation at a local, grassroots level; in its commitment to delivering aid and assistance to the displaced across the country; and in the hope it embodies for a new future for the country. The work of building a new country is long and arduous. It is when the focus is placed on the concrete, day-to-day lives of the millions of South Sudanese who yearn for peace and opportunity that the country begins to move forward.

Happy independence day.

Sharing suffering and moving towards rejoicing—or, mass graves, cont.

For the last several months, many people who care deeply about South Sudan have watched as the country has descended into chaos. I am among those people. In the last several years, I have made several lengthy trips to South Sudan and am now writing a doctoral dissertation about the role of the church there during the civil war in the 1980s and 1990s.

Here is what it is like to watch the metastasising disaster in South Sudan. My social media feeds now feature news of a friend’s wedding, the birth of a baby—and photos of a mass grave in South Sudan. I receive e-mails from friends in South Sudan asking for help, asking me to help tell their story. (I’ve done some of that in posts like this one, but not nearly enough.) I read news stories and see photos of communities I was in just a few months that are now flattened. I’ve spoken with non-Sudanese friends who also care deeply (and in many cases for much longer than me) about South Sudan and know that they have similar experiences of being connected to the situation but only being able to watch from afar. There are weekly calls and lots of information-sharing to help coordinate a response and be of assistance to our sisters and brothers in Christ. There are fundraising appeals. There are prayer vigils. I do my best to stay in touch with what is going on.

And yet it hardly seems like enough. None of it answers my deep-seated desire to be able to snap my fingers and figure out what to do that can stop all the pain and the horror. I am a person who is strongly oriented around doing.

A few weeks ago, something new entered my social media thread: outrage about comments the archbishop of Canterbury had made about mass graves. I saw those posts and comments alongside pictures of actual mass graves. My desire to do something only intensified but this time it had a new ally, hope: if other people are talking about this, then maybe something can get done!

The hope was misplaced, of course, because there is nothing of the snap-the-fingers type of action that can be done to reverse what has unfolded in South Sudan.

But the contrast between all the Anglican chatter about mass graves and the reality on the ground stayed with me. As we have continued to learn more about recent events in Bentiu—and the horror of the pictures there imprinted itself on my mind—my hope turned to frustration. And that frustration led to a recent post, which articulated this frustration and pointed out this contrast. I don’t think my frustration was very well disguised in how I wrote the post.

That post generated a lot more attention than posts on this tiny little blog usually do. Lots of people asked me what they could do to help. Others told me I didn’t understand how communications worked or that I needed to be in touch with people who know about South Sudan. Still others pointed me to people who are talking about South Sudan. Perhaps all those things are true. Still, I am grateful for all of the comments and especially the genuineness and sincerity which underlay so many of them.

But at the end of the day, I still don’t have an answer. I can tell you to pray. I can tell you to donate money (to ERD, to Christian Aid, to a diocese with a companion relationship in South Sudan, to a diocese directly in South Sudan). I can tell you to advocate to encourage politicians in your country to pay attention to South Sudan. But none of that seems enough. It certainly doesn’t resolve the frustration I continue to feel.

Ultimately, what I have come down to is this: as baptized Christians, we (you, me, South Sudanese, whomever) are all joined in one body. When one part of the body suffers, all suffer. So I want to do what I can from my distance to walk beside my sisters and brothers as they suffer, be attentive to what is happening, and do my best to listen to their voices. That might look different for a lot of different people. I know I can’t walk alongside all the pain in the world. But I can do this in South Sudan while I pray that others do the same in northern Nigeria, Syria, the Central African Republic, wherever, and that I may learn from them.

What I am left with at this moment of pain and horror is the hope that as all suffers when one suffers, so may we all rejoice when South Sudanese reach that point of rejoicing.

 

From talking about mass graves to silence about mass graves

Not many weeks ago, my various social media feeds were full of consternation and outrage about comments from the archbishop of Canterbury about mass graves and their putative connection to same-sex marriage. Truly, the ventilation of outrage was astonishing—and perhaps the debate about our interconnectedness was useful.

At the time, I had a glimmer of hope that the archbishop had managed to draw attention (however ineptly) to the serious suffering and mass murder that takes place in some parts of the world. Surely, I thought, if the Anglican world can muster this much outrage about mass graves, something must be changing.

My hopes were misplaced.

In the last ten days, the situation in South Sudan, never very good since mid-December, has turned decidedly worse—much, much worse. There are reports of mass graves in Bentiu (the survivors tell a grim story here)and the spread of violence in other places as well. Not only are there reports, there are pictures as well. I’m not going to post them here because I know some young people who read this blog but you can click through to some of them yourself here, herehere, and (extremely graphically) here. Do click through to these and meditate on what crucifixion looks like in the twenty-first century.

And what has been the response from Anglicans around the world who not three weeks ago was so deeply exercised about mass graves?

Silence.

Here is who is speaking: Christians in South Sudan. In these last weeks, they have been doing all manner of things to speak the truth about what is happening. The archbishop and several other church leaders have launched a very brave reconciliation process. The bishop of Bentiu wrote a lengthy report and appeal for assistance.

The situation in South Sudan can seem difficult and intractable. The rights and wrongs are certainly not as cut and dry as they are about other issues and it’s much harder to figure out at whom to direct our outrage.

But none of this should make us afraid to try. It shouldn’t make us afraid to listen patiently to our sisters and brothers. Christians are people who look at the world—in all its pain and suffering—and tell the truth about what we see. That is what Christians in South Sudan are doing. But their voices would be louder if they were joined by their sisters and brothers from around the world.

It is, of course, the privilege of those of us in the north Atlantic world to casually disregard what happens elsewhere in the world. We did it twenty years ago in Rwanda. But somehow—particularly after the outrage about mass graves just a few weeks ago—I had thought that Anglicans could be different, that Anglicans could muster just a little emotion and passion about what is right now going on.

Perhaps you will tell me that I am comparing apples and oranges, that there’s a difference between talking about mass graves in the abstract and having them in real life. But the contrast between the discourse then and the events now strikes me as so stark and leaves me with these questions:

Is there any way we can turn our outrage not on one another but on this instance of profound suffering and sorrow?

Is there any way we can credibly speak to the world, rather than simply speak (shout) at one another?

Instead—silence.

And that silence indicts us.

UPDATE: This post generated more than the usual amount of attention on Facebook and elsewhere. So I wrote a follow-up post to expand on this one. Continue reading it here.

Back to church in Bor—or not

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St. Andrew’s Cathedral in a quieter moment

Last April, I was in Bor, South Sudan on the Sunday after Easter, the so-called “Low Sunday” because attendance (and the energy level) is generally a bit less than the previous Sunday. The announced attendance at St. Andrew’s Cathedral in Bor that day was 1,249. It was, as many Dinka services are, a high-energy worship service (which I wrote about in this Christian Century article).

Bor has had a traumatic two months. Control of it switched hands several times between the government of South Sudan and a rebel force. The centre of town was destroyed. The Sudan activist John Prendergast recently traveled to Bor and filed a lengthy trip report, which is devastating to read—they drove down one empty street; when they came back a few hours later, there were bodies lined up along the road that had been found in the interim and had been brought out for burial in a mass grave.

I have been thinking particularly about St. Andrew’s Cathedral and the community I stayed with there. Some women priests and others who were killed have now been buried in a mass grave on the cathedral grounds. A huge percentage of the diocese has been displaced across the Nile River.

And it shows in church attendance. A friend of mine in Bor posted these photos on Facebook of last Sunday’s service.

1797425_653569138014596_1538836837_n 1891079_653567654681411_1607271920_nThere is essentially no one there. Whereas when I visited, there was not a spare seat or corner of bench, now you can see the sea of empty places.

1911777_653566378014872_292377038_nThe dean of the cathedral is a man named Thomas Agau Kur, who has been interviewed by several of the handful of western reporters who have made their way to Bor. He has been presiding over funerals at mass grave sites. But he told one that he is concerned about the dead bodies in outlying villages and the lack of priests there to perform the rites:

There’s no funerals!  Who’s there? The whole town is deserted, who can make the funerals?  I’ve been used to being in the place of the burials like this morning, where that mass grave of 134 are buried, and one is still being dug, so that to put the other people who are still being collected in the towns.

Another friend in Bor wrote to say that he estimated that only about half of the bodies in Bor had been collected and buried. So the task will continue for some time.

What to say about all this? At times, it seems the situation defies description or response. If nothing else, however, it is a reminder of the way in which Christians are people who called to enter into the pain of the world, so that together we may come to share in the resurrection—no matter how distant or faint that prospect may seem.

The Church Women of Bor: on remembrance

Last April, when I was in Bor, South Sudan, I stayed in the compound of St. Andrew’s Cathedral. One of the great things about staying in a cathedral—and I imagine this is as true of Canterbury as it is of Bor—is the community of people who live and work there.

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These women are actually from Jalle, a community north of Bor, but you get the idea of what it was like at the cathedral

Among this community were a large number of women. For a variety of reasons, they had come to be part of the cathedral community. Some were clergy. Some were widows of the war. Some worked in the shop that was on the grounds of the cathedral. My encounters with them were a constant—and welcome—part of my stay at St. Andrew’s. I remember one woman who came and sat next to me and started drawing in the sand before us. Then she pointed at what she had drawn and started saying Dinka words. It took me a little while to realize but she was teaching me to count in Dinka, a task made more complicated by our complete lack of a common language. But I got some of it. There are other women whom I remember because of their fervent, passionate, and extemporaneous prayers every morning and evening at the daily office. All of them carried with them their long crosses, a symbol for them of the death-defeating power of Christ.

Now comes the distressing news that several people who sought shelter at St. Andrew’s during the recent violence in Bor have been killed. One report says “scores of female church workers.” My friends still in Bor have told me that 31 people in total were killed, among whom were five priests who also happened to be women. It was, as I understand, the mass grave of these people where the archbishop of Canterbury prayed on his recent visit to Bor.

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As best I can understand it, this is what happened: when the violence around Bor began, many people—including most of the women in the cathedral community—fled across the Nile River to place called Awerial. But many others left their home areas and came to the cathedral because they thought it would be safer there. The bishop of Bor, Ruben Akurdit, actually warned this would happen in a phone conversation in December. When the violence again swept through Bor a few weeks later, the cathedral was targeted not—importantly—because it was a cathedral but because it was a place where people were gathered.

None of the women who were killed were women I knew when I stayed at the cathedral, but that hardly matters. Whatever the context and whatever the details, this is horrifying news and these are horrifying pictures.

But it is also important to note that these are not the only people who have been killed in this violence. My friends in the Diocese of Bor have told me that last Thursday—after the signing of an alleged peace agreement—there was violence in the village of Kolnyang outside Bor. Twenty-eight people were killed, including both the wife and the father-in-law of the Episcopal archdeacon of the area, Simon Deng Yahu. Rev. Simon was injured in the attack. The whereabouts of eleven other people—eight of them children—are currently unknown.

Two days later, last Saturday, two priests—Rev. Peter Yuiu Gai and  Rev. Isaiah Ayuen Akau—from Bor were traveling to Juba by road. Both were killed in an attack on the road, along with two lay people. Rev. Isaiah was the chair of the diocesan youth organization, which is called Jo Wo Liech.

I have a complex reaction to all this news—and, critically, how it is reported. I hate, hate, hate when South Sudan (or any other non-western country for that matter) only appears in the news when the words “rape,” “kill,” or “violence” can also be used. I want these stories to be reported. I want these people to be remembered. But I also want their ministry and lives to be remembered for far more than the way in which it ended. I don’t want us to be able to pass over this story with a glance—”oh, violent Africa”—without also understanding that these are people like you and me. Note that the story that started all this around the Anglican portion of the Internet doesn’t report precise numbers of people killed. What seems to matter is death, rape, violence, women.

I’m also uneasy with how this story can be used. The initial story comes from an organization dedicated to reporting stories about Christians around the world “under pressure for their faith.” This is a worthy goal, but I’m not sure the violence around Bor fits the bill. While it is true that Christians were killed in Bor, I don’t think it is true to say that they were killed because they were Christian. They were killed because they were in the wrong place at the wrong time. The way to address violence like this is to prevent the creation of these “wrong places.” And it’s not as if we weren’t warned. Bishop Ruben did talk about this back in December after all. Were we paying the kind of attention to Bor then that we pay now, after the fact?

Most of all, I worry about the tokenization of death. Why are we paying attention to these deaths at the cathedral and not the deaths in Kolnyang? Can we begin to grapple with the full scope of the suffering or do we only isolate it into a single incident because that is all we can handle?

Remembrance is not an easy task. No life—and no death—is simple and straightforward. The best tribute we can bring is to remember all who died in that way.

UPDATE: Archbishop Justin Welby preached about his visit to Bor to General Synod this week.

The long reach of war: from Bor to Nairobi to eviction

As a peace deal in South Sudan appears to take hold, more and more pictures are coming out of the areas most affected by the recent violence. This is the market in Bor, a town I spent time in last year.

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Most horrifying of all has been the pictures of a mass grave at St. Andrew’s Cathedral in Bor, a church community I wrote about in a recent Christian Century article.

1466036_648052425232934_819014980_n(These photos—and many more—are on the Facebook page of someone I met in Bor last year. He has made them available to anyone to see.)

As I have been reading about the macro-level of the violence—number of people displaced, relief needs, etc.—I have been trying to stay in pretty close contact with a friend of mine in Bor. For the purposes of this post, I’ll call my friend S.

Like many other reasonably-educated Dinka, S.’s wife and children live in Nairobi, Kenya. They are part of the large and persistent Dinka diaspora that was created by the civil war in the 1980s and 1990s. One of the reasons it is so persistent is that people like S. decide that because the schools are better in Kenya, they would rather their children grow up there, even if it means being apart from them. S.’s job with the church meant that he could afford to pay rent for a very small place in Nairobi for his family.

In January, S. wrote to me say that he was “traumatized” by all that had happened. His mother and sisters had fled to the rural areas. His entire diocese had, essentially, been displaced. Significantly for S. and his family, the violence meant that he was no longer drawing an income from the church. He had no idea how he was going to care for his family.

This week, S. was in touch to say that his family’s landlord in Nairobi is threatening to evict them because they have been unable to pay the last three month’s rent. Unless he gets the money—about $650 in total—his family will have to move from Nairobi to Kakuma Refugee Camp. Kakuma is the large camp in arid and remote northwestern Kenya, which was founded in 1992 to care for the so-called “Lost Boys of Sudan,” but now remains as a major community for people of lots of different nationalities. It is far inferior to living in Nairobi, however. It is isolated and cut off from the rest of the country and the schools are not nearly as good. It also means upending the lives of his children and cutting his wife off from her supportive social network.

On one level, S.’s story is familiar: bread-winner loses income, family displacement ensues. This happens as much in England and the United States as east Africa.

But on another level, S.’s story drives me crazy: THIS DIDN’T HAVE TO HAPPEN! The loss of income and the displacement is one microcosmic impact of violence that is the result of a struggle for control among member of the political class. If countries like South Sudan are to move forward, they need people like S.: educated, dependable, committed to their country and its future. In turn, people like S. need the same thing from their leaders. They need to be able to make long-term plans for the futures of their families. But they can’t do this if the very stability of the country is constantly in doubt.

Connection to the outside world

Justin Welby is on a flight to Juba, South Sudan.

(Well not directly. I yearn for the days when you can fly from Heathrow to Juba direct.)

It is easy to underestimate the power of archiepiscopal visits. At least in England, people are used to seeing the archbishop pop up all over the place—preaching at this college, visiting that church, giving an interview to this reporter—that we can get inured to the significance of his presence. Moreover, some people—especially in the media—want action they can report. Think of the headline: “Archbishop brings peace to South Sudan.” But that’s not what the archbishop is going for. In his pre-trip interview with the BBC, he says that the purpose of the trip is, essentially, to be with people.

There is ample precedent for archiepiscopal visitation to what is now South Sudan. George Carey, archbishop in the 1990s, made two visits to Sudan during his tenure. These are vividly remembered by Christians, even today, twenty years later. On one visit, he spent time in Dhiaukuei, a remote community that had become a safe haven for Christians and a centre of learning and evangelism for them. One woman there, remembering his visit, told me that when he came, “We thought, ‘OK, if part of our body from a different part of the world came to visit us, then the message of Jesus Christ which said, “We are all parts of the same body,” is true.’”

Carey’s successor, Rowan Williams, visited South Sudan in 2006. He spent time in Malakal, a town that has been the news recently because it has been one focus of the recent violence. When I was in Malakal in September, people unpromptedly told me about his visit and how everyone—Anglicans and non-Anglicans alike—turned out for his events.

Given all that South Sudan has been through in the last six weeks, I imagine that Archbishop Welby will have a similar welcome—if he allows himself public events—and his visit will have similar significance.

Later in this visit, Archbishop Welby plans to visit the church in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The DRC has its own complex problems of violence and societal fracture. I recently read this from a bishop of the church in the DRC:

The poor infrastructure and lack of communication systems ensure that the church is internally disconnected and lacks sustained contact with the Anglican Communion… [The church] has felt proud to be part of the Anglican Communion but feels unable to fully contribute to the communion or to understand entirely its debates. Many of the problems of poverty, war, hunger, and sickness that are so pressing for the Congolese nation do not appear to be prominent in inter-communion discussions.

(That’s from the chapter by Bishop Titre Ande and Emma Wild-Wood in the new Wiley-Blackwell Companion to the Anglican Communion.)

For many Anglicans, the archbishop of Canterbury is important for what he embodies—connection to and concern from the outside world. This is what many people in conflict zones are yearning for, the assurance that someone, somewhere out there is thinking about them. By simply showing up and listening to the real concerns of real people, the archbishop of Canterbury performs a hugely important ministry.

That’s hard for reporters (and others) to grasp. But the lesson of history is that is hugely significant for the people on the ground. And in the end, that’s probably what matters.

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.