“There is no shame in being a victim of sexual violence; the shame must lie with those who perpetrate such heinous acts.”
Christian leaders marked the International Day for the Elimination of Sexual Violence in Conflict (19 June) with a united message to churches in South Sudan.
In a statement released last week, the South Sudan Council of Churches (SSCC) urged all churches across the country to include messages about the elimination of sexual violence in conflict in services being held over the weekend.
The prevalence of conflict-related sexual violence is a hidden crisis in South Sudan.
“The Church commends survivors – both men and women – for their strength in speaking up against sexual violence defying a culture of stigma and fears of retaliation,” read the statement. “There is no shame in being a victim of sexual violence; the shame must lie with those who perpetrate such heinous acts.”
“Acts such as rape, sexual slavery and forced marriage are crimes under South Sudanese laws and are inconsistent with teachings and principles of Christian faiths”.
“Everyone must uphold the sacredness of human life, the inherent dignity of every human being as well as their physical and mental integrity as reflected in the teachings and values of the Christian faith.”
Our partner the Presbyterian Church of South Sudan (PCOSS) is a member of the South Sudan Council of Churches. PCOSS Moderator Rev James Choul co-signed the statement. Both PCOSS and SSCC support the World Council of Churches #ThursdaysinBlack campaign to end rape and violence against women.
“Peace cannot be kept by force. It can only come through understanding.”
One of my favourite moments as a kid was blowing out my birthday candles. It wasn’t just the seductive sight of tiny flames snuffed out in an instant – very early on, I’d heard that if you made a wish while you blew, it would come true. Every year I asked for the same thing, more or less: world peace. For people everywhere. Just peace. (Once or twice I may have also requested a guinea pig, which came to fruition).
Still hoping for peace.
In a world where we often feel powerless, here are four practical steps to move beyond wishful thinking.
Understanding is at the heart of peace – peace in the heart, peace in the home, peace in the nation. But where does understanding come from? It’s the intersection of listening, experience and knowledge – all of which has never been more accessible. We’re flooded with opportunity – an internet that opens the worlds of others to our gaze; self development in the form of talks, groups, courses; news that’s instant and graphic and not always reliable. As the lines between fact and fiction blur, it’s tempting to opt out altogether in the quest for genuine understanding – of others, ourselves and the world. Hang in there. Keep learning. Keep seeking. This is where peace begins.
Subscribe to a podcast like this one to hear about the inspirational contribution of women to creating and keeping peace around the world
“While I follow closely all your stories and updates, I want you all to know that I am particularly and prayerfully aware right now of Rev John Yor,” a beautiful donor wrote to us recently. “Just ‘knowing about’ these people and communities touches me deeply – I find myself praying for Rev Yor throughout the day as I go about the activities with the people who are part of my day.”
The Apostle Paul suggested to the Church at Thessalonica that they should pray without ceasing. Is it practical? Is it possible? Many of our supporters say yes, extending their knowledge of people and places into their daily prayer routines.
Set an alarm that reminds you to pray during the day; take time to write a short prayer and send it to us to pass on to our partners peacebuilding on the front lines at email@example.com
John Wesley flipped the idea of giving on his head when, as a young minister, he set a budget for his annual needs and regarded any extra as belonging to God and others. In the first year he earned 32 pounds, lived on 28 and gave the rest away. As his income increased, doubled and then tripled, he continued to live on 28 pounds. Wesley began a school, a sewing co-op, a free health clinic and a lending agency for the poor: he preached that using financial resources for others was a central part of faith. In a world where poverty and gross inequality drives a huge amount of conflict, what’s your approach to giving? How are you passing on your approach to others, and are you planning to leave a legacy?
Check out this site to see where your annual income places you in relation to the rest of the people on our planet
“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God.”
While most of us like to think of ourselves as peacemakers, often what we’re really doing is avoiding or delaying conflict. Genuine peacemakers are pro-active, not re-active. They have a strategy – they observe, they listen, and they act to help restore shalom – the wholeness of God – wherever they can. What are your personal peacemaking skills like? How much do you understand about the process and how committed to it are you in your everyday relationships?
Write a letter to your local MP about your commitment to building wholeness for everyone, not simply for the affluent here in Australia. Ask what financial resources are being put into developing relationships with our neighbours and what Australia’s vision is as a peace building nation in our region.
If you tried to make a plate of bean stew in South Sudan right now, you’d spend up to 201% of your daily wage simply on ingredients. The same meal here would absorb less than 1% of a typical income.
South Sudan’s food crisis is just one swirl in the vortex of a perfect storm. Drought, locusts and flooding have decimated crops. COVID-19 lockdowns have slammed borders shut and are choking off food, fuel and water supplies. An economic crisis has sent the cost of living through the roof. And simmering away beneath it all, conflict has driven 1.4 million people into makeshift refugee camps and cost hundreds of thousands of lives.
And it’s not a new problem. Sometimes, when we share news on Facebook of South Sudan and other places in conflict, we attract comments that are scathing about the ‘dysfunction of African countries.’ While there’s often not much insight behind the sentiments, they tap a frustration with the devastating long term disorder that seems to characterise life in places like South Sudan.
Why? Why is famine and war and corruption so deeply entrenched? Why does foreign aid seem to leak through such places like a sieve?
The answers aren’t simple, but you don’t have to look that far to find them.
It’s history: the impact of decades of colonial rule stunting the development of good leadership and allowing corruption to prosper.
It’s poverty, crippling everything from education, healthcare and hope.
It’s living in some of the most volatile places in the world in terms of climate and natural disaster.
And it’s the heart breaking normalisation of violence among people who are desperate for land and stock for food.
If these are the problems, what are the solutions? Those living in South Sudan itself say the most critical underlying need is for peace: stability in government and society from which to build a better future. But peace requires a movement – a deeply committed, organised base from among local people themselves. And in the context of such long term deprivation, where is the leadership for such a movement to be found?
A recent study by the US Institute of Peace found that faith-based people and organisations in South Sudan are the most important peace actors in the country*. Since independence in 2011, and indeed well before, it’s the churches who’ve stood at the forefront of peace negotiations and trauma healing. It’s people of faith who’ve risked their lives to travel to places where rape is a routine weapon of war against women and girls. It’s people of faith who are restoring unity, one by one, amongst people tired and suspicious of government efforts.
Many people, of course, find that hard to believe. Isn’t religion divisive? Doesn’t it tend toward the submissive, preferring to rely on the heart of God rather than the hands of people?
Sure, sometimes. As in most developing regions, religion is central to life in South Sudan, and the way theology is applied differs from place to place.
But right at the heart of religion is the unshakeable belief that transformation is possible, that love wins over death. And that’s a powerful force. Ask any of the faith leaders why they stay, and it’s a rock solid sense of call. “God hasn’t left us orphans,” they say. “God is at work in the world, healing and renewing. And we are part of it.”
It’s a shared conviction. Religion in South Sudan isn’t the major flash point of conflict – it’s cultural differences between tribal groups that go back centuries. While Christianity is the majority faith (around 60% of the population), since 2011 there’s been relative harmony between Christians, Muslims and followers of traditional African religions. From city cathedrals to mosques and village chapels, the leadership of faith communities have the confidence of the people and are united in their desire for peace. But is it enough? Why isn’t change happening faster?
The South Sudan Council of Churches, the country’s largest unifying faith-based body, is working on it. With more than six million members from seven denominations, they’ve developed a strategic plan which represents South Sudan’s most comprehensive road map out of conflict – nothing quite like it exists even within government. Based on four pillars – advocacy, neutral forums for negotiation, reconciliation and organisational strengthening – the Council of Churches’ Action Plan for Peace was officially adopted in 2015. But what does it look like in practise?
Rolling out a peace action plan
The Uniting Church in Australia, through UnitingWorld, has some insight into the process. In 2012, it developed a partnership with the Presbyterian Church of South Sudan (PCOSS), a pivotal member of the Council with networks that reach well beyond the cities into regional areas and places ravaged by conflict, including refugee camps outside the country. Simply put, the Action Plan for Peace is the sending of ministers to teach, preach, counsel and care – treacherous journeys to communities where hunger and despair are woven into the fabric of life. It’s developing leadership skills and training theological students in Juba. It’s women marching for peace, month after month, in the capital, Juba. And it’s working alongside government to advocate for change in a context where deliberate neglect of certain groups – sometimes to the point of starvation- is seen a legitimate tactic in quelling dissent.
Christian women marching for peace in South Sudan, 2017
It’s clear that the wisdom and spiritual care of church leaders really matters: 82% of Peace Institute Survey respondents, when asked where they would turn for help aside from immediate family, mentioned their religious leaders. Research found that 39% of people regarded their community and religious leaders as their main source of information – combined with the fact that only 8% of people have internet and 20% have mobile phones, the equipping of leaders with accurate, harmonising and life giving messages is critical. These messages often come direct from the pulpit – 54% said the most useful contribution of the faith community towards peace is through sermons and prayers*, and UnitingWorld’s partners are certainly hands-on in terms of changing hearts and minds at the local level. But it’s not their only tactic.
25% of survey respondents said that more important than spiritual care was the organisation by faith groups of peace conferences and workshops. These are the teaching moments – often in hard to reach, conflict ridden places – that bring together the leaders of warring tribes to negotiate, listen, learn conflict resolution skills and support trauma healing.
A UnitingWorld-funded conference took place earlier this year in Cairo, Egypt. It was a tough assignment, drawing on refugees from different tribal groups who’ve traditionally resisted reconciliation. A second workshop in Juba, attended by church leaders, led to the resolution of a conflict between groups in one community. Three trained ministers intervened after negotiations about leadership became heated; they were able to bring the groups together and the leadership appointment went ahead without violence.
It’s these local leaders who’ll go back to their tribal groups, one by one, to share the skills that underpin peace. Without them, the movement can’t gain momentum. Very little will change.
What makes the critical difference?
The churches’ ability to capitalise on this reach and influence depends very much on developing their own capacity. Within the Nile Theological College, students are learning not just theological ideas but practical skills like peace building and fundamental human rights values that have gone undeveloped for decades. National Assemblies of various denominations strive to bring together their members to seek spiritual guidance and encourage one another. And leaders are being invited to advise government and demonstrate their negotiation skills in forums as significant as the 2018 Peace Negotiations in Addis Ababa, Egypt.
Right now, all eyes are on the need to safeguard South Sudan from the likely ravages of COVID-19, providing food, water and medicine to stave off hunger – and the need is huge. But in addition, the churches haven’t wavered from the big picture. They’re fiercely committed to investing in the peace process and the nurture of leaders who’ll shepherd their nation toward long term stability.
It’s incredibly difficult work. In Juba, members of the PCOSS leadership are hungry, without reliable food supplies, electricity, water or internet. Their own day to day existence is absolutely precarious, even as they care for others.
That’s why over the coming year, UnitingWorld is even more committed to supporting our partners. We’re funding two more peace workshops, the training of theological students through the Nile College, upgrades of vital transport to allow travel to remote area and investment into helping the Presbyterian Church bring together people for its General Assembly. All of this is in addition to humanitarian work in response to the pandemic. It’s long term, painstaking work and it often lacks the immediate punch of livelihood investment, or water and sanitation projects. But it’s also exactly consistent with the way transformation happens – incrementally, in small steps. Most significantly? The church is investing in individuals who drive change.
If faith really can heal a nation, this is how it happens.
UnitingWorld is looking for people with a heart for nurturing Christian leadership to bring lasting change in South Sudan and other places around the world. You can contribute by praying and sending messages of solidarity to partners in South Sudan, or help meet some of the long term costs of the project. If this project is your call, please be in touch with our Partnerships Team on 1800 998 122 or email us on firstname.lastname@example.org.
You can donate here
As South Sudan emerges from seven years of brutal civil war, COVID-19 is creating new threats to peace. Our partners have asked us to pray in solidarity and keep holding onto hope.
Earlier this year, the struggle for peace in South Sudan took a significant step forward. In February, President Salva Kiir Mayardit swore in Dr Riek Machar as Vice President and both declared the end to their rivalry; a power struggle that resulted in a seven-year civil war that left nearly 400,000 people dead.
After many failed starts at peace and a great deal of international pressure, the agreement of leaders to form a ‘Transitional Government of National Unity’ was a cause for celebration.
Power vacuums causing new waves of violence
Unfortunately, the new government has failed to appoint state governors to provide much-needed local leadership and this has already resulted in renewed violence. An estimated 800 people have been killed in intercommunal clashes since February.
Just last month, hundreds of people were killed in outbreaks of violence between the Lou Nuer and Murle communities in Jonglei state. Hundreds of women and children have also been abducted and are still in captivity.
PCOSS Vice General Secretary Rev Orozu Daky shared these words with us recently:
“My heart is bleeding with what is happening between Lou Nuer and Murle…I know for sure through prayers of many believers around the world, there will be peace between them. However, God has time frame to that to happen. We need peace among the two sister tribes.
Pray together without ceasing. Amen”
South Sudanese faith communities in Australia have also called on the Church for prayer and solidarity. Responding to the recent violence, Pastor Moses Leth of the South Sudanese Nuer Faith Community in Queensland wrote to members of the Uniting Church in Australia:
At this point, we do not know what else to ask of you besides your will to plea to God with us. As always, we seek for your prayer and solidarity.
New stressors on cycles of violence in South Sudan
As well as the of lack of political leadership at the state level, ongoing food insecurity and COVID-19 are also fueling intercommunal violence.
In South Sudan, 6.5 million people, or 55% of the population, are expected to face severe food insecurity between May and July 2020, owing to the dire economic situation and events like last year’s floods and locust invasions that destroyed crops, killed livestock and contaminated water supplies of whole communities.
While food insecurity increases the risk of violence over land and resources, violence in turn works in a vicious cycle to increase food insecurity. Conflict prevents people from moving in search of food, it restricts humanitarian access to deliver emergency food and supplies and disrupts trade routes and access to markets.
COVID-19 is also expected to put further pressure on the cycle of violence. Social distancing requirements have meant peacebuilding and mediation efforts have stalled and people’s ability to go to work and buy food have been severely restricted. In addition, a sharp fall in government oil revenues has meant funds for peace processes have been cut.
What can be done? Is there any hope?
Our partner the Presbyterian Church of South Sudan (PCOSS) has been committed to working for peace in South Sudan since the 1970s. This has included running peacebuilding and trauma healing workshops for South Sudanese people of various tribes living in refugee camps in bordering countries, training church leaders in peacebuilding skills that can be shared with the wider community, as well as collaborating in ecumenical peace efforts as part of the South Sudan Council of Churches (SSCC).
Now, PCOSS is working as part of the SSCC to mediate between the Lou Nuer and Murle communities to seek a peaceful resolution. At a time when there is an absence of local leadership and UN peacebuilding missions and NGOs are facing difficulties in implementing peace programs, the work of the Church is especially vital for reconciliation and peace.
PCOSS Moderator Rt Rev Peter Gai Lual Marrow said:
“The church cannot sit back and watch while the nation is bleeding. Now am asking your prayers in this process of mediation we started trying to bring together the two communities to the table to talk about possible reconciliation.”
“The church, no matter how fragile is the leadership of this country, will try her level best to say “STOP” fighting and let people resolve this recycling revenge amicably through peaceful negotiations…Let’s hope for success, keep going on in our thoughts and prayers.”
For PCOSS and SSCC, and that their peace mediation efforts are successful
For lasting peace between the Lou Nuer and Murle communities and others across South Sudan
For the safe return of abducted women and children
For the recovery and healing of people physically injured or experiencing trauma; and
For our partners PCOSS as they respond to COVID-19.
UnitingWorld is the international aid and partnerships agency of the Uniting Church in Australia. UnitingWorld supports our partners the Presbyterian Church of South Sudan (PCOSS) to train ministers and lay leaders and equip them with the tools they will need to teach reconciliation and peacebuilding skills in families and between tribal groups throughout South Sudan. Read more
The Presbyterian Church of South Sudan (PCOSS) has requested partners to pray with them as an important deadline for the peace process approaches.
February 22 marks the deadline for the formation of South Sudan’s ‘Transitional Government of National Unity’, designed to unite president Salva Kiir and head of opposition Riek Machar. It is the latest in a series of deadlines and it is unclear whether it will hold and whether the transitional government put an end to the conflict.
In the meantime, the situation remains dire. South Sudan has some of the world’s worst socio-economic indicators. Fighting has continued in parts of the country and significant humanitarian and human rights issues have not been addressed. Violations including rape and sexual and gender-based violence continue to occur with widespread impunity, and there is near-total lack of support or reproductive health services for survivors. Millions remain internally displaced and about two thirds of the country’s population remains in need of humanitarian assistance. According to the World Food Programme, more than 5.5 million South Sudanese could go hungry by early 2020. Flooding in various parts of the country is currently impacting over 900,000 people.
Our partner the Presbyterian Church of South Sudan (PCOSS) has told us that people across the country are traumatised and mothers live anxiously not knowing what the next day will bring for their children. With the ongoing delays in the formation of a transitional government and concerns that issues may not be resolved even then, people are beginning to lose hope.
The General Secretary of PCOSS, Rev. John Yor Nyiker, has requested we pray for them.
Please join PCOSS and UnitingWorld in praying for:
Political leaders to be tools for peace and not for destruction
Peace to be sustainable for all who are affected, in South Sudan, in refugee camps in neighbouring countries, as well as diaspora communities around the world
Recovery and healing for people who have been affected by flooding, famine and violence in many places across the country
Peacemakers from PCOSS and other churches and organisations to be able to continue such important work
We ask that you hold PCOSS and all the people of South Sudan in your prayers as the February 22 deadline approaches and thereafter, until there is peace.
By God’s grace may there be peace in South Sudan in the near future.
Our partner the Presbyterian Church of South Sudan (PCOSS) has been committed to working for peace in South Sudan since the 1970s. This has not been without significant challenges; during the many years of conflict, church buildings have been destroyed and church leaders have been forced to flee to neighbouring countries of Kenya, Uganda, Ethiopia, Egypt and Sudan. Other pastors, elders and leaders have lost their lives. Despite this, PCOSS continues to work actively for peace, together with other ecumenical bodies in the world and in the region.
UnitingWorld is supporting some of PCOSS’ peacebuilding efforts, including peace and trauma healing workshops for South Sudanese people of various tribes living in refugee camps in bordering countries, and training of church leaders in peacebuilding skills that can be shared with the wider community.
UnitingWorld is the international aid and partnerships agency of the Uniting Church in Australia, collaborating for a world free from poverty and injustice. Click here to support our work.
Jane Kennedy, Associate Director, has recently returned from visiting our partners in South Sudan, where we help facilitate trauma healing and peacebuilding projects.
Jane writes: “Peter Gai is the Moderator of the Presbyterian Church of South Sudan. Until recently, he was also the Chair of the South Sudan Council of Churches.
This year he took South Sudanese political leaders to meet the Pope, who kissed their feet.
While there he experienced the joy of a cappuccino. He has learnt to eat when there is food and to go hungry when there is not. He doesn’t eat three times a day. He once knew abundance and lived off the land and rivers in South Sudan for 23 years with no income. He had all he and his family needed. He has six children and 12 grandchildren but doesn’t live with them because of the war. He told me even the wild animals have crossed the border running from the gunshots, but they will come back. There is no electricity where he lives in Juba and no work.
He is about to retire from decades of service that has brought conflicting tribes together and is pleased about his legacy. He has travelled the world finding partners in peacebuilding and he is tired.
The church he leads has a dispersed 1.5 million members across the country, as well as in Sudan and Egypt. They are brokenhearted but many are hopeful, against all odds. Peace will bring South Sudan to life; he believes he will see it prosper again in his old age. He prays and works for peace. He laughs and says there are a lot of women at UnitingWorld, but he likes women as they are merciful – men cause trouble and then don’t fix it.
He says whether we are rich or poor we need friends, and we are friends.”
Jane also visited the office of the All Africa Conference of Churches in Nairobi. “They represent 200 million people and speak into policy at the African Union. They lobby governments on issues of peace, gender justice, youth leadership and climate action. They told us about the challenges of non-Africans treating climate change as a hoax while ignoring their experience. They spoke of the urgency around addressing violence against women. Churches here have to be political and loud to bring about change,” said Jane.
With your help, UnitingWorld has assisted the Presbyterian Church of South Sudan to run peacebuilding and trauma healing workshops this year. Thank you!
Rev John Yor Nyker, the General Secretary of the Presbyterian Church of South Sudan (PCOSS) was recently asked the question, “what does transformative partnership mean to you?” His response gave us some insight into the value that he and his church place on their international partnerships.
“Transformative partnership means many things for me. It means learning new things and new culture from others, which is part of strengthening relationship and friendship between partners and our church. It’s caring for others; sharing each other’s happiness and unhappiness, sadness and joy. When the war broke out in South Sudan, our brothers and sisters in Christ’s service were shedding tears for us.
It is not resources that make partnership. Partnership is the ministry, the Kingdom of God through prayers for each other. Partnership is learning, making friendships and sharing of ideas and opinions. It is learning about the global world … learning how to pass [on] the information about your culture and your way of life. It is important to establish partnership as a part of human life.”
Photo: Rev John Yor eating a melting Tim Tam brought to South Sudan from Australia
UnitingWorld is the international aid and partnerships agency of the Uniting Church in Australia. UnitingWorld supports our partners, the Presbyterian Church of South Sudan (PCOSS), to train ministers and lay leaders and equip them with the tools they will need to teach reconciliation and peacebuilding skills in families and between tribal groups throughout South Sudan. Read more | Meet the peacemakers of South Sudan (video)
“We shall build peace through forgiveness and love one another. All the churches in South Sudan will pray for peace.” – South Sudanese church leaders.
Our church partners in South Sudan have been running peacebuilding and trauma healing workshops inside refugee camps in neighbouring Uganda and Kenya.
In the first week of June, the Presbyterian Church of South Sudan (PCOSS) held a peacebuilding and trauma healing workshop with South Sudanese refugees in Uganda. Over the three days of the workshop, participants tackled big-picture questions like, “what does healing of trauma look like?” and, “how can we forgive ourselves and build peace in our lives?”
The workshop focused on reconciliation and finding the root causes of conflict. The facilitators spoke about mercy, forgiveness and turning away from tribalism towards repentance. Following the close of the workshop, participants expressed their deep appreciation for the materials and asked for additional and more in-depth workshops to be held.
Rev Paska Aciya of PCOSS recently returned from the Kakuma Refugee Camp in Kenya, where she ran peacebuilding, trauma and reconciliation training.
“I have been in Kakuma Refugee camp to conduct training for our people there who ran because of the war. It was successful; attended by 32 women and some pastors. “As refugees, they have challenges; most are women and children, as most of the women’s husbands have been killed during the war.” – Rev Paska Aciya.
The workshop in Uganda was held as part of our Peacebuilding and Trauma Healing project with the Presbyterian Church of South Sudan. Rev Paska Aciya was also trained to be a facilitator as part of the project. These activities have been made possible thanks to the generosity of UnitingWorld supporters.
Following years of violence, the Presbyterian Church of South Sudan (PCOSS) has seen a heavy loss of ministers. Many died in the conflict and others were forced to flee and seek asylum in neighbouring countries.
But this Easter weekend, the PCOSS celebrated the ordination of six ministers (one of them a woman), five elders, and four deacons in Khartoum, Sudan.
The PCOSS has been working tirelessly with partners and the Nile Theological College to renew leadership within the church. These new leaders will work towards restoring the foundation of leadership within the church and preaching a message of peace and reconciliation in their communities.
The new church leaders celebrated Easter in a refugee camp that is now a temporary home to thousands of refugees from South Sudan.
PCOSS General Secretary, Rev. John Yor Nyker said there were around four thousand people present for their Easter celebration, and he heard that there were other events held across Sudan.
South Sudan, gained independence in 2011. Its short life has been stunted by conflict, as political differences between President Salva Kiir and former Vice-President Riek Machar erupted into full-blown war in 2013.
The conflict and instability in South Sudan led to a devastating famine last year, leaving over 7 million of people dependent on humanitarian assistance and forcing more than a million people to flee the country.
Yesterday, a team of 11 senior pastors in the Presbyterian Church of South Sudan left for Scotland where they will be trained in peace mediation training workshops by the Church of Scotland. The aim is to equip these senior pastors to be peace mediators in peacebuilding and trauma healing programs across South Sudan. Drawing on the strength and support from their partners across the globe, the Presbyterian Church of South Sudan (PCOSS) is applying news skills and knowledge throughout all of their peacebuilding programming. Tools from this training will directly support peacebuilding and trauma healing workshops supported by UnitingWorld.