By: Buck Blanchard, Director of Mission & Outreach, Diocese of Virginia
The Diocese of Virginia and its parishes have developed broad and deep relationships with the Episcopal Church of South Sudan and Sudan. I’ve watched those relationships grow significantly over my ten years on the staff at Mayo House. We now have more links with South Sudan than any other diocese in The Episcopal Church. Those connected with this ministry rejoiced when South Sudan received its independence in 2011 to become the world’s newest country. But we’ve also felt devastation during the ensuing years when political and ethnic rivalries have upset peace in the country.
I had several conference calls last week discussing how to respond to the latest crisis in South Sudan. If you don’t know, fighting broke out again recently, initially between troops loyal to the two rival political factions, who also represent the two largest ethnic tribes in the country. As in the past, that fighting spread beyond the regular armies to other combatants. Hundreds of civilians were killed – some directly because of their ethnicities or by being caught in the cross-fire.
It’s not an unfamiliar story and it’s easy to be discouraged. But what I heard last week were also stories of hope – specifically in the ways the Church is responding. The cathedral compound in Juba has given refuge to several hundred of internally displaced people. Many are there because their homes have been looted or destroyed. Bishops, other clergy and church members are ministering directly to these displaced people and collecting data concerning who they are and what they need. The South Sudan Council of Churches has written a letter to the powers-that-be to insist on peace. Episcopal Church leaders are advocating to government officials for an end to the fighting. Currently there is a cease fire which appears to be holding.
In addition to responding to the immediate needs, the Episcopal Church in South Sudan is working on mid and long-term solutions. SUDRA, the development arm of the church, has submitted a plan to feed and care for displaced people not only in Juba but across the country. The Justice Peace and Reconciliation Committee is developing long-term peace and reconciliation training, including taking the ministry of reconciliation to towns large and small.
For me the church’s work in South Sudan is inspiring. It can also be instructive to the church here. Because let’s face it, it’s not as though we don’t have similar issues. In South Sudan they call it tribe or ethnicity. Here we call it race. But the upshot is the same – fear, distrust and even hatred when faced with “The Other.” But our job as Christians, as Episcopalians, as human beings, is to counter that fear and hatred with communications, understanding, forgiveness and reconciliation. To love “The Other.” That takes more than a sermon. It takes action. We cannot be the hands and feet of Christ unless we leave our offices and get in the mix. We need to take risks. We can’t just hold a mirror up to a place like South Sudan and say shame on you. We have to turn that mirror back on us too.
- Anglican Alliance helps to coordinate global response to South Sudan violence, Anglican Communion News Service
- Churches respond to on-going violence in South Sudan, Anglican Communion News Service
- Episcopal Relief & Development supports SUDRA’s response to unrest in South Sudan, Episcopal Relief & Development press release
- Archbishop of Canterbury calls for end to violence in South Sudan, Lambeth Palace