The people of South Sudan are experiencing the most difficult time in their history of suffering and self-destruction, says the South Sudan Council of Churches (SSCC), reaching out with an Advent and Christmas message of hope.
The SSCC has striven to be a unifier in the conflict-ridden country and issued an Advent and Christmas “message of hope” on 18 December, also releasing a paper titled “Peaceful Resolution to the Conflicts in South Sudan - The war must stop!"
In their season’s message the churches said, “Advent begins with the invitation to joy, because ‘the Lord comes’, because he comes to save us. The words of the Prophet Isaiah addressed the people of Israel in their exile in Babylon after the temple in Jerusalem was destroyed.
“The Israelites were uncertain about their return to the Holy City which remained in ruins. The Prophet Isaiah encourages them that the Lord is coming, and he will bring light, he will dispel darkness and restore light with his presence. He urges them to abandon sorrow and despair, lift up their hearts because the Lord is at hand."
South Sudan descended into civil war in December 2013 when President Salva Kiir accused his former deputy Riek Machar of plotting a coup only two years after the nation gained independence from its northern neighbour, Sudan.
But the SSCC, a truly ecumenical body that includes traditional Protestants, Roman Catholics, Evangelicals, Pentecostals and Orthodox, has worked throughout the current conflict afflicting the world’s newest nation to get the parties to hammer out a peace as it traverses the nation.
It has now offered a roadmap with its paper outlining measures to resolve the conflict.
“The rapidly deteriorating economic situation coupled with the halting of most developmental projects and investments has led to extreme hardship for most ordinary citizens,” the SSCC says in its paper.
“The war and violent conflicts have driven millions from their home and made them extremely vulnerable.
“Fracturing of the country has deepened as the economic crisis has combined with political and social factors characterized by creation of further administrative units with little consultation and increasingly lethal inter and intra-communal conflicts,” they note.
‘Sharply divided South Sudanese’
The church leaders note that South Sudanese are sharply divided along ethnic and tribal lines, “even as youth are: increasingly militarized”.
They rue that new armed groups have sprung up across the country and that roads between states are unsafe even when the national capital of Juba is reached with military convoy or by air.
The SSCC says that human rights are being abused at every level, people are being killed, women and men are raped, children recruited into armed groups, while security organs are apparently acting above the law.
Also commonplace are armed robbery, arbitrary arrests with often delayed judicial processes and shrinking space for citizens, journalists and civil society to speak out.
“These bring back the harsh memories of the previous Sudanese regime for many citizens. The grassroots feel that leaders and parties fail to represent their interests,” laments the SSCC in its paper.
Yet the hope is offered in the “numerous structures that work through communities on key issues of managing conflicts, bringing people towards justice and reconciliation such as Justice and Peace Committees and ecumenical Inter-Church Committees,” says the SSCC.
“The SSCC works through its platform of ecumenical churches and applies a common strategy in the Action Plan for Peace working at national and local levels.
Four key pillars
This builds off four key pillars:
Advocacy (changing the narrative from violence to peace while raising the voice of the voiceless up)
Neutral Forums (establishing safe spaces to bring conflicting parties into dialogue on urgent issues)
Reconciliation (building a process of repairing broken relationships through trauma healing, training and community conversations) and
Organizational Strengthening (building up the church structures, establishing and enabling transparent and effective processes while providing platforms for building individual knowledge and capacities).
In South Sudan war tires people, but churches keep trying to forge peace (WCC press release of 8 December 2017)