With increasing violence and growing crowds of people seeking protection, urgent action and support from the ecumenical community is needed in South Sudan as the country teeters on the brink of a humanitarian crisis.
The German Protestant development agency Bread for the World reported that church compounds are already overcrowded with people seeking protection, and thousands of people are in need of food, water and safe shelter.
Church leaders reported that humanitarian support should be considered a top priority. About 40,000 people have been displaced during this crisis and at least 7,000 of them took refuge in different churches or parishes, reported Dr Nigussu Legesse, programme executive with the World Council of Churches (WCC). “In trying to return to their homes, most of them found out that their houses have already been looted and they have nothing to fall back on or sustain them. They need humanitarian support.”
The country is on the brink of economic collapse, and prices of food items, particularly maize flour — a staple food in South Sudan — has soared over the past days.
A peace advisory group of the All Africa Conference of Churches (AACC) met on 13 June in Nairobi, and released an appeal for all partners and friends of South Sudan to contribute any amount at their disposal for immediate support of extremely vulnerable women and children affected by the crisis.
“With churches becoming sheltering places, there is a need for any humanitarian assistance that can be mobilized,” said the appeal. “It is the expectation of the church leaders in South Sudan that the AACC will take the lead in the provision and coordination of any humanitarian assistance from the ecumenical family in this regard.”
The AACC also called for churches in the region and internationally to speak in one voice for peace. “The South Sudanese Church leaders feel very strongly that such a united voice could have some impact,” said the appeal.
Dr Agnes Abuom, moderator of the WCC Central Committee, meeting with the AACC to discern key actions churches can take to help forge a path to justice and peace in such a difficult time.
Abuom said “We condemn all acts of violence. We join our member churches in South Sudan to call for peace and immediate end to the violence.” She added “First, we must meet people’s humanitarian needs in a way that gives them sense of hope,” said Abuom. “We also need to stay in touch with the political situation in South Sudan and ask a key and heartfelt question: how can ecumenical diplomacy turn people away from violence and bring them together to nurture the budding peace in South Sudan?”
Renewed fighting in South Sudan has raised serious concerns around safety and security for people in the new, increasingly fragile country. The ACT Alliance reported that the situation rapidly deteriorated last weekend with a reported death toll of nearly 300 people, and armed violence erupting in Juba and surrounding areas.
The ACT Alliance joined other faith-based voices in emphasizing the humanitarian mandate to protect and safeguard the lives of innocent people in South Sudan.
WCC member churches and friends were responding quickly to the appeal, offering support and prayers for peace from across the world. On 16 July, the WCC and the South Sudan Council of Churches, is inviting its member churches and all people of good will around the world to pray for South Sudan.
Local church leaders in South Sudan also sounded a strong call in South Sudan for creation of an atmosphere where violence is not an option.
On 10 July, the South Sudan Council of Churches read over the radio a “Statement of Concern Regarding Insecurity.”
Church leaders in South Sudan said they were deeply disturbed by recent fatal shootings in Juba. “We make no judgement as to how or why they occurred, nor who is to blame, but we note with concern that there have been a number of incidents recently, and that tension is increasing,” the statement said.
The council condemned all acts of violence without exception. “The time for carrying and using weapons has ended; now is the time to build a peaceful nation,” said the statement. “We pray for those who have been killed, and for their families, and we ask God's forgiveness for those who have done the killing.”
Church leaders urged repentance and a firm commitment from all armed individuals, forces and communities, and from their leaders, to create an atmosphere where violence is not an option.
“We are encouraged by the statements from both President Salva Kiir and First Vice President Riek Machar calling for calm,” said the statement. “We add our voices to theirs, and urge soldiers and civilians to refrain from provocative words and actions, and to do everything in their power to avoid escalating the situation.”
The churches have historically played a critical role in building peace in South Sudan: they continue to play an active role in advocating for peace, hosting neutral forums, and reconciliation work.
The South Sudan Council of Churches said: "Trust has been broken again and again. When will peace reign? When will our people be free again to laugh and trust? For how long must we weep? For how long must we mourn? How much more must our people suffer?"
Stop the fighting in South Sudan and uphold international law, says ACT (ACT Alliance news release of 11 July 2016)
Archbishop of Juba issues wrenching appeal for help to save lives (Radio Vaticana interview, 12 July 2016)
Next steps toward peace in South Sudan? (WCC news release of 14 September 2015)