If the human spirit and likeness of God's will for peace with justice for all people is alive in the world, the pilgrim team that visited South Sudan this week has witnessed it.
From 5-9 May, a World Council of Churches “Pilgrim Team” visited South Sudan under the theme “African Women of Faith and Gender Justice.” The delegation was hosted by the South Sudan Council of Churches (SSCC).
The wounds and pains of the country's people, especially of the women of South Sudan, spoke loudly to the delegation, as they heard stories of sexual violence, rape, sexual exploitation of children, hunger, poverty, economic crisis, prevalence of weapons, and constant fear and insecurity.
Yet in the midst of immense suffering under the shadow of a government that is resistant to properly providing and working for its people, there is rejoicing, praising of God, and acknowledgment of the gifts and blessings that persist.
At a Sunday worship of the Pentecostal Church of Sudan and South Sudan at Juba Christian Center (JCC), one of the churches that the delegation visited on Sunday, a worship leader named Joy led the congregation through prayer, proclaiming, “I may not have food in my stomach, but I can praise the Lord. I may not have a fat bank account, but I can be grateful.”
In addition to worshipping at various local churches, the members of the delegation have also met with women and youth leaders from those churches. They heard of the wide range of activities and projects in which the women are engaged, even as they cry out for an end to violence and the coming of peace.
For example, every month since 25 January 2014, shortly after the crisis took a drastic turn post-independence in 2013, women have been mobilizing to walk together during a monthly prayer that brings together hundreds of women from all different churches. They also work together and with the support of the SSCC to organize trauma healing workshops, income generating activities, community conversations and reconciliation, and advocacy.
As Father James Oyet Latansio, SSCC general secretary, reminded us, “If you have nothing, you give your heart.”
The group also met with religious leaders hosted by the SSCC as well as women parliamentarians. The message they heard from both groups was clear: women are bearing the heaviest burden of the crisis in South Sudan.
The church leaders emphasized that the church of South Sudan must speak with one voice as it engages in the practical ecumenism of advocacy and action for its members and for all South Sudanese people. They said we must come together across denominations and pray together, as one church, as one body, for peace.
Even the women parliamentarians acknowledged that “when lives are at stake, it is hard to speak out.” Women make up 31% of the South Sudanese parliament, and yet they often feel that their voices are not heard. They have advocated to be part of the peace negotiations that are taking place under the auspices of the Intergovernmental Authority on Development, saying that women are peacemakers.
The delegation also visited the Good Shepherd Ecumenical Peace Center in Kit and the Daughters of Mary Immaculate to hear of their activities for sustainable livelihoods, and peace and reconciliation.
The delegation affirms the fact that gender justice, engagement of women in peacebuilding activities, and the inclusion of youth as the leaders of today are foundational for a peaceful and sustainable South Sudan. As the country approaches the next round of peace negotiations to be held from 17-21 May in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, the delegation prays that South Sudan’s sister countries and its leadership will carry with them the cries, wounds, and hope of the people of South Sudan so that there may be an end to widespread violence, systemic injustice, and rampant insecurity.
The people of South Sudan deserve to live in peace with justice, and the ecumenical movement continues to pray with them and walk with them on this journey for healing and reconciliation.
The delegation was led by WCC Deputy General Secretary Prof. Dr Isabel Apawo Phiri, WCC. Members of the delegation included: Maureen Jack, Church of Scotland; Rev. Kymberly Clemons-Jones, Presbyterian Church of the USA; Lydia Adajawah, World Communion of Reformed Churches; Esther Ngulwa, Christian Council of Tanzania; Rev. Dr Dorothy Akoto; Jillian Abballe, WCC, Nigussu Legesse, WCC; Geoffrey Alemba, All Africa Conference of Churches; Rev. Paska Nimiriano, Presbyterian Church of South Sudan; and Gladys Mananyu, South Sudan Council of Churches.
"WCC 'Pilgrim Team' to visit South Sudan (WCC news release 30 April 2018)