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Peace Tag

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)

 

Last week, the President of South Sudan and the leader of the main rebel group signed a new power-sharing peace agreement, after an earlier ceasefire failed last month. Our partners, the Presbyterian Church of South Sudan (PCOSS) are cautiously optimistic about the newest peace agreement. PCOSS are calling for Christians everywhere to join them in prayers for a sustainable peace.

Believers in refugee camps across South Sudan and neighbouring countries will join faith communities across the world to pray together on Sunday, August 12.

Please join PCOSS and UnitingWorld in praying for:

  • God to intervene in the hearts of leaders so that they may truly embrace the agreement
  • Peace to be sustainable amongst all who are affected, from refugee camps in South Sudan and neighbouring countries, as well as diaspora communities around the world
  • Strength and wisdom to the peacebuilders who work tirelessly towards peace in their communities
  • Healing in the hearts and minds of those who have suffered most from violence and trauma
  • Assistance from the international community that is generous and appropriate to the needs of South Sudan

 

UnitingWorld is the international aid and partnerships agency of the Uniting Church in Australia. UnitingWorld supports 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)

 

As Zimbabweans go to the polls on Monday, it will be the first election in decades to be free of the influence of long-time ruler Robert Mugabe, who was forced to resign in November.

While the run-up to the landmark event has not been marked by the violence seen in previous elections, there have been increasing reports of voter intimidation and coercion, including threats of violence.

The UN Human Rights Office has welcomed the “widening of the democratic space” in Zimbabwe since President Mugabe’s removal and has expressed “cautious optimism” for a peaceful election on July 30.

Our church partner, the Methodist Church in Zimbabwe, has called for peace during the elections and voting rights to be upheld during the process.

Please join us in praying that peace prevails in Zimbabwe throughout this important election.

Please feel free to use the below text in your church or prayer group.

Prayer for Zimbabwe

Heavenly Father, we surrender the upcoming Zimbabwean elections into your mighty hands.

We pray that the gift of the Holy Spirit will guide everyone involved in this landmark election.

Give the Zimbabwean people the wisdom and serenity to choose their future leader,

A God-fearing leader who will respect and uphold human dignity and the laws of the land.

Zimbabwe has gone through many trials and tribulations over the years. Innocent people have lost lives through violence and indiscriminate killings. Lord Jesus, give people a spirit to forgive and reconcile with each other for the healing of the nation.

We pray that every person will respect and honour the outcome of the election. May your Holy Spirit touch every corner of Zimbabwe with love and understanding.

We pray that those who are not elected will humbly accept defeat, and that the winners will celebrate in peace, love and harmony.

We pray for peace amongst all the citizens, contesting parties, politicians and other stakeholders.

O God, we acknowledge you as the unifier for all the people of Zimbabwe.

We pray and trust that the election will be violence-free, and your Holy Spirit will prevail in the end.

Lord Jesus, you once said to your disciples, “I leave you peace, my peace I give you.” May these words echo in the hearts and minds of each Zimbabwean during the election period.

And may the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, guard the hearts of the Zimbabwean people in Jesus’ name.

Amen.

(Prayer written by a Zimbabwean Australian UCA member who wished to remain unnamed)

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.

Related reading: ‘South Sudan church leaders in Easter message stand committed to people in face of war and hunger’ (via World Council of Churches)

This is adapted from a sermon delivered by UnitingWorld’s Rev Dr Ji Zhang in April 2017 after returning from the 15th General Assembly of GKI-TP in West Papua (-Ed).

Reading

Romans 8:1-2, 6-11

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death.

To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. For this reason the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to Gods law—indeed it cannot, and those who are in the flesh cannot please God. But you are not in the flesh; you are in the Spirit, since the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him.

But if Christ is in you, though the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit that dwells in you.

Reflection

The Romans reading is a part last week’s lectionary. I have been avoiding this passage and preached on more “juicy” Gospel readings. After hearing a feminist critique of Christian theology’s treatment of the body, I could not look at the passage same again. This year, having traveled to Papua recently, I have a different insight.

The passage is a part of Paul’s debate of Law and Grace. The Law can be traced to the time of Moses. In the Old Testament books, human behavior and community organisation are defined and written down, and then passed on from generation to generation. In the New Testament, we know Jesus has simplified all laws down to two commandments: to love God, and to love neighbours.

We also know that Paul took the Gospel from Jerusalem all the way to the Romans. On this journey towards a new identity, he discovered a contradiction. Paul tells his Christian community there is a conflict between the flesh and the Spirit. The connecting point for today’s reading is in the early passage where Paul talks about his struggle. “I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate” (7:15). This is not just a problem for Paul, but also an existential struggle of all Christians.

By talking about his struggle, Paul names a common problem – “I do what I do not want” (7:17). Like Reinhold Niebuhr once said: Human beings are self-contradictory beings.

Recently I attended the 15th General Assembly of the Papuan Church. Our partner church GKI-TP gathered 5000 people from different parts of the church that has a membership of 1 million. I remember vividly a re-enactment of Gospel arriving in the land over 150 years ago. Church members dressed in traditional cloth to represent their past lives, practicing tribal law and using ‘black magic’ on their enemies. When the Gospel came, it appeared as light in the darkness; people took the old clothes off, and put on the new clothes – representing a new life in Christ.

However, the culture of tribal war still lingers. We see a similar situation in Papua New Guinea.  People are always ready to go into battle, and use conflict to resolve difference. These conflicts always cost lives, but never bring peace.

The theme of the GKI-TP General Assembly was “May your kingdom come, on earth as well as in heaven”. After a courageous message from preacher Rev Dr Rumbwas, I spoke on the behalf of the UCA and made this point: “When we listen to God, we are able to listen to each other”.

Our partner church was in a time of major change. The spirit of God chooses this vulnerable time to reshape it. Despite imperfect nature of the process, the church has grown as it receives migrants; but in the transmigration program some of the newcomers have taken the lands and businesses of indigenous Papuans. The church has elected a new Synod leadership team, and by doing this the Assembly has turned a volatile leadership conflict, into and opportunity for peace – not just in the leadership, but in the culture of the whole church.

“You are not in the flesh; you are in the Spirit, since the Spirit of God dwells in you.” This passage is real in the life of Papuan church.

From this experience I read Paul’s writing again, and realise that Paul is doing contextual theology. We know his people believed in the Hellenistic worldview, the Body-Soul dualism. In the Neo-Platonic world, the physical is inferior whereas the spiritual is transcendental. Plato once described our desires are like horses pulling in different directions whereas the soul is like the charioteer who wants the wagon to move in one direction.

But here, two key words indicate Paul has different ideas: Kata sarka – meaning ‘after the flesh,’ and Kata pneuma – ‘after the Spirit’. Notice Paul did not use the word ‘psych’ i.e. “the Soul”, but the Spirit, which is the Spirit of God.

Is Paul accepting the Hellenistic thinking: the body bad, the spirit good? No. He is encouraging unity, not duality. By speaking the language of the Romans, he inserts two new ideas: Zwh – Zoe – meaning ‘life’, and Oikei – ‘making its home’. This is the same root word for World Council of Churches  – which means ‘becoming a household.’

Paul further uses the word – ‘making its home’ – to stage his key argument about God. God’s life and peace are making home in our lives, more importantly making home in our bodily life. This is a new union between the flesh and the spirit. This indwelling nature of God speaks the beauty of Christian life. I have seen this partaking nature of God among our partners where the Spirit is transforming communities.

So, what does this mean for us today?

We struggle with many things. Yet God is graciously making home in our lives. It calls us not to go after the world of desire, instead to go after the Spirit of life and peace. Desire separates people, but peace unifies us across racial, national and religious divides.

In this season of Lent, we remember the recent Cyclone in QLD, the transition in the Papuan church, the famine in South Sudan, and the millions of people displaced by wars the Middle East. We also remember God is making home in the lives of these people. UnitingWorld’s Lent Event fundraising appeal supports our partners in Africa, India, PNG, and China. The way we support them is by showing how God of peace and justice is making home in the lives of the faithful.

The Church is the Body of Christ. The church is not just aiming for survival, but making an impact through witness and action. By working together we begin to understand Paul’s writing. “If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit that dwells in you”.

May we live and act according to the Spirit this Easter.

And may we share the same hope of our partners in Papua:

May your kingdom come, on earth as well as in heaven”.

Amen.

Rev Dr Ji Zhang
Manager of Church Partnerships, Asia
UnitingWorld

The following was adapted from a letter sent to encourage a large network of partners who work, pray and advocate alongside the Presbyterian Church of South Sudan (PCOSS). South Sudan is currently the epicenter of an emergency in Africa described by the United Nations as the largest humanitarian crisis since WWII.

April, 2017

I am sensing that many of us who advocate for the people of South Sudan are feeling discouraged. We all desperately seek an immediate end to conflict, to loss of life, and a way to provide humanitarian assistance for the people who suffer unimaginably. Millions displaced; uncounted killed; thousands starving… but they are not just numbers for us. They are family, friends and neighbours.

 

We feel the pain of the people and pray for them, yet nothing seems to improve. Our pleas seem to fall on deaf ears.

Sometimes we feel that we have done everything we can, yet nothing works. The truth is that the political, military and humanitarian situation in South Sudan is hard. People and governments disappoint and discourage us; the government of South Sudan seems to have become evil and the United States seems unwilling to intervene.

Photo credit: ABC, Martin Cuddihy (2016)

There is no value in pretending we don’t feel what we feel. We will never overcome discouragement by ignoring it or letting it paralyse our efforts. We always think that good will triumph, yet right now it seems more like failure.

When opposition seems to triumph, real conviction and genuine dedication are needed to stand against it. In my mind, I hear the clock ticking. Each tick equates to a baby starving, a woman being raped, a child being conscripted into the war, senseless killing of an aid worker… it is an ongoing nightmare. But we can’t just do nothing.

The following words of God were not just for Joshua, and that encourages me.

“Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous! Do not tremble or be dismayed, for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go.” (Joshua 1:9)

We must stop looking backwards at efforts that did not work; instead, we must shake off discouragement and keep trying. The price of failure is measured in lives lost and lives wasted. We cannot allow ourselves to falter or fail.

We won’t give up

At the same time, we, who work alongside you and consider you our friends and family in South Sudan, want you to know that we have not given up, and you must not either. We remember you, weep with you, and pray for you daily. We do not know when, but this horror will end. You will have a chance to rebuild your lives and establish a proper government that seeks to assist you rather than hold you back.

We know that people are divided and that even within ethnic groups there is disunity and distrust. But we also know that there is strength and unity in Christ.

South Sudan will be free

Just as there was a time when God called on Moses to lead the Jews out of Egypt, there will be a time when God provides freedom, justice, stability and peace for the people of South Sudan.

Time and time again, God tells us, “Do not be afraid.”

You are never alone. God walks ahead of you to guide you, beside you to be your friend, above and below you to support you, and behind you to encourage you. Call out to God for help in these troubled times.

Remember Jesus’ words at the conclusion of Matthew’s Gospel, “I am always with you, to the end of the age.”

Shake off discouragement. Don’t accept failure.

Instead, take heart – God’s success is inevitable.

– Bill Andress
Trinity Presbyterian South Sudan Ministry
South Carolina, USA

Leaders from our church partner in South Sudan have asked for prayer as they host training and discussions for peacebuilding in neighbouring Sudan.

Leadership and Peace Training in South Sudan, 2016

Since the civil war broke out in 2013, tens of thousands of South Sudanese have fled into Sudan to escape the fighting. Many now live in refugee camps in Khartoum, and South Sudanese Christians worship in churches there.

The Presbyterian Church of South Sudan (PCOSS) have sent leaders to conduct peacebuilding workshops in five different refugee camps in Sudan.

They will be addressing issues of trauma and reconciliation among the people, and also concerns of persecution, with the threat of planned demolition of some 28 churches by the Sudanese government.

Several church pastors have also been arrested for publicly challenging the church demolitions. Thankfully, they have now been released.

This work by PCOSS would not be possible without UnitingWorld supporters, who have helped fund peace and reconciliation workshops and peacebuilding activities in South Sudan and Sudan.

The leaders ask for prayer as they carry out their critical work in Sudan this week (ending 30 March).

Please join us in praying for the work of these courageous peacemakers, as well as the international response to the ongoing famine that is threatening millions in South Sudan.

The Presbyterian Church of South Sudan is responding to the famine through their development agency PRDA. You can help them get urgent food and water to people in affected areas. Donate Now

16 March, 2016

The National Council of Churches in Korea (NCCK) has released a statement urging President Trump to de-escalate the growing tensions between the United States and North Korea.

Tensions have risen due to the deployment of a US-supplied anti-missile defense system ‘THAAD’ (Terminal High Altitude Area Defense) in South Korea. In response, North Korea has announced they’re preparing a nuclear weapon, and many are predicting Kim Jong Un’s regime wants to strike first before THAAD is operational.

In a letter to international partners, the NCCK has made a call for peace and asked for prayers.

“[These] weapons are terrifying Koreans with the threat of nuclear war. We want peace for the Korean peninsula,” they said.

“Please pray for peace and justice on the Korean peninsula.”

Join us in answering their call. Please pray for peace, justice and for the people working across Korea to prevent war and nuclear disaster.


Letter to President Trump

Dear Mr. President,

On behalf of the National Council of Churches (NCCK), I bring the warmest greetings to you in the name of God of Peace.

The National Council of Churches in Korea wishes to express our concern with the growing tensions on the Korean peninsula. For over sixty years since the signing of the armistice agreement, the people of the Korean peninsula have lived in fear of war breaking out again in an instant. Where President Obama had failed using “strategic patience” you have the chance to either succeed in negotiation or on the other hand to bring disaster upon us.

Especially we worry now as the THAAD missile defence system has arrived in South Korea, and North Korea has fired off four missiles in response. We fear the tensions have risen higher than they have been in decades. We ask you to move now. Turn back these steps toward war, and take up a successful strategy for denuclearizing the Korean peninsula.

We have heard your administration is considering a pre-emptive strike on North Korea as one of your options. We urge you to take this off the table, as it would guarantee an all-out war. In this current situation of upheaval around South Korea’s presidency and impeachment process, ruling party members are clamoring more loudly for South Korea to obtain its own nuclear weapons. All of these actions take us closer to open battle. Turning the Korean peninsula into a battlefield again would ensure our annihilation.

We ask you to seek dialogue with North Korea immediately to decrease tensions. Dialogue is the only way toward de-escalation and convincing the North that their immediate survival is not at stake and does not depend on military defense.

For the sake of our continued existence we call upon you to enter into dialogue and turn Northeast Asia away from what might begin a new world war.

Sincerely,

Rev. Dr. Kim, Young Ju
General Secretary
National Council of Churches in Korea

This was posted in solidarity with our partners, the Presbyterian Church of Korea (PCK), the Presbyterian Church in the Republic of Korea (PROK), the Korean Methodist Church (KMC) and the National Council of Churches in Korea (NCCK).

The National Council of Churches in Korea is the largest ecumenical agency in South Korea. Supported by the major Protestant denominations, it is at the centre of movements for human rights and peace across Korea. Many Korean churches are working faithfully to bring peace, reconciliation, and reunification to the Korean peninsula.

Photo via koreareport2.blogspot.com