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Peacebuilding Tag

“Peace cannot be kept by force. It can only come through understanding.”
-Albert Einstein.

One of my favourite moments as a kid was blowing out my birthday candles. It wasn’t just the seductive sight of tiny flames snuffed out in an instant – very early on, I’d heard that if you made a wish while you blew, it would come true. Every year I asked for the same thing, more or less: world peace. For people everywhere. Just peace. (Once or twice I may have also requested a guinea pig, which came to fruition).

Still hoping for peace.

In a world where we often feel powerless, here are four practical steps to move beyond wishful thinking.

1. Learn

Understanding is at the heart of peace – peace in the heart, peace in the home, peace in the nation. But where does understanding come from? It’s the intersection of listening, experience and knowledge – all of which has never been more accessible. We’re flooded with opportunity – an internet that opens the worlds of others to our gaze; self development in the form of talks, groups, courses; news that’s instant and graphic and not always reliable. As the lines between fact and fiction blur, it’s tempting to opt out altogether in the quest for genuine understanding – of others, ourselves and the world. Hang in there. Keep learning. Keep seeking. This is where peace begins.

2. Pray

 “While I follow closely all  your stories and updates, I want you all to know that I am particularly and prayerfully aware right now of Rev John Yor,” a beautiful donor wrote to us recently.  “Just ‘knowing about’ these people and communities touches me deeply – I find myself praying for Rev Yor throughout the day as I go about the activities with the people who are part of my day.”

The Apostle Paul suggested to the Church at Thessalonica that they should pray without ceasing. Is it practical? Is it possible? Many of our supporters say yes, extending their knowledge of people and places into their daily prayer routines.

  • Scroll down here for our prayer points for the people of South Sudan, who are desperately in need of peace
  • Set an alarm that reminds you to pray during the day; take time to write a short prayer and send it to us to pass on to our partners peacebuilding on the front lines at info@unitingworld.org.au

3. Give

John Wesley flipped the idea of giving on his head when, as a young minister, he set a budget for his annual needs and regarded any extra as belonging to God and others. In the first year he earned 32 pounds, lived on 28 and gave the rest away. As his income increased, doubled and then tripled, he continued to live on 28 pounds. Wesley began a school, a sewing co-op, a free health clinic and a lending agency for the poor: he preached that using financial resources for others was a central part of faith. In a world where poverty and gross inequality drives a huge amount of conflict, what’s your approach to giving? How are you passing on your approach to others, and are you planning to leave a legacy?

4. Speak & act

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God.”
-Matthew 5:9

While most of us like to think of ourselves as peacemakers, often what we’re really doing is avoiding or delaying conflict. Genuine peacemakers are pro-active, not re-active. They have a strategy – they observe, they listen, and they act to help restore shalom – the wholeness of God – wherever they can. What are your personal peacemaking skills like? How much do you understand about the process and how committed to it are you in your everyday relationships?

  • Read up on resources like this one: How to be a peacemaker
  • Write a letter to your local MP about your commitment to building wholeness for everyone, not simply for the affluent here in Australia. Ask what financial resources are being put into developing relationships with our neighbours and what Australia’s vision is as a peace building nation in our region.

Can faith really heal a nation?

If you tried to make a plate of bean stew in South Sudan right now, you’d spend up to 201% of your daily wage simply on ingredients. The same meal here would absorb less than 1% of a typical income.

South Sudan’s food crisis is just one swirl in the vortex of a perfect storm. Drought, locusts and flooding have decimated crops. COVID-19 lockdowns have slammed borders shut and are choking off food, fuel and water supplies. An economic crisis has sent the cost of living through the roof. And simmering away beneath it all, conflict has driven 1.4 million people into makeshift refugee camps and cost hundreds of thousands of lives.

And it’s not a new problem. Sometimes, when we share news on Facebook of South Sudan and other places in conflict, we attract comments that are scathing about the ‘dysfunction of African countries.’ While there’s often not much insight behind the sentiments, they tap a frustration with the devastating long term disorder that seems to characterise life in places like South Sudan.

Why? Why is famine and war and corruption so deeply entrenched? Why does foreign aid seem to leak through such places like a sieve?

The answers aren’t simple, but you don’t have to look that far to find them.

It’s history: the impact of decades of colonial rule stunting the development of good leadership and allowing corruption to prosper.

It’s poverty, crippling everything from education, healthcare and hope.

It’s living in some of the most volatile places in the world in terms of climate and natural disaster.

And it’s the heart breaking normalisation of violence among people who are desperate for land and stock for food.

If these are the problems, what are the solutions? Those living in South Sudan itself say the most critical underlying need is for peace: stability in government and society from which to build a better future. But peace requires a movement – a deeply committed, organised base from among local people themselves. And in the context of such long term deprivation, where is the leadership for such a movement to be found?

A recent study by the US Institute of Peace found that faith-based people and organisations in South Sudan are the most important peace actors in the country*. Since independence in 2011, and indeed well before, it’s the churches who’ve stood at the forefront of peace negotiations and trauma healing. It’s people of faith who’ve risked their lives to travel to places where rape is a routine weapon of war against women and girls. It’s people of faith who are restoring unity, one by one, amongst people tired and suspicious of government efforts.

Many people, of course, find that hard to believe. Isn’t religion divisive? Doesn’t it tend toward the submissive, preferring to rely on the heart of God rather than the hands of people?

Sure, sometimes. As in most developing regions, religion is central to life in South Sudan, and the way theology is applied differs from place to place.

But right at the heart of religion is the unshakeable belief that transformation is possible, that love wins over death. And that’s a powerful force. Ask any of the faith leaders why they stay, and it’s a rock solid sense of call. “God hasn’t left us orphans,” they say. “God is at work in the world, healing and renewing. And we are part of it.”

It’s a shared conviction. Religion in South Sudan isn’t the major flash point of conflict – it’s cultural differences between tribal groups that go back centuries. While Christianity is the majority faith (around 60% of the population), since 2011 there’s been relative harmony between Christians, Muslims and followers of traditional African religions. From city cathedrals to mosques and village chapels, the leadership of faith communities have the confidence of the people and are united in their desire for peace. But is it enough? Why isn’t change happening faster?

The South Sudan Council of Churches, the country’s largest unifying faith-based body, is working on it. With more than six million members from seven denominations, they’ve developed a strategic plan which represents South Sudan’s most comprehensive road map out of conflict – nothing quite like it exists even within government. Based on four pillars – advocacy, neutral forums for negotiation, reconciliation and organisational strengthening – the Council of Churches’ Action Plan for Peace was officially adopted in 2015. But what does it look like in practise?

Rolling out a peace action plan

The Uniting Church in Australia, through UnitingWorld, has some insight into the process. In 2012, it developed a partnership with the Presbyterian Church of South Sudan (PCOSS), a pivotal member of the Council with networks that reach well beyond the cities into regional areas and places ravaged by conflict, including refugee camps outside the country. Simply put, the Action Plan for Peace is the sending of ministers to teach, preach, counsel and care – treacherous journeys to communities where hunger and despair are woven into the fabric of life. It’s developing leadership skills and training theological students in Juba. It’s women marching for peace, month after month, in the capital, Juba. And it’s working alongside government to advocate for change in a context where deliberate neglect of certain groups – sometimes to the point of starvation- is seen a legitimate tactic in quelling dissent.

Christian women marching for peace in South Sudan, 2017

It’s clear that the wisdom and spiritual care of church leaders really matters: 82% of Peace Institute Survey respondents, when asked where they would turn for help aside from immediate family, mentioned their religious leaders. Research found that 39% of people regarded their community and religious leaders as their main source of information – combined with the fact that only 8% of people have internet and 20% have mobile phones, the equipping of leaders with accurate, harmonising and life giving messages is critical. These messages often come direct from the pulpit – 54% said the most useful contribution of the faith community towards peace is through sermons and prayers*, and UnitingWorld’s partners are certainly hands-on in terms of changing hearts and minds at the local level. But it’s not their only tactic.

25% of survey respondents said that more important than spiritual care was the organisation by faith groups of peace conferences and workshops. These are the teaching moments – often in hard to reach, conflict ridden places – that bring together the leaders of warring tribes to negotiate, listen, learn conflict resolution skills and support trauma healing.

A UnitingWorld-funded conference took place earlier this year in Cairo, Egypt. It was a tough assignment, drawing on refugees from different tribal groups who’ve traditionally resisted reconciliation. A second workshop in Juba, attended by church leaders, led to the resolution of a conflict between groups in one community. Three trained ministers intervened after negotiations about leadership became heated; they were able to bring the groups together and the leadership appointment went ahead without violence.

It’s these local leaders who’ll go back to their tribal groups, one by one, to share the skills that underpin peace. Without them, the movement can’t gain momentum. Very little will change.

What makes the critical difference?

The churches’ ability to capitalise on this reach and influence depends very much on developing their own capacity. Within the Nile Theological College, students are learning not just theological ideas but practical skills like peace building and fundamental human rights values that have gone undeveloped for decades. National Assemblies of various denominations strive to bring together their members to seek spiritual guidance and encourage one another. And leaders are being invited to advise government and demonstrate their negotiation skills in forums as significant as the 2018 Peace Negotiations in Addis Ababa, Egypt.

Right now, all eyes are on the need to safeguard South Sudan from the likely ravages of COVID-19, providing food, water and medicine to stave off hunger – and the need is huge. But in addition, the churches haven’t wavered from the big picture. They’re fiercely committed to investing in the peace process and the nurture of leaders who’ll shepherd their nation toward long term stability.

It’s incredibly difficult work. In Juba, members of the PCOSS leadership are hungry, without reliable food supplies, electricity, water or internet. Their own day to day existence is absolutely precarious, even as they care for others.

That’s why over the coming year, UnitingWorld is even more committed to supporting our partners. We’re funding two more peace workshops, the training of theological students through the Nile College, upgrades of vital transport to allow travel to remote area and investment into helping the Presbyterian Church bring together people for its General Assembly. All of this is in addition to humanitarian work in response to the pandemic. It’s long term, painstaking work and it often lacks the immediate punch of livelihood investment, or water and sanitation projects. But it’s also exactly consistent with the way transformation happens – incrementally, in small steps. Most significantly? The church is investing in individuals who drive change.

If faith really can heal a nation, this is how it happens.

UnitingWorld is looking for people with a heart for nurturing Christian leadership to bring lasting change in South Sudan and other places around the world. You can contribute by praying and sending messages of solidarity to partners in South Sudan, or help meet some of the long term costs of the project. If this project is your call, please be in touch with our Partnerships Team on 1800 998 122 or email us on info@unitingworld.org.au.
You can donate here

“For everything there is a season, and a time for every purpose under heaven…
A time for war, a time for peace… A time for mourning and a time for rejoicing…”

They’re words from the writer of Ecclesiastes, but like a lot of people, I heard them first in the classic song ‘Turn, Turn, Turn’ by The Byrds. I was 16, devouring all the classics from the 50’s and 60’s. Pete Seeger’s melodic conjuring of the seasons – nothing out of place, nothing unexpected – was reassuring. It was also biblical: a win win.

Fast forward to the chaos facing so many around the world – an estimated 265 million people are facing acute food insecurity due to COVID-19, for example – and I’m not so sure.

This is a season of suffering, and I want it to end.

I spoke recently to Rev John Yor in South Sudan. The line was terrible – electricity is reliable for only a few hours each morning in the capital Juba – and he’s softly spoken, with an undercurrent of strength that makes you think of the tallest tree in a silent forest. I had trouble hearing everything he said, but what I heard was enough.

He’s put aside two pieces of bread for his dinner, he tells me when I ask about hunger, and will look for more food in the markets with hundreds of others. Food prices, he says, are through the roof. Local crops have been destroyed this year by drought, a locust plague and now flooding; border closures, lockdowns and conflict have choked supplies coming in from Kenya and Ethiopia. In his church compound, he finds people who have walked for days to beg for food, water and shelter. His heart is breaking as he struggles to respond. “We have little but prayer,” he says.

South Sudan’s long season of suffering is well past it’s due date. Her people are vibrant and her land a diamond in the rough, but the country holds the dual honour of being the site of Africa’s longest running civil war and its worst refugee crisis. The causes of this tragedy reach deep into history – Egyptian and British rulers who favoured the north (known simply as Sudan since the South won independence in 2012) and provided basic infrastructure like roads, hospitals and water systems that the South still lacks; brazen raiding of the South for slaves; tribal groups warring over access to land and livestock to feed themselves as natural disasters constantly push the country to the brink of famine.

And now COVID-19. Last year the World Food Bank fed five million people in South Sudan; this year the numbers are expected to double. Mask wearing, soap and water for hand washing – these things are far beyond the reach of ordinary people, even if they had access to the televisions, radios and social media that carry public health messages. In rural areas where Rev John and his team from the Presbyterian Church of South Sudan work, people look to the skies for food drops from the UNHCR. They live in tents and shacks thrown together in places where tribal fighting hasn’t yet left homes looted and burnt. They’ve fled with the clothes on their back and little else. Since 2013, 1.4 million people have become refugees inside the country and another two million live in camps across the border in Kenya and Ethiopia.

I watched a report from Al Jazeera on YouTube that brought the painful reality of life in South Sudan into agonizing focus. And I looked at images sent to us by John and his team of their time in a refugee camp, giving out food, masks, hand sanitiser and clean water. The people they meet simply cannot believe that on top of everything else, a deadly virus stalks their country. South Sudan has 80 beds in its new infectious unit facility, and only one COVID-19 testing center in the capital. John and the Presbyterian Church have been out in communities teaching about social distancing, a massive challenge in place where hundreds of people touch the same bore handle for water and families live shoulder to shoulder under tarps.

“John,” I said to him, heart as low in my chest as it’s been in a long time, “How do you maintain your hope through all this?”

His reply was both as strong and as gentle as his description of South Sudan’s pain.

“I hold close the words of the writer of Ecclesiastes,” he said. “For everything there is a season – a time to be born, a time to die. A time for war, a time for peace; a time to mourn and a time to rejoice. And God has made all things beautiful and set eternity in our hearts.”

This is no wishful thinking – no glib quote to justify an indulgent life backed by the belief that God has everything under control and there’s no need to act.

It’s the lifeblood of a faith that drives a man to risk his life daily for others, alone in a city too dangerous for his family to make their home. It’s the steely heart of a commitment to God’s world and God’s people no matter what; a rock-solid anthem that life can and will be redeemed. It’s the language of call and conviction and all the weight of intimately knowing an unshakeable love that transforms.

It leaves me, to be honest, a bit torn apart. My own faith is a pale shadow in comparison; I have questions and doubts and anger that simmers. I have no doubt John does too.

But John is the man in the moment, the person for whom all this is more than simply a phone call. His eyes are on eternity and his hands and heart are raw from the ruthless realities of here, of now – and still he hopes. Still he proves the presence of Christ, alive and at work in the world, forever faithful.

If that isn’t enough to galvanise us to action, then what is?

Life in Australia has its own share of sorrows right now: there’s a breath-holding claustrophobia as case numbers rise and fall and many of us remain locked away from each other and our ordinary dreams of work, family, future. Part of the antidote to this suffering is opening the window to a bigger picture, a wider world into which we’re woven through our shared experiences of loss and love. John’s voice, the steadfastness of Christian people scattered throughout South Sudan, India, Zimbabwe, Indonesia – these are the flickers of hope that warm us, the places where we see God’s presence in the midst of absolutely ordinary people like us.

We might long for a new season, but the truth John and others reveal is that whatever our pain, whatever our joys – God is present and God’s people are faithful. Our brothers and sisters in South Sudan call us to a season of steady determination, the bending of our hands and hearts to give and pray and reflect, the quiet faith that grows with solidarity. It feels familiar, but with each story we collect of ordinary people caught up in the extraordinary, it becomes new. There’s strength in that. It’s enough.

Our church partners in South Sudan are racing against the clock to get food and water to people in lockdown and in refugee camps, and providing masks, sanitiser and health messaging. Please give, pray and learn from our Christian brothers and sisters in South Sudan here: www.unitingworld.org.au/southsudancrisis

Brooklyn Distephano blogs on life as a student in Ambon during COVID-19. Brooklyn is a 17-year-old Ambonese high school student and UnitingWorld Peace Workshop participant.

The COVID-19 pandemic first spread to Indonesia on 2 March 2020 when a dance instructor and her mother were infected by a Japanese national. By 9 April, the pandemic had spread to all 34 provinces in the country after Gorontalo confirmed its first case, with JakartaEast Java, and West Java being the worst-hit.  Today, there are almost 49,000 cases with 2,500 deaths.

On 19 March 2020 I went to school, and when I arrived there was an announcement saying that there was going to be a teachers’ meeting. After the meeting our teachers went to each class to give assignments to the student because we were going to be learning from home due to Covid-19.

When I first heard that I felt so happy! In my mind I could sleep late, wake up late and go on vacation etc. After our teachers finished giving the assignment, we were allowed to go home. Within the first week all my assignments were finished and I thought, “During this learning from home I’m going to be so happy!”

It didn’t turn out like that.  Everyday, there’s more bad news than good news. Everybody has become sad, and so am I. My life has became very boring because all I can do is wake up, eat, and play on my phone until I got to bed again. Also I can’t meet my friends so that has made the situation even worse.

In the middle of this pandemic, things in Ambon have become very different. Most of the places that are usually crowded have become very quiet. The Government has said to the people that we must always wear a mask if we want to go outside. But still there are a lot of people who do not obey the rules. That’s why there’s so many police and authorities patrolling in Ambon. If they catch people who don’t wear a mask when they go outside, usually they get punished. If a man is caught and he doesn’t have a mask, he will be asked to open his t shirt and use that as his mask. But many people can’t stay home because they have to work – if they don’t work they will have no food. So it is very hard for us here.

I’m afraid that if we don’t obey the Government and wear masks then this pandemic will end with so many casualties. And I also worry for the people who can’t stay at home and be safe. I appreciate so much the people that are fighting Covid-19 at the forefront. Please respect them because while we are able to sit down in our house and talk to our family, they can’t. So let’s give these fighters big respect and appreciation.

Thank you for reading my story of being a student in Ambon during this pandemic. All I want is to go back to school, to see my friends and be part of building a better future for Ambon.

-Brooklyn.

Lent Event 2020

A huge thank you to everyone who has been supporting Brooklyn, other young leaders, women’s groups and small business start-ups through gifts to this year’s Lent Event.

A reflection by Brooklyn Distephano, 17-year-old Ambonese student and UnitingWorld Peace Workshop participant.


In 1999 Ambon suddenly became a war zone. A conflict between religions caused over five thousand people to lose their lives and half a million to lose their homes. Many children and teenagers became child soldiers and risked their lives for something that destroyed them. The conflict ended in 2002 after the signing of the Malino Agreement.

Right now, Ambon is more peaceful, and tolerance between religions is becoming so good here. There are a few lessons about peace from Ambon for the world.

The first is the past conflict. It made the people of Ambon know that conflict will only bring chaos, death, and that nobody can win. They wanted to change for the future.

The second is the people in Ambon. The people who suffered because of conflict of course didn’t want the next generation to have the same suffering as them, so they teach their kids about peace and love. In fact the conflict ended not only because of the signing of Malino Agreement but also because the people who were tired of living with conflict and fear made a movement to end the conflict.

The third is this movement joining with world organizations like UnitingWorld to make workshops about peace for kids, teenagers and all people. The workshops are really important for the people of Ambon because they can end the trauma that some people still have and give learning for the new generation.

I take part in the workshops and I am very thankful. It’s not just important for the people in Ambon, but to all the people in the world who can see how Ambon turned from being a warzone to a city of music. Even from the dark past and conflict, Ambon is finding its way back to the light and hopefully to the brighter future. When we all learn from this, the world can have peace.

Now it is just up to us – each living human being. Are we going to turn this world to a warzone or to a better place? This is every person’s choice. So what’s your decision?

Brooklyn Distephano

Lent Event 2020

A huge thank you to everyone who has been supporting Brooklyn, other young leaders, women’s groups and small business start-ups through gifts to this year’s Lent Event. There’s still time to learn more about the projects, watch our video series and donate at www.lentevent.com

As South Sudan emerges from seven years of brutal civil war, COVID-19 is creating new threats to peace. Our partners have asked us to pray in solidarity and keep holding onto hope.

Earlier this year, the struggle for peace in South Sudan took a significant step forward. In February, President Salva Kiir Mayardit swore in Dr Riek Machar as Vice President and both declared the end to their rivalry; a power struggle that resulted in a seven-year civil war that left nearly 400,000 people dead.

After many failed starts at peace and a great deal of international pressure, the agreement of leaders to form a ‘Transitional Government of National Unity’ was a cause for celebration.

Power vacuums causing new waves of violence

Unfortunately, the new government has failed to appoint state governors to provide much-needed local leadership and this has already resulted in renewed violence. An estimated 800 people have been killed in intercommunal clashes since February.

Just last month, hundreds of people were killed in outbreaks of  violence between the Lou Nuer and Murle communities in Jonglei state. Hundreds of women and children have also been abducted and are still in captivity.

PCOSS Vice General Secretary Rev Orozu Daky shared these words with us recently:

“My heart is bleeding with what is happening between Lou Nuer and Murle…I know for sure through prayers of many believers around the world, there will be peace between them. However, God has time frame to that to happen. We need peace among the two sister tribes.

Pray together without ceasing. Amen”

South Sudanese faith communities in Australia have also called on the Church for prayer and solidarity. Responding to the recent violence, Pastor Moses Leth of the South Sudanese Nuer Faith Community in Queensland wrote to members of the Uniting Church in Australia:

At this point, we do not know what else to ask of you besides your will to plea to God with us. As always, we seek for your prayer and solidarity. 

Click here to read Pastor Moses’ full letter.

New stressors on cycles of violence in South Sudan

As well as the of lack of political leadership at the state level, ongoing food insecurity and COVID-19 are also fueling intercommunal violence.

In South Sudan, 6.5 million people, or 55% of the population, are expected to face severe food insecurity between May and July 2020, owing to the dire economic situation and events like last year’s floods and locust invasions that destroyed crops, killed livestock and contaminated water supplies of whole communities.

While food insecurity increases the risk of violence over land and resources, violence in turn works in a vicious cycle to increase food insecurity. Conflict prevents people from moving in search of food, it restricts humanitarian access to deliver emergency food and supplies and disrupts trade routes and access to markets.

COVID-19 is also expected to put further pressure on the cycle of violence. Social distancing requirements have meant peacebuilding and mediation efforts have stalled and people’s ability to go to work and buy food have been severely restricted.  In addition, a sharp fall in government oil revenues has meant  funds for peace processes have been cut.

What can be done? Is there any hope?

Our partner the Presbyterian Church of South Sudan (PCOSS) has been committed to working for peace in South Sudan since the 1970s. This has included running peacebuilding and trauma healing workshops for South Sudanese people of various tribes living in refugee camps in bordering countries, training church leaders in peacebuilding skills that can be shared with the wider community, as well as collaborating in ecumenical peace efforts as part of the South Sudan Council of Churches (SSCC).

Now, PCOSS is working as part of the SSCC to mediate between the Lou Nuer and Murle communities to seek a peaceful resolution. At a time when there is an absence of local leadership and UN peacebuilding missions and NGOs are facing difficulties in implementing peace programs, the work of the Church is especially vital for reconciliation and peace.

PCOSS Moderator Rt Rev Peter Gai Lual Marrow said:

“The church cannot sit back and watch while the nation is bleeding.  Now am asking your prayers in this process of mediation we started trying to bring together the two communities to the table to talk about possible reconciliation.”

“The church, no matter how fragile is the leadership of this country, will try her level best to say “STOP” fighting and let people resolve this recycling revenge amicably through peaceful negotiations…Let’s hope for success, keep going on in our thoughts and prayers.”

PCOSS Moderator Rt Rev Peter Gai

During COVID-19, PCOSS is providing vulnerable communities with awareness about COVID-19, food and water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) items and delivering psychosocial support. They are also continuing their critical peacebuilding activities.  You can help. Click here to support our partners to respond to COVID-19 and save lives in South Sudan.

Please join us in prayer:

  • For PCOSS and SSCC, and that their peace mediation efforts are successful
  • For lasting peace between the Lou Nuer and Murle communities and others across South Sudan
  • For the safe return of abducted women and children
  • For the recovery and healing of people physically injured or experiencing trauma; and
  • For our partners PCOSS as they respond to COVID-19.

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 

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!

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)

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

‘And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body. And be thankful.’ Colossians 3:15
Lent is a time of repentance, fasting, and preparation for the coming of Easter. It is a time of reflection regarding the suffering, death, and resurrection of our God and Saviour Jesus Christ. It is also time for self-examination and reflection, for us to redirect and rededicate our attention and action, prayerfully, to the most crying needs in our society.
Let us heed Pope Francis’s call to a day of prayer and fasting for peace in South Sudan the Democratic Republic of Congo, to be held on 23 February, in the first week of Lent according to the Gregorian calendar. Let us join in prayer and fasting, as part of the global ecumenical movement in light of the ongoing social- political tension, violence, and the suffering of the affected peoples in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and South Sudan.
In the DRC, 4.3 million people are displaced throughout the country and 13.1 million people will be in need of humanitarian assistance throughout the country this year.
In South Sudan, 2 million people have fled the young nation as refugees and about 1.9 million people are internally displaced, over the past four years of conflict- with 7 million people inside the country – that is almost two-thirds of the remaining population – still need humanitarian assistance.
Children, young men, and women have been among the most affected. Millions of women and girls are exposed to gender-based violence in these crisis-affected areas.
The churches and communities are dedicated and present in these communities, accompanying the affected people through these challenging times. We acknowledge the courageous and hopeful work that carries on each day to serve the people in need. May the prayers of all Christians on 23 February for the gift of peace be a sign of solidarity and closeness to those suffering in South Sudan and DRC.

May God bless you and your ministry during this season of Lent,

Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit
General Secretary

See Original Prayer