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Peacebuilding Tag

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

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

The Highlands region of Papua New Guinea is known for tribal wars and this one has been deadly. After eighteen months of conflict between two tribes of a few hundred people, there are eight dead; seven on one side and one on the other.

Key infrastructure has been levelled. The aid post, school, property and gardens have been destroyed, and the church torn down. Both tribes are living in constant fear of retaliatory attack. The question on everyone’s mind is, “Am I going to lose another child, husband, brother or have my property destroyed?”

I am here in Papua New Guinea at the invitation of UnitingWorld’s partner, Young Ambassadors for Peace. Our small group has been asked to conduct a shuttle mediation between these two warring tribes with the hope of establishing a sustained peace.

We trek deep into the jungle through a valley in the Highlands, and after 50 minutes, we arrive in the presence of the tribe that had lost seven people in the conflict. The most recent died of a bullet wound the previous day. Arms are folded, pain and anger is written on every face, and the communication with us is brief. The general thrust is “the other tribe is to blame, go and talk with them!”

More trekking follows, deeper into the jungle, across a boundary line, and we find ourselves in the presence of the second tribe. They welcome us and one of the Young Ambassadors for Peace, UnitingWorld’s partner, stands to speak.

He is passionate and shares his tribe’s story of being in a similar place of anger, frustration and violent conflict with an opposing tribe. Both tribes suffered loss of lives, resulting in lifelong trauma. Most, if not all tribes in the highlands of Papua New Guinea have trodden this path before. The results are always the same: fear, anxiety, depression; loss of land, home and life.

I’m then invited to ‘take the stage’ on behalf of UnitingWorld. I look around and observe in the weathered faces of the old and the unflinching and distant eyes of the “young warriors,” yearnings common to all humanity. If this is to be a success, we’ll have to tap into their needs and fears.

What can I possibly add? I haven’t experienced tribal conflict or the murder of family members or destruction of my home. And yet, like others, I have experienced other kinds of violence in my family that destroyed my self-confidence and drive for life. I actually can share in their experience of fear, anxiety, depression and loss.

Sharing this allowed us all to empathise with one another – one of the most important steps towards peace. We all want recognition and acknowledgement, security, our basic needs to be met, love and the ability to live in peace, despite the mistakes of the past.

The tribespeople reveal that they’re exhausted from living in constant threat of retaliation. They want peace but don’t know how, because the other tribe appears uninterested. And they can’t cross the boundary line without being killed.

They can’t – but we can!

The Bishop of the region stands and makes some commitments to rebuild the church, aid post and school, and to resource them if a peace deal can be settled. Terms are written, including a possible meeting of key elders from each tribe and compensation. We are on the right track.

It’s well after lunch when we begin the trek back to the first tribe. The entire population of the village greet us on arrival and guide us to the ground in front of the church, which immediately causes a potential problem. It’s believed that a conversation on ‘Holy Land’ will be binding and could result in further death if broken.

Finally, the Reverend of the local church (pictured below) brings together the people, especially those who want revenge. We stand with them and empathise with their experience of loss, just as we did with the other tribe. We speak of peace and hope for new beginnings. It becomes evident that they have the same fears as the other tribe and also desire recognition, security and their needs to be met.

Two significant things then occur. One man stands and admits to instigating the conflict by stealing property and then destroying the aid post and school. Then an elder steals the attention of the audience and says that he has been wanting revenge because his son was killed in the conflict. The tension builds.

Then something incredible happens. He goes on to say that he can no longer live with this conflict and these constant threats to his tribe. He exclaims that what they need is peace to move forward into a better future.

Here he is, paving the way for an alternative future that would break the cycle of revenge.

In this moment we are all reaching together for a future of peace and reconciliation. I can see in this moment God’s ministry of reconciliation (2 Cor. 5:18) taking place. We gather together with this tribe and pray for the families, for the children, and for a new and hopeful future. God is accomplishing the humanly impossible!

Six months later I receive a call. One of our Young Ambassadors for Peace tells me that after further peace talks these tribes are now living together in harmony, wanting to construct a new community of peace and justice. What more could we want?

As I look at this last photo I took in the valley, I’m reminded of what community should look like. As it draws me in I find it hard to imagine the violence because it looks so peaceful and serene. It provides a portrait through which we can imagine a peaceful and transformed community.

It illustrates to me that lasting peace formed out of violence and brokenness is possible. But sustaining peace demands several commitments, including:

  1. A space where people’s voices can be heard and their experiences acknowledged and validated
  2. The ability of people to be honest about their experiences of loss and pain
  3. A deep sense of empathic concern for the people whose stories are told
  4. A determination to re-see the humanity in the ‘Other’
  5. The desire and ability to equitably provide for the basic needs of every person in the communities involved

These ingredients were present in the Highlands of Papua New Guinea and the results now tangibly express their importance in creating peace.

18 July, 2016

The recent violence in South Sudan that resulted in the deaths of over 300 people has thankfully deescalated over the past week.

South Sudan’s President Salva Kiir and first Vice-President Riek Machar have ordered a ceasefire, and we are praying that it will hold long enough for government agencies to restore stability and humanitarian agencies to respond to the crisis.

The ACT Alliance has warned that there is a real possibility that the situation could deteriorate again, and they are closely monitoring the situation.

The Presbyterian Church of South Sudan Leadership & Peace Training Conference, 2016. Rev. Peter Gai with UnitingWorld’s Dr Sureka Goringe and Megan Calcaterra

“The developments in the country are alarming and threaten all that has been achieved in the last decade and through last year’s peace agreement,” said Pauliina Parhiala from the ACT alliance.

UnitingWorld has been in contact with our church partners in South Sudan who are grateful for the prayers and support of the Uniting Church in Australia.

“Thank you so much for your kind words of comfort. From day one we’ve known that your love and kindness are so great for us and that we are in your hearts. May God bless you and please keep on praying,” said Rev. Peter Gai, Moderator of the Presbyterian Church of South Sudan (PCOSS).

One of the biggest factors in the conflict is widely held to be failing leadership that has fed a sense of distrust and frustration in the South Sudanese people, who are tired of tribal politics and violence – a sentiment widely echoed by the international community.

“The people of South Sudan desperately want peace,” said UnitingWorld’s Megan Calcaterra, recently in South Sudan to connect with the PCOSS and attend one of their peacebuilding conferences.

“They see it as the most important step in developing their new nation and overcoming the challenges they face. Peace and trauma healing are key to their journey in overcoming poverty, achieving justice and reconciliation, developing leaders and building effective government and institutions.”

Since South Sudan became independent in 2011 the nation has been marred by civil war. In December 2013 a civil war was triggered by clashes between rival soldiers in Juba that degenerated into nationwide conflict. Tens of thousands died and close to one million have been displaced by the violence.

Please continue to pray for peace in South Sudan and the work of Presbyterian Church of South Sudan