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Presbyterian Church of South Sudan Tag

I didn’t grow up in a Christian family, but living in the Bible Belt of the United States meant that I wasn’t short of church experiences when I was a kid. For a long time the norms and traditions of the church felt strange and unfamiliar to me, and there were a lot of things about ‘doing church’ that I didn’t quite understand.

I remember the thing that seemed the oddest at the time was ‘passing the peace’. I learned very quickly what to say and do, but the reasons behind the custom didn’t make a lot of sense to me. After being a Christian for more than ten years, I still thought of passing the peace as some sort of nicety that we do as a means of encouraging fellowship and making one another feel at ease within the congregation. That is, until a trip to South Sudan made me see peace in a whole new light.

On my first full day in the capital Juba, I attended a peace and reconciliation workshop run by the Presbyterian Church of South Sudan, UnitingWorld’s partner church in the country. With pride of place right up the very front, my eyes couldn’t help but be drawn to the banner hanging in the middle of the stage. Written on it in both English and Arabic, was the theme of the training inspired by Ephesians 4:3:

“Do your best to preserve the unity which the spirit gives by means of the peace that binds you together.”

Reading that banner I started to think about peace and my experiences of it. In Australia, peace is abundant. And I often take it for granted. But sitting in that church hall in Juba, I started to really think about what it means when peace isn’t present in a place.

As Christians, we’re called to love our neighbours and forgive those who sin against us. We’re bound together in unity because of the peace that exists between one person and another. But how many of us in Australia have ever had to forgive someone who has killed their family member? Perpetrated a war crime? Violated a loved one? How many of us has ever looked into the eyes of someone who has wronged us and unconditionally offered them peace?

For the people of South Sudan, peace isn’t a passive state of being. Without the luxury of taking it for granted, they are constantly working towards peace. Fighting for peace. Praying for peace. Throughout the Bible, all of us are called to seek peace, and many faithful South Sudanese people are answering this call. But I wonder – are we answering?

When our typical experience is the absence of conflict – the reality for most Australians – it’s easy to forget what it means to seek peace, especially when the peace we’re seeking is halfway across the world. But seeking peace doesn’t mean we have to be in the room at the ceasefire negotiations. It doesn’t mean that we have to be the ones laying down arms.

Seeking peace takes many forms. It’s the prayer you say before bed every night. It’s the letter you write your MP asking them to put peace at the top of their agenda. It’s the monthly donation you put aside to support the ministers working towards reconciliation.

It’s passing the peace, not just to your immediate neighbour, but those sisters and brothers that are keeping faith and building a church of peace in the hard places of the world.

We can all make a difference. We are all peacemakers. And together we can help bring peace to South Sudan.

– Megan

Find out how you can support the Peacemakers of South Sudan: https://www.unitingworld.org.au/projects/peacebuilding-and-trauma-healing

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

11 July, 2016

More than 300 people are reported to have been killed in South Sudan since heavy fighting broke out between political factions late last month.

Intensifying gun battles between government and opposition forces in the capital Juba and in the north-west town of Wau have resulted in dozens of civilian casualties, and thousands have been displaced from their homes.

Leaders of the Presbyterian Church of South Sudan say the people want peace

70,000 civilians have been forced to seek shelter in churches, surrounding villages and UN camps – many of which have come under fire along with government buildings. A rocket-propelled grenade reportedly landed in one of the UN camps wounding eight people.

South Sudan’s civil war was divided along ethnic, tribal lines with the president – Salva Kiir, a Dinka, and the vice-president Riek Machar, a Nuer – representing their respective tribes. Earlier this year they formed a power-sharing transitional government, a move that was hoped to bring a lasting peace to a conflict that has a death toll estimated by some to be as high as 300,000.

Despite recent press statements from both Kiir and Machar’s staff making a joint call for calm, recent events suggest it’s unlikely they are in full control of their forces. The renewed fighting has raised fears that the fragile peace deal they made in August last year will not hold, and the country could deteriorate into full-scale civil war.

The Presbyterian Church of South Sudan Leadership and Peace Training Conference, 2016

Rev. Peter Shabak Gatluak of the Presbyterian Church of South Sudan has described the feeling in Juba
right now as one of “fear and panic”, and has asked the Uniting Church in Australia to pray for them as they fear for the future of their country.

Please join us in praying for the people of South Sudan, as well as our partner church as they work for sustainable peace and lead their people through uncertain times.

Read more:

Scores killed in South Sudan fighting, gunfire erupts in capital Juba – SMH

‘Wounded in spirit, South Sudan’s people need the salve of mutual forgiveness’ – Guardian (Op Ed)