Anglicans and Episcopalians around the world are responding to first-hand accounts of conflict and the growing humanitarian crisis in Africa’s newest country, South Sudan.
Since hostilities broke out on 15 December 2013 different factions of the South Sudanese army have been fighting each other and killing civilians, says the United Nations.
The UN believes that thousands have been killed and as many as 180,000 displaced in the violence.
Eye witness accounts of the conflict shared by clergy from the Episcopal Church of South Sudan and Sudan (ECSSS) over the past few weeks have fuelled calls for prayers and support for the beleaguered country.
The most disturbing reports came from the Bishop of Bor Ruben Akurdit Ngong, now in Juba, who spoke to several media outlets about the sitution in the town.
In a recent BBC interview he described it as “really terrible, it’s horrible. You cannot even describe it.
“Two days, we came out of the UNMISS compound and it seemed to be alright. But suddenly things turned around and we heard gunshots and the rebels running towards Bor town. So everyone started fleeing in different directions. They ran into the bush. Some came into the town. Some went to the River Nile, others towards Lakes State and Juba.
“It’s a war zone. You find dead bodies everywhere. When you are in Bor town, you move around closing your nose because of the smell. Bor is in anarchy because the government is not in control. The rebels are not in control. What they are doing is fighting each other. There is no system, no way that help can come to the civilian population. There is no way even to get medicines to the vulnerable. It is just a really terrible situation.”
On New Year’s Eve, the Rev Daniel Kon Malual, Secretary in the Office of the Bishop of Bor reported that, “Most of the Diocese of Bor Congregation is displaced and all villages of the archdeaconry of Baidit, Tong, Mathiang are all burned down by the Lau Nuer Youth. [The] Majority of the people are under trees in Awinrial County of Lake State. Other population flew to swarm area West of Baidit Payam and are under threat of attack from Lau Nuer Youth.”
Four days earlier South Sudan priest the Rev John Daau had written to supporters to explain that he, like so many others, had made the difficult decision to flee South Sudan – his overriding concern was the safety of his heavily pregnant wife who was only two weeks away from giving birth.
Mr Daau laid out the challenges facing the tens of thousands trying to leave the country and his guilt at making the decision to escape to family in Kenya in a relative’s vehicle.
“Those [who could] preferred to leave the country for fear of what may happen next despite the assurance from the government that all will be alright soon. I saw thousands of South Sudanese and foreigners (mainly Kenyans and Ugandan) crowded at the [Ugandan] border…Perhaps, over 2000 private vehicles were parked by the time I was at the border, all going through clearance on both side of Ugandan-South Sudan border as drivers scrambled in the long queues to clear and receive visas.”
On 3 January 2014, the Primate of ECSSS, Archbishop Daniel Deng Bul, wrote in a letter to the Archbishop of Canterbury, that the situation was increasingly desperate. “I myself and the head of SUDRA (our Church’s local Relief and Rehabilitation Agency) visited the area and [saw] over 75 thousand people (and more are still coming) mainly women and children, some occupying churches, schools and other living under trees.
“The situation is more desperate as there is no clean water to drink, little food to eat, no good sanitation and lack of health facilities.”
Archbishop Deng Bul explained that, as a response to the crisis, he has formed an Emergency Crisis committee with the Bishop of Bor as its chairman. The committe is working with SUDRA to consolidate a proposal for the humanitarian response in the affected dioceses.
The Archbishop called on relief agencies and the wider Communion to help the Province in its work to alleviate the suffering of people affected by the conflict: “Some of them are now dying of hunger and diseases, particularly the children ... as the humanitarian crisis has reached a breaking point.”
One response by Archbishop Justin Welby has been to write to all Primates of the Anglican Communion sharing with them ECSSS’s request for prayer and support.
Over the Christmas and New Year period, Anglican/Episcoapl agencies including ERD, the Anglican Alliance and the Anglican Board of Mission met on conference calls. Together, with members of ECSSS, they have been working on developing a co-ordinated humanitarian response through the local churches.
According to Bishop Andudu Adam Elnail of ECSSS’s Kadugli Diocese, whatever relief goods are required, he believes there will also be a need to train pastors for reconciliation and peace building.
The consolidated proposal is expected in a few days and will be posted on the Anglican Alliance’s website.
Episcopal News Service