The general secretary of the Lutheran World Federation, the Rev Martin Junge has called for prayer and assistance over Christmas for the people and churches of Sudan in anticipation of the 9 January referendum on autonomy in South Sudan.
"Our hope is that the Comprehensive Peace Agreement of 2005 between the respective Sudanese parties will hold, that the people of South Sudan will be free to vote in the referendum and free to choose the future direction for their region, and that whatever the result of the vote the consequences will play out in a way that is peaceful and respectful of human dignity," Junge said in a 22 December letter to LWF member churches worldwide.
The referendum on independence for southern Sudan is part of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement signed in Nairobi that sealed the end of a 21-year-long civil war which led to the deaths of more than two million people.
The conflict pitted Sudan's south, where Christianity and traditional religions predominate, against the north, where most people are Arabs, and Sunni Islam is dominant. With 44 million people, Sudan is Africa's biggest country.
"The situation in South Sudan and with Southern Sudanese in the North is tense," noted Junge, a Chilean theologian who said he wanted to back a similar call for prayers and support issued recently by the World Council of Churches General Secretary, the Rev Olav Fykse Tveit.
"Many people are fearful," said Junge. "The already serious humanitarian challenges in South Sudan have been confounded by the movement of tens and tens of thousands of Southern Sudanese from the North to the South."
The LWF leader noted that while some of this movement is voluntary, much of it stems from fear and intimidation as many people have no place to stay due to a lack of organised reception centres. In addition, many people who want to move to the South have been unable to do so and remain in the North.
Junge urged Lutherans around the world "during this special time of Christmas" to pray for the people and churches of Sudan and to assist those in countries where the South Sudanese in diaspora are entitled to vote, such as Australia, Canada, Egypt, Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda, the United Kingdom and the United States.
"I wish you a blessed Christmas. May there be peace in the New Year throughout our world, and especially in Sudan," he said.
[With acknowledgements to ENI. Ecumenical News International  is jointly sponsored by the World Council of Churches, the Lutheran World Federation, the World Communion of Reformed Churches and the Conference of European Churches.]