By G. Jeffrey MacDonald
Participants hopping from one hotel to the next for General Convention meetings got a sobering reality check July 7 as Bishop Samuel Enosa Peni of Nzara, South Sudan, briefed the World Mission Committee on the deteriorating situation in his country.
“In only two years, the crisis came again — worse than it was before,” Bishop Peni said, referring to a protracted civil war that has pitted ethnic groups and even Christian churches against one another.
“Many people have been killed in front of me,” Peni said. “Many church leaders have been killed. They take everything on your body.”
Peni addressed the committee at a hearing on two resolutions: D024 and D062. D024 calls on dioceses and congregations to support the Episcopal Church of South Sudan and Sudan in its efforts to cultivate peace. D062 calls for companionship with the South Sudanese diaspora in the United States.
Urging the Episcopal Church to help in South Sudan is no token gesture, according to Peni and others who testified regarding their years of work.
The Episcopal Church of South Sudan and other Anglican Communion churches played instrumental roles in brokering peace that lasted several years until 2013. Since war resumed, Peni said, inflation has skyrocketed, rendering the government virtually incapable of helping meet basic needs.
“It is only church-supported clinics and church-supported schools that are existing,” Peni said. “Everything run by the government has collapsed. Whatever you do to help through the church will reach the people because the church is everywhere.”
In the past three weeks, five parishes in his Diocese of Nzara have been displaced, forcing them to seek refuge at the cathedral compound. In a neighboring diocese, another 25 parishes have faced a similar situation of displacement that has separated people from their gardens and livelihoods.
Russ Randle, a deputy from the Diocese of Virginia and sponsor of D024, reminded the panel that South Sudan is larger than Texas but lacks a modern road network. The lack of infrastructure, coupled with destabilizing upheaval, has taken a toll on humanitarian assistance.
“The best thing we can do to get clinics resupplied is to establish security,” Randle said. He noted that South Sudan’s northern border has been closed for years in a situation that has exacerbated local medication shortages.
The Rev. Robin Denney, a mission partner in South Sudan from 2008 to 2011, told the committee about the personal cost that church leaders incur in South Sudan.
“The risk that the bishops and the clergy take on each day to preach the gospel and stand with their people” is difficult to overstate, said Denney, associate for Christian formation at St. Cross Church in Hermosa Beach, California.
Peni said he hopes actions at General Convention can lead to long-term and close communication about the needs of the church in South Sudan. He also urged the Episcopal Church to keep the U.S. government informed about what is needed in South Sudan. The church can also support efforts to help trauma victims, he said, including clergy afflicted by PTSD, to heal from trauma that is now feeding a cycle of violence.
“You cannot offer what you don’t have,” Peni said about peace.
He said church leaders have learned to recover from trauma in countries such as Rwanda. Now such recovery is needed in South Sudan, he said, and international church support can begin to provide necessary training.