[Episcopal News Service] Hundreds of South Sudanese Episcopalians united in prayers for peace at a two-day gathering held last week in Kenya’s Rift Valley.
The group, many of them refugees of the decades-long civil war in Sudan or more recently displaced by a politically fueled conflict in the south, was led in prayer and fasting by Sudanese bishops Nathaniel Garang Anyieth of Bor, Joseph Maker Atot of Pacong and Abraham Yel Nhial of Aweil.
Garang urged South Sudanese “to pray for the nation and unite as one people,” adding that “it is only through prayer to God that the land can be healed,” according to the Christian Times. Yel challenged the prayer gathering not to accept political divisions and called on the international community and neighboring countries to continue praying and supporting South Sudan.
Such prayer has been a central force in Sudan’s quest for peace.
Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori was joined last month by heads of the North American Lutheran and Anglican churches in calling the church to prayer for South Sudan.
“Prayer at the very least changes our own hearts,” Jefferts Schori said during an interview with ENS. “It joins us to people who are in the midst of radical suffering; it’s a reminder that we are all connected, that we are all children of the same God.”
During the past five months, South Sudan has faced its greatest challenge since becoming the world’s newest nation in July 2011, when it seceded from the north in a referendum on independence following almost half a century of civil war.
A separate conflict erupted last December after South Sudan President Salva Kiir accused his sacked former deputy Riek Machar of plotting a coup. Despite a May 9 peace deal between the two leaders, fighting has continued, but hope is resting on a fresh round of talks expected to begin soon in Kenya.
Bishop Anthony Poggo of the Diocese of Kajo Keji, in Central Equatoria, told Episcopal News Service that despite a great deal of disappointment among South Sudanese concerning the recent violence, “we continue to walk together with those who are directly affected and we continue to share in prayer.”
Poggo was speaking by telephone from the Church of England’s Diocese of Salisbury, which has been in partnership with the Episcopal Church of South Sudan and Sudan for more than 40 years.
It was the first time Poggo had left South Sudan since the fighting began in December. He had been attending the Consultation of Anglican Bishops in Dialogue, a group of African and North American bishops who’ve committed to reconciliation in the Anglican Communion and to walking together as a family despite deep cultural and theological differences.
“We as South Sudanese people have gone through much in the past and many of us pray a lot for God’s intervention and we continue to have the same hope we have always had,” said Poggo. “We strongly believe that this crisis will come to an end which is why we continue to be involved at various levels. Reconciliation is the key message of the church and we do that as part of our prayerful ministry to our people.”
Poggo said he has faith that the anticipated peace talks in Kenya will be successful in bringing an end to the conflict because “the leaders have agreed that others need to be involved. It’s not only our politicians who are involved. It includes other stakeholders.”
No region in South Sudan has escaped the impact of the recent conflict, which has left 1.5 million people displaced and 5 million in need of urgent humanitarian aid.
Poggo’s Diocese of Kajo Keji has provided shelter to thousands of internally displaced people.
“We have intervened, with the help of our partners, to offer support for emergency needs and basic medical needs and offering shelter,” he said.
“We trust in God, we believe that God is the same God that we prayed to during the 50 years of civil war who answered our prayer. We have to put our trust in God. I believe that everything happens in accordance to his purpose.”
Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby, during a recent interview with Episcopal News Service, said, “As we pray, our hearts and minds are shaped by the wisdom and power of the spirit of God, and as we pray we engage with God in the struggle against human evil.
“We must be battering at the gates of heaven in prayer” for South Sudan, he added. “Remorseless, unceasing prayer.”
For further information about the crisis in South Sudan and resources for prayer, study and action, visit: www.episcopalchurch.org/sudan.
— Matthew Davies is an editor/reporter for the Episcopal News Service.