The Republic of South Sudan declared its independence in July, making it the world’s newest country and a “5-month-old baby,” said the Rev. Ismail Kenani, general secretary of the Sudan Bible Society.
As a “newborn nation,” South Sudan faces many challenges, Kenani said. The capital city of Juba is really just a small village with no infrastructure and is struggling to fill its new role. The country has a lot of oil, but not many skilled workers. Tribal conflicts continue, and the government has a high rate of corruption.
But Sudanese Christians still have faith, he said, adding that times of persecution are a test of that faith.
“In both the South and the North, we are living by faith,” Kenani said. “We are awaiting that hope in Him alone.”
The PC(USA) has two partner churches in Sudan: the Presbyterian Church of Sudan and the Sudan Presbyterian Evangelical Church. Persecution of Christians is a real threat, said Debbie Braaksma, the PC(USA)’s area coordinator for Africa. There is also a lack of trained leaders, especially women.
In working with Sudan, Presbyterians must remember that relationships are key, she said.
“Our fellowship that we hold together in Jesus Christ is really No. 1,” Braaksma said.
Other speakers also emphasized the need for continued partnership and dialogue in peace building.
“We work in partnership,” said Ambassador Dane Smith, U.S. senior advisor on Darfur. “It’s slow, but that is the way forward.”
It’s important for the United States to look for the right combination of diplomatic, economic and sometimes military options in partnership with the rest of the world, he said.
The Rev. Goanar Chol, Sudanese ministries resource person for the Presbytery of Des Moines, reminded Presbyterians again of the importance of partnership in Sudan. If American Presbyterians are making a trip to Sudan, they should travel with a Sudanese from the diaspora, he said. Sudanese better understand cultural issues like how polygamy can affect HIV/AIDS transmission and therefore peacemaking, he said. That might be a hard pill for U.S. Presbyterians to swallow, but Chol recommended drinking a bigger glass of water if that’s the case.
Members of the network also heard updates from several mission co-workers in Sudan via Skype or in person. The co-workers described their work, relationships and prayer needs.
Participants could attend one of several small-group sessions focusing on peacemaking and children, community health education, the PC(USA)’s education program in Sudan and working with the Office of Public Witness in Washington.