LOUISVILLE (PNS) — Critical peace talks began in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, on Feb. 6 aimed at ending the ongoing civil war in South Sudan. Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) partner the Rt. Rev. Peter Gai and his ecumenical colleagues, Archbishop John Baptist Odama and Archbishop Paulino Lukudu Loro, opened the talks with prayer. Gai is moderator of the Presbyterian Church of South Sudan (PCOSS) and chair of the South Sudan Council of Churches (SSCC).
The talks in Addis Ababa were convened by the East African bloc IGAD (Inter-Governmental Authority on Development) to push the warring sides back to the negotiating table. A ceasefire that took effect on Dec. 24 was violated within hours.
Church partners in South Sudan are asking Presbyterian brothers and sisters in the U.S. to join them in a day of prayer and fasting on Saturday, Feb. 10. The South Sudan group will gather from 10 a.m.–1 p.m. Saturday at the All Saints’ Cathedral Church in Juba.
Fr. James Oyet Latansio, general secretary of SSCC, said the theme of the day of prayer is based on 2 Chronicles 7:14: “If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven and forgive their sins, and will heal their land.”
Since the birth of South Sudan as a nation, over 50,000 people have been killed, more than 1.9 million people have been internally displaced and 1.8 million people have fled the country. The fighting began in December 2013 when South Sudan’s president, Salva Kiir, who is a Dinka, claimed a coup attempt by his former vice president, Riek Machar. Machar, a Nuer, claims Kiir is planning genocide of the Nuer. The Dinkas and the Nuers are the two largest majority populations in the country.
“We rejoiced with our Christian friends, especially our Presbyterian partners, in the creation of the new nation of South Sudan. That joy has turned to agony in the last few years, as we have watched the bloodshed, displacement and daily violence that has marked the internal struggle for power since the day of liberation. As the warring parties gather in Addis Ababa, I urge all of us in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) to engage in a special season of prayer for the people of South Sudan and call upon God’s Holy Spirit to claim those whose decisions will determine whether there will be a future of peace, or more conflict and death,” said the Rev. Dr. J. Herbert Nelson, II, PC(USA) Stated Clerk.
The peace talks are being attended by representatives of the warring factions with the goal of restoring a permanent ceasefire and the implementation of a lasting peace agreement.
“The current situation in South Sudan is tragic beyond words,” said the Rev. Debbie Braaksma, World Mission’s Africa area office coordinator. “We have five mission co-workers bravely serving in Juba alongside our partner churches working with the South Sudan Education and Peacebuilding Project, and in theological education and community development. Our church partners have told us that such on the ground presence means the world to them, but it is essential that this accompaniment be coupled with international advocacy and prayer for the current peace talks to be successful and the war to end.”
by Kathy Melvin, Presbyterian News Service