Sudanese church leaders urge support from U.S. faith community

"Now is the time for the church community in the United States--and the world--to raise its voice in solidarity with the people of southern Sudan as they move closer to an important referendum in the North Africa nation."

Archbishop Daniel Deng
Archbishop Daniel Deng Bul called on churches and the international community to mobilize against the threat of war in Sudan.
Photo: Shahonna James/CWS

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NEW YORK -- “Now is the time for the church community in the United States--and the world--to raise its voice in solidarity with the people of southern Sudan as they move closer to an important referendum in the North Africa nation.”  

That message of urgency is being delivered to the U.S. faith community as part of an awareness and advocacy campaign by a delegation of Sudanese church leaders as the country approaches a January 9 vote on whether southern Sudan should become independent from the rule of the Government of Sudan.

 "The churches want to say 'no more war in Sudan.'  We have lost more than two and a half million people. We don’t want to lose anybody again," said Archbishop Daniel Deng Bul of the Episcopal Church of Sudan.

In an interview following an Oct. 13 luncheon at the Interchurch Center in Harlem, Deng underscored the suffering and injustice southern Sudanese believe they have been subjected to at the hands of the Government of Sudan, which rules the predominantly Christian south from the predominantly Muslim northern part of the country.  He said both Christians and Muslims in the multi-religious south have suffered under the central government and want the freedom to choose whether to remain part of the state of Sudan or become independent.

Archbishop Daniel Deng and Bishop Johncy Itty
CWS Board Chairman Bishop Johncy Itty (r) listens as Bishop Paride Taban describes the suffering of the people of southern Sudan.
Photo: Shahonna James/CWS

The referendum is a provision of the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement, which ended 21 years of war between the Government of Sudan and the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement in the south. The delegation fears that attempts to interfere with the balloting or the results will result in chaos and renewed fighting between the north and south.

The Reverend John L. McCullough, executive director and CEO of Church World Service, responded to the delegation's appeal, saying, "From their vantage point this is one of the most critical and urgent global issues of our times.”  

McCullough joined the delegation in urging American churches to raise their voices "in places of power and policy."

Church World Service, which has a long history of working in partnership with the Sudan Council of Churches, hosted the luncheon. McCullough was especially moved by luncheon remarks from Roman Catholic Bishop Paride Taban, Bishop Emeritus of Torit, who said the faces of "the orphans, the widows, the people who reside on the ground" were reflected in the faces of the delegation.

"That was a very, very powerful witness and a message that all of us need to hear as we look for the most effective ways and means to join them in their witness for peace and justice," McCullough said.

For delegation members, the idea that the church--and the international community--should speak forcefully to encourage a free and fair referendum is not just a humanitarian gesture but a gospel imperative.  

"People have been suffering, people are oppressed, people are not treated as true human beings. They say they are treated like second-class citizens by Sudan and this must come to an end. It is in keeping with the Gospel of Jesus Christ," said the Rev. Dr. Sam Kobia, Sudan envoy for the All Africa Conference of Churches. 

Sudan leaders and luncheon attendees
Sudan ecumenical church leaders delegation with luncheon attendees, Oct. 13, 2010.
Photo: Shahonna James/CWS

The delegation is taking steps to assure that its advocacy resonates beyond the walls of the sanctuary.  In addition to sermons and meetings with ecumenical leaders, the Oct. 10- 22 U.S. visit includes discussions with U.N. officials and General Secretary Ban Ki-moon, a forum at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York City, and meetings with state department officials in Washington, D.C.

Kobia, also a former general secretary of the World Council of Churches (WCC), said, "The international community should do whatever they can to make sure that this referendum takes place; that it is free, it is fair, and it is dignified. Whether the final vote is for or against independence, the position of the people of southern Sudan should be respected and accepted by the international community."

"The world church, when it comes together, is a formidable source,” Kobia added.  He recalled President Nelson Mandela telling participants in the 1998 Zimbabwe meeting of the World Council of Churches that when the WCC called apartheid a sin, no weapons were as lethal in dismantling the system of apartheid in South Africa as that WCC statement.

That is the essence of the message the southern Sudanese churches are seeking from their ecumenical partners in the U.S.

“We want the government of Northern Sudan not to be allowed again to manipulate the referendum and then to bring back war to the people, and we need the churches to mobilize themselves and say 'Hey, no more war in Sudan,’" said Archbishop Deng.

Other members of the delegation include Roman Catholic Auxiliary Bishop Daniel Adwok Marko Kur of Khartoum; the Rev. Ramadan Chan, General Secretary of the Sudan Council of Churches; and John Ashworth, Sudan advisor for Catholic Relief Services and the Sudan Ecumenical Forum.


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