By Gavin Drake and originally posted on the Anglican Communion News Service – Re-posted with permission.
A group of South Sudanese expatriates living in the US have met to discuss “obstacles and the foundations for reconciliation and peace-building” in their native land. In a message to other ex-pats issued at the end of the conference organised by the American Friends of the Episcopal Church of the Sudans, they said: “We realised our need for a stronger and more unified voice.” And they are calling on other South Sudanese in North America to unite for peace.
“We sense that the time has come for us as South Sudanese in the North American diaspora to widen the dialogue among our communities, addressing our differences and fears in order to build bridges for peace,” they said. “Although we who participated this weekend had a powerful experience, our gathering lacked a full representation of our entire South Sudanese community. Until the diaspora speaks with a united voice, we cannot expect to be heard by the powers that are currently draining the life out of South Sudan. We urgently invite you to bring your bone and add the missing part to complete the South Sudanese diaspora as a force for peace.”
The statement described the meeting as “a profound encounter in which we recognised both the burden of trauma that we share and the strength that comes out of our diversity.
“We explored the obstacles and the foundations for reconciliation and peace-building. We realised our need for a stronger and more unified voice. We now extend to you an invitation to be part of a stronger and unified voice for the conscience and heart of the entire South Sudanese diaspora in North America.
“We believe this is the time for a broader conversation to nurture a compelling voice that will lead to action for peace. We believe that we the South Sudanese communities in North America, like the dry scattered bones in the vision of the prophet Ezekiel, can receive new life when those distinct bones are knit together.”
The Bishop of Nzara, Samuel Peni, chairs the Episcopal Church of South Sudan’s commission for peace and reconciliation. Addressing the gathering, he said that the bishops in South Sudan – like all people in the country – are traumatised by years of civil war.
“We are the people who are traumatised,” he said. “We all traumatised – everyone in our nation. This is true for our church leaders. All our bishops and pastors of all our denominations – we are traumatised. How can we be advocates for our people if we ourselves are living in trauma?”
He said that the bishops of the Episcopal Church of South Sudan had been on retreat in Rwanda “to learn from our sisters and brothers in that nation that had experienced a traumatic event and to seek healing. If we are not healed how can we bring healing to others?”
He added: “We are ready to be advocates and we are ready for all to join us.”
Concluding his address, he said: “We have work to do. We have to ask ourselves why our nation does not show Christian values when 80 per cent of our people declare themselves as followers of Jesus. We demonstrate corruption, violence and tribalism and all these are against the Christian way.
“We need to be united and we need the South Sudanese diaspora to speak with one voice, to act with great zeal and have the same goal for change to come in South Sudan.”
The Revd Canon Phil Groves, who led the Anglican Communion’s Continuing Indaba project for 10 years before returning to parish ministry in 2016, described the event as “one of the most significant conferences I have ever attended.” He was one of the facilitators for the conference, alongside Jane Namurye, the wife of Bishop Anthony Poggo, a former South Sudanese bishop who now serves as the Archbishop of Canterbury’s advisor on the Anglican Communion.
“The conference itself looked at how the traumatised and fractious South Sudanese diaspora could break their cycles of victimhood and violence to become a reconciled and reconciling community,” Canon Groves said. “The final statement was remarkable. Through Indaba they also found an emerging leadership that may be able to make a long term difference to the diaspora in North America, and around the world.”
The warring parties in South Sudan are due to meet for a resumption of peace talks in Addis Ababa next week (17 May). This week, South Sudan’s first vice president, Taban Deng Gai, announced that he was rejoining the government and that his Sudan People’s Liberation Movement – In Opposition (SPLM-IO) had been dissolved.
This will strengthen the hand of South Sudanese President Salva Kiir at the peace talks, but there are still a considerable number of other opposition groups; including those loyal to former Deputy resident Riek Machar.