All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; 2 Corinthians 5:18 (NRSV)
In mid-October, the Office of Public Witness was honored to host the President of the South Sudan Council of Churches, Rev. Peter Gai. Rev. Gai also serves at the Moderator of the Presbyterian Church of South Sudan.
Rev. Gai brought a message of peace and a pledge from the churches of South Sudan to be avehicle for peace in that war torn country. Rev. Gai participated in a congressional briefing and met with high-level officials in the State Department, USAID, and the National Security Council. He also met with the Sudan Working Group of the United States Institute of Peace and briefed the Washington Interfaith Staff Community. In all of these meetings, Rev. Gai emphasized that the churches in South Sudan were ready to work for peace and that the church in South Sudan is the only institution that has the trust of the people and can reach them on a grassroots level. He stressed that the church stands as one, that it is not part of the current crisis and it is willing to help to solve the crisis.
Since the conflict in South Sudan began in 2013, over 1.6 million people have been displaced and over 600,000 more have become refugees fleeing in neighboring countries. The number of severely food insecure people has increased to 3.9 million. In a United Nations rights report released earlier this year, the agency warned of widespread human rights abuses, including gang-rape and torture. The report was based on 115 victims and eyewitnesses from the northern state of Unity, scene of some of the heaviest recent fighting in the 18-month-long civil war notable for its new brutality and intensity.
The escalating violence has forced many aid agencies to relocate staff and suspend programs in South Sudan’s Unity State. Aid agencies have been forced to stop their life-saving interventions. As a result, the United Nations has reported that an estimated 40,000 people in southern and central Unity may be facing catastrophic levels of food insecurity and malnutrition from October to December 2015. Humanitarian partners have alerted that, unless unrestricted humanitarian access is urgently granted, food insecurity could deteriorate to famine in parts of Unity State, such as Leer, Guit, Koch and Mayendit.
The Greater Upper Nile area is the area of South Sudan in which the Presbyterian Church of South Sudan is predominant and the area of South Sudan on which Presbyterian Ministry has focused for over 100 years.
While the church can help with reconciliation, it can only begin once the fighting has stopped and aid can be sent to the hardest hit regions of South Sudan. The United States
can help by urging full and unhindered humanitarian access to the most vulnerable, including in hard-to-reach areas. Factions in the conflict have blocked access to humanitarian aid, leaving millions of people food insecure, some on the brink of starvation. The United States should do everything in its power to pressure both sides of the conflict to allow aid to reach those who need it most.