By J M ROSENTHAL, Editor ACNS
6 March 2006
"Deliver" was the word Archbishop Rowan Williams used to get his message across as he spoke to the global powers and promise-makers via press, media and addressing the people of Sudan. He confronted daily with the vulnerability of the people and places he met on this his first visit to the church in Sudan. Time and again the word "deliver" encapsulated the urgency of the situation as viewed by Archbishop Williams. He said, "Rebuilding is harder than tearing down. Expectations of help from the global community is high but the delivery is slow."
On the first day of his visit the Archbishop the reality of Darfur greeted him as he met a young Darfurian woman. She read the Bible reading at a welcome service in Khartoum diocese as the hundreds gathered listened quietly. Speaking of the grim situation in that region, the Archbishop told one reporter that he felt Darfur was a "self destructive tragedy". This was the message the Archbishop reiterated to government officials time and time again.
Yet in the midst of the reality of the situation, an exuberant welcome greeted the 104th Archbishop of Canterbury, the Most Revd Rowan Williams, every step on the way, during his 8-day pastoral visit to the Province of the Episcopal Church of the Sudan. Accompanied by the host Archbishop, the Most Revd Joseph Marona, the delegation visited 5 dioceses. As one observer put it "there was real joy to see you" as the party enter the al Gariya Displaced Persons camp near Khartoum.
In a BBC interview, Archbishop Williams said, "I think people feel so forgotten a lot of the time because the effects of the peace agreement are so slow arriving, the number of displaced persons are colossal so I think any signal - even the smallest - that, that they're not forgotten does impact on people." Speaking of al Gariya camp, he said, "One way and another, this area been at war for decades, not just the big civil war but unrest that goes back as far as the Fifties."
Archbishop Williams spoke warmly of the work of the World Food Programme (WFP) led by Ebenezer Tagoe and Simon Crittle. He said, "One of the big areas of focus for this trip has actually been the co-operation that's going on in the Malakal area between the church and the World Food Programme. We want to see what more can be done on the ground in the delivery of what the WFP has in mind." He said that long term food security - not famine relief - could "provide some sort of incentive for people to settle again".
Again speaking of Darfur, Archbishop Williams called it "a running sore". He said, "Nobody has a quick formula for sorting it out. I think the difficulty many people find, or sense they find here in Sudan, is a feeling that some of the donors outside Sudan are waiting for Darfur to clear up before they can fully deliver on promises for the south and although thats not a completely accurate percentage, its sort of skewing things."
The reality of the post-war Sudan is one that is monumental in the area of reconstruction. Archbishop Williams saw the situation as one of construction rather than reconstruction. Archbishop Williams said, "It's bound to be a future of construction, as I say infrastructure has to be put in place and there has to be, I think trust, in the national government. Because of the feeling of decades that basically the government has been run from the north for the north. The new government in the south the people from the south that have been brought into the national government need to display to the population as a whole that there is a worthwhile future for them in this collaborative enterprise. Now that means delivery, it means delivery of a fair share in oil revenues promised in the comprehensive peace agreement; it means access to food, employment, clean water, education and basic health care."
Visiting Five Diocese
The Archbishop took every available time slot to pray, lead worship and to meet people during his visit. He met twice with the President of South Sudan, Salva Kiir, both times asking quick intervention by the president to see that confiscated churches and buildings were returned now, especially as the need is great as more come back to the south.
Archbishop Williams was warmly welcomed by the Roman Catholic Archbishop Paulino in Juba and by Gabriel Cardinal Zubeir Wako in Khartoum. The church leaders praised the two churches for the co-operation that exists within a very united Christian community in general. Clergy from Roman Catholic, Greek Orthodox, Pentecostal and Presbyterian churches greeted Archbishop Williams along the journey. In Juba he also met Christian education leaders and said the "model" ecumenical work in Sudan could be "a lesson to learn in other countries."
A special session of the Sudan Inter-Religious Council was held in Khartoum where the Archbishop spoke of Christian-Muslim relations and need for mutual "respect". He said that if the work of the government was to be trusted then what is done needed to be seen "is for the good everyone".
Rough unpaved dusty roads did not stop Archbishop Williams from visiting remotes areas such as an education project outside of Maridi in Mabarindi and travelling by UN boats to a World Food Programme distribution point an hour from Malakal. The occasional UN helicopter ride made visiting areas much easier than by car.
In Malakal a sign above the road welcomed the Archbishop and said "education is our cry". In a press conference in Khartoum one churchman pleaded "help us in theological education". Archbishop Williams praised leaders who expressed their vision in matters of health and education. Street signs in Juba were put in view by the youth of the church and exclaimed "your visit is an encouragement as we rebuild".
In Juba the Anglican leader led prayers at the tomb of the great "hero" of South Sudan, Dr John Garang who tragically died in a plane crash just after assuming his office as first ever President of the South. Many asked the archbishop to help press for "a proper inquiry" into the "tragic" death of Dr Garang.
A joyful celebration of new life and renewed witness came as the team arrived in Renk. Here Archbishop Williams would join in the service of consecration of the impressive domed St Matthews Episcopal Cathedral, funded by the Diocese of Virginia and with the church centre named for the Assisting Bishop of the Diocese, the Rt Revd Francis Gray, who was present with others from his diocese. The work of the Diocese of Chicago, the United Thank Offering and St Michael's Church, Barrington, USA, was evident in the building of a Bible College near the cathedral. Clergy and laity from the USA church were present for the festivities.
The delegation visited a Christian Aid funded school and Archbishop Williams joined with the Bishop of Salisbury in serving to some 700 children who welcomed the visitors with singing and dancing. He met with NGO's at various stops along the way including representatives of OXFAM, Bishop Mubarek Fund, World Vision and Hope and Homes for Children.
The official delegation included the Bishop of Salisbury, the Rt Revd David Stancliffe, whose diocese has formal links with the Episcopal Church in Sudan, the Ven Michael Paget-Wilkes, Sudan Church Association, the Revds John Corrie and Jonathan Jennings, Lambeth Palace staff, and Canon Jim Rosenthal of the Anglican Communion Office. HM Ambassador Ian Cliff accompanied the archbishop throughout the visit. Sudanese Church liaisons were the Provincial Secretary the Revd Enock Tombe, the Revd Joanna Udal and the Revd Elisapana Arona. Neill Garvie from Christian Aid also travelled with the team during certain visits.
Archbishop Williams assured the people that they would be in his prayers and in the prayers of the whole Anglican Communion. "You are not forgotten," he said, as the crowd responded with applause and singing. He said, "Pray for a peace that will last. Remember God never runs out of love or glory. Be confident! In the heart of each one of us God has taken up his place."
In another interview Archbishop Williams said that what striuck him most was the "urgency" of the situation and that although the Comprehensive Peace agreement was one year old it needed to be accompanied by "actual practical results". He said, "No one wants Darfur to be reproduced here."
In Maridi the local bishop, the Rt Revd Justin Badi Arama, spoke to the assembly of many hundreds outside his cathedral. He bore witness to the fact that this area had received the gospel in 1922 through a young pastir, the Revd William Haddow. He called the visit "a great blessing to the Western Equatoria State as a whole".
In a compelling speech the bishop said, "Your Grace, we are thankful for your visit to us. As you look around and see the dark and smiling faces still praising the Lord today, it is an indication that God never abandons his people to be wiped out easily by their circumstances. We are pressed from every side by trouble, but we are not crushed and broken (2. Cor. 4:8f). We have come to know that all our sufferings, torture and problems are opportunities for Christ to demonstrate His power and presence in and through us. Though our bodies are dying, our spirits are being renewed everyday. If God is for us, nothing can separate us from His love. We will continue to live for Him and make Him Known throughout Sudan and the whole of Africa."
He added, "Despite all our countless problems such as insecurity, poverty, diseases (HIV/AIDS, Malaria), our major concern is for the education of our children to prepare them for the continuity and survival of Christianity in the Sudan. History has shown that, the thriving church in North Africa was wiped out because they were unprepared for the future of the church, but the church fathers were concerned only about the controversies over doctrinal issues. We are alert in the Sudan and the church must exist now and in the future Sudan. Although 20 years has passed us without education for our children, we pray that the Lord will avail for our opportunity for education as a tool for us to expel poverty and disease, and as a tool to empower us to proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ now and in the future, to all men and women in Sudan and everywhere on earth."
Archbishop Marona called the Anglican leader's visit a "time of great thanksgiving" and one of "encouragement" to "ensure the full implementation of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement - in actions and not just words". Archbishop Rowan told his brother Archbishop that he would share his urgent concerns with church and government officials back home in England.
Sudan's primate said, "We are all aware of the suffering of so many people which continues in Darfur as well as amid insecurity in other areas of Eastern Sudan and the South. We must not be deaf to the needs of so many people. As people of God, let us put our hands together to work for peace and righteousness." Archbishop Marona stressed that the people have high expectations. He said, "We need concrete signs of peace which will encourage people and give confidence that this peace is here to stay."
Background Notes: (compiled by Suminder Duggal)
Sudan is a large country, and has many climate zones. In the northern half the nature is arid, with the expectation of the valley along the Nile. In the southern half, there are many mountain ranges with fertile climates. To the very south, the nature is fresh and wild. As a country Sudan has a large number of ethnic groups, with numerous languages, different religions. Islam dominates in the north of Sudan, whereas Christianity is in the south amongst traditional religions which exists in small communities.
The actual number of adherents to the different religions of Sudan is hard to set exactly, as the figures differ much between different sources. The percentage of Muslims range from 50 to 70, the percentage of believers in traditional religions range from 25 to 35 and the percentage of Christians between 4 and 15.
It is stated in the Encyclopaedia of the Orient that the population of Sudan is divided into 19 ethnic groups, with 597 subgroups. In addition to the typical ethnic division lines, there is one that is defined as Arabs and non-Arabs. The definition of who is and who is not Arab is based upon cultural identity and the use of Arabic as mother tongue. Inside the group of Arabs many belong to ethnic groups that constitute many non-Arabs. Percentages of Arabs are hard to define. However according to the Encyclopedia of the Orient they constituted 39% of the entire population in 1956, the last time a census dealing with ethnicity was recorded. Where figures for Arabic speakers appear to have risen to more than 50%. The reasons for this growth is probably connected to the cultural, economical and political dominance of Arabs in the Sudanese society, and the fact that it accepted that anyone can embrace Arabic culture and the language.
Sudan is one of the few countries that are under populated, yet most people living there are poor. The sad conditions of the economy are almost exclusively the result of the incompetent politics of the leaders of the country through the recent decades. In recent years, attempts of implementing an Islamist regime have ruined what already was weak in the society.
According to STAND (Students Taking Action Now: Darfur),* the ethnic conflict in the Darfur region of Sudan has resulted in an estimated 400,000 deaths, 200,000 refugees in Chad, and 2.5 million internally displaced persons (IDPs). The vast majority being ethnic-black African Darfurians, many from the three largest ethnic tribes of the Fur, Masaalit, and Zaghawa. Recent cycles of violence that the above statistics result from, began in February 2003 when two ethnic-African rebel groups, the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) and the Sudan Liberation Army (SLA) attacked government outposts. The government of Khartoum (led by the National Congress Party, formerly the National Islamic Front) and its proxy Arab militias (the janjaweed) responded by targeting civilians, in addition to clashing with the rebel groups.
The US Government and others labelled the Sudanese government's counter insurgency strategy as "genocide", while the UN and others determined Khartoums actions to be "war crimes" and "crimes against humanity". Amid this terminology, the international community has only meagrely addressed the issue of Darfur. Efforts have been made in three main areas in attempt to manage the conflict, heavily relying on the young African Union: peace negotiations, peace monitoring troops, and diplomatic, symbolic action. STAND believes that approximately 10,000 civilians continue to die each month due to violence, malnutrition and disease. The measures taken by the international community, who are the most capable, experienced and responsible actors in stopping the conflict - have been too little, too late.
How the build up to these events took place.
At the start of 2002 a cease-fire between government forces and the SPLM were finally agreed upon, by July 2002 the government and SPLA signed a protocol to end the civil war. But by the end of July the Government attacked SPLA again. October 2002 saw the cease-fire being confirmed again but it remained very uncertain. Peace negotiations still continue.
In February 2003, two rebel groups representing the African population in Darfur started a rebellion against the government, a protest against neglection and suppression. By the end of 2003 progress were made in the peace negotiations but was mainly focussed on sharing the important oil-resources.
The beginning of 2004, the government's army strikes down on uprising in the Darfur region in Western Sudan and more than 100,000 people seek refuge in Chad. By March UN officers reported that systematic killings on villagers was taking place in Darfur, which was named as the worst humanitarian. However the UN failed to take action as Western countries and the media had no focus on the problems in Sudan. Worst yet, African leaders refused to take action on the problem.
May 26th 2004, positive progress was made as a historic peace agreement was signed, however the situation in Darfur remains unchanged and extremely critical. Continuing this peace agreement in Nairobi on January 9th 2005, the government and rebels signed the last parts of the peace treaty for Southern Sudan.
All fighting in Africa's longest civil war was expected to end in January 2005, but the peace agreement still doesnt cover the Darfur region. More than 1.5 million people lost their home since the conflict in Darfur broke out early 2003 (source: Crawfurd. J, 1996-2006). In 2005 it was also agreed by the United Nations Security Council to send 10,000 peace keeping soldiers to Southern Sudan but again the decision did not cover the Darfur region.
Encyclopaedia of the Orient:http://lexicorient.com/e.o/
STAND (Students Taking Action Now: Darfur)
Please Note: The ECS (Episcopal Church of Sudan) is the only recognised Anglican group in Sudan.
A Note from the Editor:
Your help in the telling the story of Sudan could make a great difference to a people in real, actual and urgent need of help. Please consider the use of this material or be in touch for additional photos and information. We began Lent amidst the dust of Sudan and with images of past trauma and darkness. As we travel to Easter may we all seek to share the gospel truth of resurrection with our Sudanese friends who share it so beautifully with us in their strong faith and witness to a living God. Please use this material freely. God bless Sudan.