By Bellah Zulu, ACNS
The Primate of the Episcopal Church of Sudan, the Most Revd Daniel Deng Bul Yak has challenged the worldwide Anglican Communion to actively help the war-affected people of South Sudan.
He was speaking in an exclusive interview with ACNS in Johannesburg, South Africa, where he is attending the Anglican Church of Southern Africa’s Provincial Synod as special guest.
The Primate complained that the Anglican Church in South Sudan felt it was struggling alone and not receiving adequate support from other Member Churches. “People are just saying we are supporting you in prayers, but prayers must be followed by action.
“We need good education and health and there are a lot of experienced people within the Anglican Communion who can come and help us,” he said. “We need missionaries to come and set up schools and health centres in South Sudan. There is a lot that Anglicans can do to help.”
A hidden problem
Abp Deng said one reason for the lack of involvement of Anglicans and Episcopalians around the world was because few people outside of the countries knew what was happening there.
“There are even some sister Churches in Africa that don’t know what’s going on in South Sudan," he said adding that more support from the Churches of the Anglican Communion would help the Church there "heal the people's wounds and bring lasting peace".
In April, the Primate was asked to head up the new national reconciliation committee for South Sudan. He said he was pleased that the situation was improving: “Some time back, the fighting covered the whole country, but now the war is only limited to the border areas of the two countries.”
However he explained that there were still several unresolved issues that were the cause of conflict between the two new countries.
Abyei was one example--an area claimed by South Sudan but currently controlled by the northern Sudanese government.
“Right now there are considerations to subject them to a vote as to whether the Dinka people of Abyei should belong to Sudan or South Sudan,” he said adding that this referendum was a delicate matter because the people of Abyei (Dinka) are “mainly African as opposed to their Arab counterparts in the North."
“One other challenge is the issue of the border between the two countries,” he revealed. “The border is not clearly demarcated. We always feel that the issue of border can easily bring back war.”
The Primate said the northern country has a different vision from South Sudan, which has its own destination. “We are being targeted by the people in the North not to develop and that it a problem. We want to develop the border area but fears of war make it difficult for us.
Living in Sudan is also a challenge for Christians in a mainly Arab country. "Arabs who are Muslim there are claiming that there is no Christianity in there and are trying to sideline the Christians." This was, he said, something else he had been challenging.
"I have bishops in the North and I visit them often to make sure that there are doing a good job of pastoring the people."
Despite the deep-rooted challenges being faced by the two countries, Abp Deng is confident that the Church can bring lasting peace to the area. “For about 21 years, the Church has been bringing people together,” he revealed. “Even during the war the Church has been the centre for all our people. When the government was not there, the Church was there.”
Abp Deng also reminded Christians that peace and reconciliation is a process and not an “easy and quick thing to fix” and that there are a lot of other things that need to be addressed to achieve lasting peace. “If you bring the communities together, you must provide them dividends which are basic services such as good education, health and water. Otherwise it will be a problem.”
The Archbishop said the people of South Sudan are a traditionally peaceful people that have been turned against each other by the war. “ People are currently traumatised and that’s why they are fighting,” he said.
During his presentation to Synod yesterday, which received a standing ovation, Abp Deng appealed to the Church in Southern Africa to seriously consider helping the people of South Sudan. In response, the Primate of the Anglican Church of Southern Africa, the Most Revd Dr Thabo Makgoba, made an earnest appeal to Christians in his Province to consider going to South Sudan on mission.
“Those of you that can commit two to three years should consider going on missions to South Sudan. Some of you may have contacts that you can use such as Doctors without Borders,” he said.
Abp Makgoba tasked staff to draft a motion for presentation to the house. He said that, after approval by Synod, the motion would be adopted as part of the agenda and subsequent action taken on the issue of South Sudan.
Abp Deng also challenged the Anglican Communion News Service (ACNS) to visit Sudan and provide objective coverage of the situation in his country. “The problem with other international media is that they give a biased view of what it happening," he said.
"They go to one area and magnify it while playing it against the other. ACNS should come and make a good documentary and show the world that what other media are reporting is not true.”
He concluded, “We are not being adequately covered, even by ACNS. What we are getting is just a glimpse. We feel as though we not part of the Anglican Communion because most of the coverage is focused on other areas. The focus by most media is mainly on Southern and West Africa while very little is shown about North Africa.”