Presbyterian Church of South Sudan

Outreach team with leadership of the PCOSS, left to right, Jeff Ritchie, Jacob Gatkuoth, General Secretary John Yor, Treasurer Peter Shabak, David Paduil, Hani Jack, Hany Bareh

Outreach team with leadership of the PCOSS, left to right, Jeff Ritchie, Jacob Gatkuoth, General Secretary John Yor, Treasurer Peter Shabak, David Paduil, Hani Jack, Hany Bareh

by Jeff Ritchie

Imagine fleeing for your life from war, being involuntarily separated from your family—then continuing to choose that separation for their safety. Imagine wanting to serve the people of your country through the ministries of the church, but not being able to do what you are called to do because the political rivals of your country cannot agree to a fair sharing of power and continue to kill the country with an indefensible war. Imagine, even closer to home, that your friends and your family have been among the victims of the conflict and that your soul has been deeply wounded in the process.

This is the situation of South Sudan and the churches in it. Today we arrived in Juba, the capital of South Sudan. On the flight to Juba I sat next to a person attached to the U.S. Embassy. He was in the security division of the Embassy. He expressed surprise that Americans were going to South Sudan in light of the State Department warnings. He went on to say, "I am glad you came. You will have a good experience, and the church you visit will take care of you."

That was exactly our experience from the reception we received by the Rev. Peter Shabak, Treasurer of the Presbyterian Church of South Sudan (PCOSS), until the day ended. The Rev. Peter, along with the pastor of the largest Presbyterian congregation in the PCOSS, the Rev. Paul Ruot Kor, met us at the airport and made sure we got into our quarters at the Episcopal Church Guest House. 

There we met the Rev. Hani Jack and Mr. Hany Bahreh, the subjects of yesterday’s blog. So now our time is from two countries and three cultures. The two “Hanis” had already been in the country for a few days and had started getting acquainted with the PCOSS. The Egyptian Church supports eight Sudanese congregations in Egypt, and the seminary there has trained many of its leaders.

After lunch and a rest, we had a more formal introduction to the Presbyterian Church of South Sudan through the General Secretary of the PCOSS, the Rev. John Yor, and with the Rev. Peter, Treasurer. As we have found out in the days we have been here, all church conversations are preceded by our friends telling the stories of how their lives have been changed by the war.

There was very little hopeful reporting from the General Secretary and the Treasurer about the progress toward the implementation of the peace plan. Although the two leaders (President Salva Kiir and Vice President Riek Machar) are in the capital city and a transition government is being formed, there are serious obstacles to peace. These leaders are begging the international community to pressure the two leaders to put the country’s interests first and put a just and fair peace in place so the country can return to life.

With such a bleak picture of the political situation, our group asked about the church. The Rev. Hani Jack, no stranger to feelings of helplessness living as a Christian in a country 90% Muslim, asked, “You may not be able to do anything about the political situation. But what can you do for God through the church? Do not wait for the government; do the work of the church.” 

Both the General Secretary (John) and the Treasurer (Peter) shared some ways in which they saw God at work in the midst of the situation. The Rev. Peter has seen God at work in the way that the churches in the neighboring or nearby countries reach out to the refugees in compassionate and practical ways. He referenced Egypt and Ethiopia in particular, as places where the local churches have opened their hearts to those who have taken refuge in their lands. 

The Rev. John has seen faithful pastors in the internally displaced persons camps and in the refugee camps outside South Sudan. They preach the word of God to the people and shepherd them, he said. The General Secretary further shared that this crisis has been an opportunity for the various communions to work together through the South Sudan Council of Churches. He finally mentioned that the church has sponsored trauma healing workshops as part of the ministry of both the Women’s and Youth Departments. This latter need will be ongoing for years. 

There was much to think about. We are grateful for this church and see its national leadership’s faithful work itself a sign of God’s activity. With so many strikes against them—no peace, hardly any economy, and widespread destruction of the churches and church schools—they continue to do the work of the church with the means and energy available to them.

Tomorrow we will meet with the other Presbyterian communion with which The Outreach Foundation has partnered, the South Sudan Presbyterian Evangelical Church. 

Jeff Ritchie
Associate Director for Mission