To Hear the Voices of Peoples Long Silenced...
by Jeff Ritchie
In “A Brief Statement of Faith,” one of the confessional statements of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), there is a phrase that resonates with me when I think of the voices of people and nations who are not ordinarily in the U.S. news:
“In a broken and fearful world, the Spirit gives us courage . . .
to hear the voices of peoples long silenced.”
The people of South Sudan are among those whose voice has been long silenced in the U.S. media. While the plight of the peoples of Syria and Iraq have been before us for five years, a civil war has been raging in South Sudan for over three years during which time several million people have fled to refugee camps outside South Sudan and to internally displaced person (IDP) camps inside the country. Millions others have fled from their homes and live in the bush without the means to sustain their lives.
Sudanese inside and outside the country have cried out about the terror and torment taking place from the beginning. People in churches and non-governmental organizations who know South Sudan have raised their voices. U.S. government officials who know South Sudan have added their advocacy for humanitarian aid and concrete efforts for peace. But the media that most people listen to have not given this crisis attention that it deserves.
Thank God that this silence is over. In recent days the United Nations has declared that South Sudan is a famine area along with Somalia and a few other African nations. The Public Broadcasting Corporation and several network news channels reported this declaration over the weekend. In the broadcast I saw, those who are directly connected with the specter of mass starvation were given a voice.
A couple of weeks earlier, my wife and I heard the same message at a meeting of Sudanese and South Sudanese in Jacksonville, Florida. The speaker was Madam Rebecca Garang, widow of Dr. John Garang, the deceased leader of the Sudan Peoples Liberation Movement, who fought for the right of self-determination of the people of South Sudan. Madam Rebecca called on the Sudanese peoples in the Diaspora (Sudanese living outside South Sudan) to continue to raise their voices for real peace and share widely the horror and suffering that her people would undergo if they did not have peace soon along with massive food aid.
We in The Outreach Foundation are hearing reports of more and more refugees pouring into camps in Ethiopia as the people of South Sudan lose hope in the chances for peace. Our information mostly comes from the South Sudanese in the United States who have formed Presbyterian congregations and fellowships. They have first-hand information from within South Sudan and from their family members who have fled to Ethiopia. We value their voice and ache with their pain.
The picture is extremely bleak. So what can be done by an individual? By a congregation? By a denomination or a mission? Consider these possibilities for action that are already being done by God’s people:
• Direct aid administered by churches within South Sudan: Presbyterians in western Pennsylvania received a request from one of their long-time friends in the South Sudan Presbyterian Evangelical Church (SSPEC) for aid to internally displaced persons camps that the SSPEC would administer. Generous U.S. Presbyterians contributed over $50,000 worth of aid. Compared with the overall need, the amount seems small. But the Lord commends us when we give our “widow’s mite.”
• Creating an environment of hope within refugee camps: South Sudanese Christians from the Presbyterian Church of South Sudan (PCOSS) in camps in Ethiopia have identified specific ways of bringing hope to their people numbering in the 100s of 1,000s in the camps. With the support of Ethiopian Christians, Sudanese American Presbyterians, and the U.S.-based Outreach Foundation, they have supplied Bibles and hymnals to churches, started preschools and adult literacy work, furnished children and adults with educational materials, contributed relief supplies to impoverished communities inside South Sudan, and provided mosquito nets and blankets to the most vulnerable children and elderly. Annual visits by U.S. partners have further encouraged the people to maintain their hope against all odds.
• Being a voice for the voiceless to our government and to the United Nations: A tireless advocate for peace, reconciliation and rebuilding in South Sudan is Presbyterian Elder Bill Andress of South Carolina. He specifically urges people to alert their Congressional representatives to the needs in South Sudan and asks both religious and U.S. governmental leaders to advocate for greater involvement by the United Nations in South Sudan.
• Prayer: The Bible calls us to pray without ceasing. May God’s people lift their voices for the Lord to intervene in South Sudan – and in our lives – as we look for ways to respond to this crisis.
The “Brief Statement of Faith” rightly notes that we live “in a broken and fearful world.” The Confession goes on to affirm, “the Holy Spirit gives us courage.” Armed with this Spirit-given courage, may we listen to peoples long silent and then act with them as Christ’s ambassadors of hope, peace, justice and reconciliation.