Ethiopian Journey, Day 2

Visit with EECMY President; Left to right: Rev. Alan Grammer, Rev. Jeff Ritchie, Jacob Gatkuoth, Rev. Yonas Yigezu, Frank Dimmock, and David Paduil

By Jeff Ritchie

Our whole team has now arrived. David Paduil, Commissioned Ruling Elder at the Sudanese Presbyterian Church in Gallatin, Tennessee, landed this morning. The others in our group are Elder Jacob Gatkuoth, from the Sudanese American Presbyterian Fellowship in San Diego; the Rev. Allen (Chip) Grammer, pastor of the Sherwood Presbyterian Church in Fayetteville, NC; Frank Dimmock, Africa Mission Specialist for The Outreach Foundation; and the Rev. Jeff Ritchie, Mission Advocate for The Outreach Foundation.

We received some bad news today. A group from the World Council of Churches and the South Sudan Council of Churches had visited a refugee camp the day before to celebrate World Refugee Day and advocate for peace. Some residents of the camps who are upset about the current regime in South Sudan, have come to think that anyone coming to them from Juba, the capital of South Sudan, must be on the side of the Salva Kiir government. They became increasingly hostile toward the church delegation in the first camp that the group visited. As a result, the government organization responsible for administering refugees in Ethiopia, ARRA, kept the delegation from going to other camps for the sake of their own safety.

The result of this experience was that ARRA has decided for the time being not to permit other groups to enter the camps. This refusal of permission, unfortunately, includes our group. We hope that by the time we get to Gambella, things will have settled down. Nevertheless, we will be drafting a “plan B” to be able to engage with leaders from among the refugees in the event that the ban on permissions to enter the camps continues. This blog, then, is a call to our readers to pray for God to guide us, the people in the camps, and the Administration for Refugee and Resettlement Affairs in the coming days.

Pondering this news, we went to the headquarters of the Ethiopian Evangelical Church Mekane Yesus to meet their new President, the Rev. Yonas Yigezu. Rev. Yonas is a long-time friend of American Presbyterians and The Outreach Foundation. We were warmly welcomed by him, and he expressed his sorrow about the situation in the camps. He said that he had been in conversation with the team that had visited the camps and passed on their observation that the great need in the camps was for the people to be healed of the traumas they have undergone through the years of war and their refugee status. He hoped that the Mekane Yesus Church and partners from outside could provide counseling and pastoral support to the refugees.

In fact, one of the main purposes of this trip to refugee camps was for The Outreach Foundation to work with church leaders in the camps and with our Mekane Yesus partners to prepare for a trauma healing workshop to take place later this year. We shared our hopes and plans with the Rev. Yonas, and he promised to call the ARRA to urge them to let our group be permitted to enter the camps. He also provided the phone number of one of the members of the World Council/South Sudan Council’s delegation to the camps. 

This was most providential as later on that day when we were able to meet Dr. Nigussu Legesse, the Africa Secretary for the World Council of Churches and leader of the group that had gone to the refugee camp. With him were two of the Presbyterian members of the South Sudan Council of Churches, the Rev. James Ninrew and the Rev. John Yor. The Rev. Ninrew is the Liaison Officer of the Presbyterian Church of South Sudan and the Rev. Yor is the General Secretary of the PCOSS. On our 2016 trip we had spent considerable time with the Rev. Yor and were glad to see him again.

The members shared that their visit to Ethiopia was part of a strategy developed several years before for the churches in South Sudan and in neighboring countries to enter the peace process in South Sudan in three ways: advocacy, providing a neutral forum, and reconciliation. Visits to refugee camps in Uganda, Kenya, Sudan, and Ethiopia were part of the action plan for peace. Unfortunately, their message was not received by the people of Jewi Camp in Ethiopia. 

As we listened to the account of their ordeal, what astounded us was their reaction to the hostility: “Through the anger and bitterness we could see how traumatized the people are.” Like the President of the Mekane Yesus, this delegation of peace advocates encouraged us to engage in the ministries of trauma healing and peace-building when we go to Gambella.

We have a clear mission, it seems. We need your prayers to find the way to carry it out.