Youth Reconciliation: A Breakthrough for God in the Camps

Loading the instruments in Addis Ababa. Mr. Petros Tsanu, Projects Director for the Bethel Synods of the Mekane Yesus Church (shown left) arranged for the purchase of these instruments on our behalf.

Loading the instruments in Addis Ababa. Mr. Petros Tsanu, Projects Director for the Bethel Synods of the Mekane Yesus Church (shown left) arranged for the purchase of these instruments on our behalf.

by David Paduil, Commissioned Ruling Elder, Sudanese Presbyterian Church, Gallatin, TN

The joint trip of The Outreach Foundation and Presbyterians of the South Sudanese Diaspora in America to visit refugee camps in the Gambella Region of Ethiopia did not get off to a good start. Very soon after our arrival we learned that we could not enter the refugee camps this year because of unrest in the camps due to the political situation in South Sudan. In consultation with the Mekane Yesus Church and South Sudanese leaders in the camps, we decided to bring youth and pastors of the parishes from all the camps to Gambella for worship and the distribution of some musical instruments which we were donating to the youth in the camps. 

Tuesday morning, June 27, we began with worship and a conversation with the youth of the camps who shared about their lives, their hopes and dreams. It was a very special time. 

Unfortunately, after lunch the mood changed. We had known that there were factions within the church groups in the camps. The factions were not among the youth; they were among their leaders. Would these factions make it impossible for the youth to receive and share these gifts for which they had been asking for more than two years?

My colleague Jacob Gatkuoth, from the San Diego Sudanese Fellowship, and I led the discussion after lunch. It was supposed to lead into a time during which youth and their leaders from each camp would devise a plan to receive, care for, and share the keyboards we had brought. As I finished speaking about the need for the churches in the camps to have real unity and love among themselves, one of the pastors tried to bring up the issues that were dividing them, thus threatening the overall peaceful assembly. We as a team managed that eruption, and each camp began to draft a plan for the sharing and care of the musical instruments.

Three of the four groups completed their tasks, but the fourth group could not come to an agreement and worked into the night. The next day, they called on Jacob and me to intervene. The issue was whether the pastors and elders would be in charge or whether it would be the youth for whom the equipment had been donated. 

For four hours Jacob and I met with the conflicted group. This meeting was one of the toughest meetings I have been part of. There were two hostile groups of pastors with the youth caught in the middle. Though united among themselves, the youth felt forced to side with their own pastors.

We listened to each person talk. In exasperation, some said, “it is better for the instruments not to be taken to the camps because it will cause fighting among the refugees in the camps.” That certainly was not acceptable to the youth!

A resolution to the conflict was proposed by Jacob Gatkuoth who suggested that two youth from each “side” be charged with the care of the instruments. The Rev. Stephen Pal Kuon, the pastor who has been appointed by the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church of South Sudan to coordinate ministries in the camps, suggested that a written agreement be drafted by the youth to be given to the authorities in the camps. This agreement would expressly state that all the youth in the parishes would have the opportunity to use these instruments in the worship of God. James Doup, the Ethiopian missionary to the Sudanese, affirmed these suggestions.

Still, a few people tried to disturb the discussion, and a fight almost broke out. I helped restore order, but the group was still divided. It seemed that permitting youth to worship separately (based on the divisions of their pastor/leaders) was the only route to take. However, I told them that was not acceptable and urged them not to settle for less than unity.

I called on the pastors and elders to step out of the leadership and let the youth be in charge. I suggested that the youth pastors in churches replace the lead pastors and that even these youth pastors serve as advisors only.

Finally, four youth were selected to form the committee that would receive, care for, and share the use of the keyboards. Their youth pastors did become advisors to the youth coordinating committee. The idea of the memorandum mentioned above was also adopted. It will be distributed to the coordinators of ministries in the camps, to the camp officials (ARRA), and shared with other camps for them to adopt as well. 

With this breakthrough, I breathed a sigh of relief and saw with amazement that the whole tenor of the group had changed. People who were formerly yelling at each other were speaking to each other in friendly tones. For me this was the greatest experience of our time in Ethiopia this year. A gift of music to the youth of the camps was able to serve as a reconciling force for youth and their leaders in the refugee camps in Gambella. Thanks be to God!