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In South Sudan, times are difficult but churches serve together

For Father James Oyet-Latansio the South Sudan Council of Churches (SSCC) general secretary admits that in his country the churches are serving “in a difficult time, but we serve wherever we are needed”.

He was taking a breather during the 3-6 October Ecumenical Strategic Forum on Diakonia and Sustainable Development convened by the World Council of Churches in Geneva.

“In terms of the context for South Sudan and ecumenical diakonia…we are trying to get a voice for the voiceless, the voice of the South Sudanese out into the world,”  said the Catholic priest at the helm of the council of churches that includes all the major churches in the country.

“South Sudan is going through a difficult moment and this is due to manmade crises; but our people have a longing for peace and South Sudan is hungry for this manna which they don’t have, access to peace,” said Father James.

He was referring to the civil conflict engulfing Africa’s youngest nation since 2014 and a famine that denies South Sudanese access to a decent life.

Millions face food insecurity

There are at least 5.5 million people estimated to be currently severely food insecure and at least 7.5 million people across South Sudan - almost two thirds of the population - need humanitarian assistance.

“With this conference, the voice of diakonia is being heard, and we want this voice to reach all ecumenical partners, our brothers and sisters in the Christian world who confess that Jesus is Lord.

“Remember the people of South Sudan in your prayers, the women, the children the old and the young -- they don’t deserve all this suffering. Say grace for these people.

“And after saying grace we need to remember the manmade made crisis which has brought hunger, famine and which has brought displacement. So give a helping hand, a hand of grace, the hand of the good Samaritan, the hand of the image of God that comes reaching through faith-based organizations and the WCC.”

Mutual need

Father James said the South Sudanese people need the ecumenical world and the ecumenical world needs the people.

He lamented that the famine is not stabilized.

“It is getting out of hand because our partners can’t reach the people who are in need. Our humanitarian partners, the good Samaritans can’t reach the people,”  because their access is being blocked,” he said.

As an example, he explained that just three weeks earlier gunmen had shot dead a driver from the International Committee of the Red Cross because he was trying to reach the people with things they need.

“When security is not there, you can’t get the bread to the needy; they can’t be reached…You can be granted access by one side, but the other side does not give it.”

But church unity in South Sudan is very strong, he added. “In unity and purpose and faith in diversity, we are on a pilgrimage of justice and peace, fighting for a good purpose, for peace and for being together.”

Distributed by APO on behalf of World Council of Churches (WCC).