In the context of listening and learning, three Episcopal Church representatives have traveled to Juba, Sudan, for the Episcopal Church of Sudan's provincial synod January 23-29, held within its own country for the first time in more than a decade.
Building on historic relationships between the U.S.-based Episcopal Church and the Episcopal Church of Sudan (ECS), Janette O'Neill, Episcopal Relief and Development's program director of Africa, the Rev. Emmanuel Sserwadda, interim Africa officer for Anglican and Global Relations, and Alex Baumgarten, international policy analyst for the Office of Government Relations, are attending the synod at the invitation of the Archbishop and Primate of Sudan, the Most Rev. Joseph Marona.
"For the Episcopal Church of Sudan to be able to hold its own synod with all orders of bishop, clergy and laity represented and for it to be able to fulfill the various legislative processes -- to make that happen in southern Sudan at this time is a remarkable achievement," said Margaret Larom, director of Anglican and Global Relations. "And to be able to meet at the church's historic headquarters in Juba is especially significant. It symbolizes perhaps the start of a new time in the life of the Church of Sudan."
Larom hopes that the Episcopal Church's presence at the synod will help to strengthen the churches' existing relationships and mechanisms for the sharing of resources, whether financial or human. "We also hope to gain a better understanding of what faces them now so that we can do better advocacy. It's an information gathering opportunity in every way."
Current companion relationships between the two provonces include Bethlehem and Kajo Keji, Chicago and Renk, Indianapolis and Bor. The Diocese of Southwestern Virginia maintains a relationship with the entire province that dates back to 1977.
Bishop Paul Marshall of the Pennsylvania-based Diocese of Bethlehem ordained 34 African deacons while visiting companion diocese Kajo Keji in January 2005 at the invitation of the diocesan bishop and Archbishop Marona. While visiting the Diocese of Bor in 2002, Bishop Cate Waynick of Indianapolis ordained the first women deacons in the Episcopal Church of Sudan.
Sudan's 20-year civil war claimed more than 2 million lives and displaced 4 million people. In July 2002, the two warring parties -- the Government of Sudan (GoS) and the Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA) -- signed an agreement known as the Machakos Peace Protocol, stating that "a peaceful and just resolution based on the unity of the Sudan is [their] common objective, and that a military solution is neither viable nor desirable."
This was further bolstered in January 2004 when another agreement stipulated conditions of wealth sharing.
In May 2004, armed police of the Government of Sudan entered the guesthouse of the ECS in Khartoum and ordered the eviction of Church personnel and property from the building.
Following the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement in January 2005, ECS had planned to hold its Synod in April 2005 "but the situation, especially land-mines, could not allow this," Marona explained. "We are very pleased that with the road to Juba now open, the Synod [can] go ahead in January 2006."
Despite the peace process, a separate conflict lingers in the Darfur region of southern Sudan where Arab militias, known as Janjaweed, casually attack civilians and refugee camps. A group of British politicians are putting pressure on the United Nations to "impose sanctions against Sudan for failing to curb atrocities in the Darfur region," the British Broadcasting Corporation reported January 26.
For many years, some of the southern Sudanese bishops have had to function from locations outside Sudan, such as Nairobi, Kenya, and Kampala, Uganda. Bishops from the north whose headquarters have been in Khartoum have found themselves ministering to displaced people from dioceses in the south.
"There is a deep need for the province to function as a province," Larom said, "Logistically it has not been able to because of being scattered and living in the context of war."
Representing the American Friends of the Episcopal Church of Sudan (AFRECS) at the synod are executive director, Nancy Frank, and treasurer, Fritz Gilbert. AFRECS board member, Jerry Drino, and colleagues will be traveling to the Diocese of Bor January 31 for the celebration of the 100th anniversary of the founding of Christianity by the Church Mission Society among the tribes of the Upper Nile.
"The significance of this event is that from 1906-1983 only about 5 percent of the tribes became Christian," Drino said. "Then the civil war came, 2.5 million were killed, 4 million internally displaced, 1 million in exile, 7 out of 10 women are widows and today more than 90 percent are Christian."
The second annual AFRECS conference will be held at Trinity Cathedral in San Jose, California, from February 17-19. Speakers will include Brian D'Silva of USAID, the Rev. Enock Tombe, provincial secretary of the Episcopal Church of Sudan and Harriet Baka Nathan, trainer for the Mother's Union. Further information can be found online at: http://www.afrecs.org.
Episcopal Relief and Development is providing education and training for Sudanese students enrolled in vocational colleges at the Kakuma camp in northern Kenya, where they are learning skills that will help them provide food and income for their families.
ERD is also providing critical aid to help displaced people in the Darfur region and neighboring Chad. Through partner agencies, ERD is supplying vulnerable families with food, medicines, emergency health care, and access to clean water in Darfur and providing humanitarian assistance to refugees in three camps in Farchana, located in the central region of the Chad border. Women and children are receiving mental health care services. Children will attend schools at the camps and their mothers will receive life skills and health education.
To make a contribution and help the people of Sudan, donate to the Sudan Relief Fund at www.er-d.org or call (800) 334-7626, ext. 5129. Gifts can be mailed to: Episcopal Relief and Development, c/o Sudan Relief Fund, PO Box 12043, Newark, NJ, 07101.