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Listening: Post-war Sudan, refugees are focus of American Friends' gathering

By Pat McCaughan
2/22/2006
[ENS, SAN JOSE, California]  Amid an atmosphere of celebration and hope, the American Friends of the Episcopal Church in Sudan (AFRECS) gathered for its second annual meeting at Trinity Cathedral in San Jose, California, February 17-19, urging increased participation in the renewal of post-war Sudan and enhanced support for Sudanese ministries and refugees within the United States.

Economic, educational and relationship development are among the priorities, said AFRECS executive director Nancy Frank, who announced a newly-created project registry and cited the organization's website as important links between congregations in the United States and much-needed involvement in Sudan.

"Our future goal is to be the communications mechanism for every organization throughout the United States for the Episcopal Church of Sudan," Frank said. "We are hoping to gather information about all areas of the populations working with the Sudan and the marvelous groups helping Sudanese refugees."

AFRECS describes itself as "an organization of U.S. churches, non-governmental organizations, and individuals who care deeply about the struggles of the Sudanese people."

The Rev. Enock Tombe, provincial secretary for the Episcopal Church of Sudan (ECS), described post-war challenges in Sudan to about 150 participants from across the nation.

"The challenges facing the church include a need for self-denial, if we are ready to serve one another in the name of God," he told the gathering.

Citing a spirit of ecumenism infusing Africa and elsewhere, he said priorities include maintaining a just and lasting peace, deepening the faith and assisting the ECS in becoming self-supporting. Goals include establishment of a peace and justice commission, as well as guidelines for theological education, and general education at some 90 ECS schools and increased engagement of the peace process. But challenges remain, like dealing with HIV/AIDS, poverty, a lack of infrastructure.

"The church is not present on the ground in Sudan," Tombe said. "The challenge is how can we make a peace that will last? South Africa took nine years to reveal the abuses through its Truth and Justice Commission. I don't know if it can be applied to Sudan. People who were hurt are very bitter and want revenge. How are we going to deal with them? How are we going to care for refugees?"

Pressing concerns include the country's crushing poverty. "Our poverty level in the Sudan is the equivalent of one U.S. dollar a day. Many people in Sudan don't have that. And oil is a curse. How do we make sure oil is used for the good of the people?"

Future Economic Development; the 'Curse' of Oil

The Rev. Richard Jones, AFRECS board president and a Virginia Theological Seminary professor, called for a unified approach to rebuilding Sudan. He cited the U.S. post civil war Reconstruction era and the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina which devastated the Gulf Coast to invoke powerful images of, "the task faced by the Episcopal Church of Sudan and the people of Sudan ... no electricity, water not restored, the population scattered.

"AFRECS works so Americans don't forget the unfinished construction of new Sudan," he told the gathering. "Separated, we can do very little. But, together with God all things are possible."

Keynote speaker Dr. Michael Kevane, a Santa Clara University professor of economics who has done extensive research in Khartoum and authored "Woman and Development in Africa: How Gender Works" (Lynne Rienner, 2004), warned that an unregulated oil economy will displace the poor and ultimately make them poorer.

"When oil is the source of wealth, the people don't get rich," he said. "For peasants who traditionally have worked the land, the work will end. Women who produce traditional goods will have difficulty moving to town, taking advantage of increased economic growth there."

Additionally, an oil economy may lead to corruption, a gun economy and violent oppression.

Citing self-regulation as a necessity, Kevane remained skeptical about the May 2005 Joint Assessment Mission (JAM) budget proposal to spend $8 billion for redevelopment over a period of two-and-a-half years. Noting that JAM focuses heavily on road construction, he added: "Road projects are what the doctor orders for corrupt economies."

The proposed amount to be spent on roads is the equivalent of $1000 per family for a family of four. "If you're a poor person in Southern Sudan, what would you rather have, a road or $1,000?" he said. Of concern, also, is the fact that there is "very little public discourse about giving to the citizens of Southern Sudan. Giving promotes accountability, and an identity economy where citizens can decide themselves what to invest in."

Cesar Guvelle, adjunct professor of agricultural economics at Kansas State University and a Sudanese doctoral student, said communities can become personally invested in road construction.

"The way it's been done is sending in the bulldozers and moving people away; then the roads wash out," he said. "But it can be done differently ... don't send in a bulldozer and charge $2 billion; involve the community. Let us inspect it, let it become a community work so the $2 billion is continuously being used every day every year. Uganda today has community roads and the community has a contract to maintain the roads."

Janette O'Neill, Episcopal Relief and Development's program director for Africa, received a round of applause when she announced that restrictions have been lifted and "finally, the national church is able to send funds to the Episcopal Church of the Sudan and is setting up proposals for next year. Collaboration is the name of the game so it's important that we know what everyone is doing," she added.

The Rev. Emmanuel Sswerwadda, interim partnership officer for Africa from the Office of Anglican and Global Relations, told the gathering that a way to strengthen relationships and partnerships is by addressing human needs through ECS.

He called for assistance for Sudanese clergy and provincial workers, who are unpaid. "What can we do? The Episcopal Church gives grant money. We haven't been able to send money because of grant restrictions. There are a lot of needs" including restoring guest housing for visitors and supporters to provincial headquarters in Juba, at a cost of about $7,500 each.

Richard Parkins, director of Episcopal Migration Ministries (EMM) thanked the 'Lost Boys' and Sudanese refugees for "educating many parishes around the United States to the value of ministry to the uprooted. With 27 offices in 27 dioceses and 38 locations across the country, the church "stepped forward and we have been transformed" after relocating hundreds of Sudanese.
 
Noting the depth of their faith, he added: "The Church of the Sudan has been so instrumental in nurturing them. When they got to this country the first question they asked was, 'where is the church?' I haven't seen this happen with any other refugees, in 27 years of exercising this ministry."
 
'Offering Hospitality and Resources'
 
The Rev. Jerry Drino, Province VIII executive director and priest-in-charge of the Sudanese Ministry at Trinity Cathedral in San Jose, told a workshop that, although the Sudanese are resettled in seven dioceses representing about 80 ministries, they are beginning to drift away from the Episcopal Church in the United States "because of a failure to receive or incorporate them."
 
The Rev. Andrew Akuak, pastor of the Southern Sudanese community at St. Paul's in Alexandria, Virginia, said Sudanese ministries are often hampered by a lack of hospitality, liturgical resources in such living languages as Bari or Dinka, and theological training. Sudanese clergy, while taking courses, often must work more than one job to make ends meet, in addition to pastoring congregations. Another challenge is becoming an integrated community instead of functioning as separate congregations.

"Many Sudanese clergy have two or three jobs and attend school. In addition they have children in school," Akuak said. "At the end of the day they're completely exhausted. When they stand in front of their congregations, the leaders in the Sudanese community are completely exhausted."
 
The Rev. Michael Kiju-Paul's Sudanese ministry began as house churches and in a few years has blossomed into the 200-member St. Thomas Church in the Diocese of Maryland. He resorted to an interdenominational liturgy using traditional music to appeal to Sudanese who were Episcopalians. But, he added, "I also had to realize that the Sudanese who come aren't all Episcopalians, and to consider what to do with those who aren't."
 
More shocking was the lack of hospitality. "Three churches turned down our request for space," he recalled. "They said, 'those people are refugees, they don't have any money."

"I want to reach the Episcopal Church to say if a Sudanese congregation approaches you, don't talk about money first. These people are refugees, they have no money."

For more information, visit the AFRECS website at: www.afrecs.org