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Listening: Sudanese Synod develops post-war plan for rebuilding
American Friends pledge support to Episcopal Church of Sudan

By Pat McCaughan
2/28/2006
[Episcopal News Service]  The Rev. Enock Tombe is eagerly anticipating "putting our house in order" as the Episcopal Church assumes a crucial role in assisting the rebuilding and restructuring of post-war Sudan.

Tombe, provincial secretary of the Episcopal Church in Sudan, was in the United States to mobilize support for the church's post-war plan and for recommendations approved at the Sudan church's first Synod meeting to be held within its own country in 21 years. The 8th Provincial Synod, the church's highest governing body, met in Juba January 23-29.

Tombe participated in the February 17-19 second annual conference of the American Friends of the Episcopal Church in Sudan (AFRECS), a national network of individuals, congregations and organizations working to mobilize Americans to help with building schools, water wells and other public infrastructure in Sudan.

"We had 22 recommendations approved at the Synod," Tombe said. "We approved the agenda for the next ten years including a vision and mission for the province, a structure for the church and the tasks of dioceses." Tombe was confirmed for a five-year term as provincial secretary after serving in an interim capacity for three years, an affirmation that "means a lot to me, it says okay, you've done well. Now, come and put our house in order," he said.

The Rev. Richard Jones, AFRECS president and a Virginia Theological Seminary professor, said Tombe received unanimous approval, including a standing ovation, for the appointment. Jones described the level of Sudan's post-war devastation as similar to the U.S.'s Reconstruction period after its own civil war, or like the Gulf Coast devastation after Hurricane Katrina.

He urged conference attendees to engage the task faced by the church and the people of Sudan.

"There is no electricity, water has not been restored, the population has been scattered," Jones told the gathering. "AFRECS works so Americans don't forget the unfinished construction of new Sudan. Separated, we can do very little. But, together with God all things are possible."

Tombe said he also hoped to build moral and financial support. "We need personnel willing to help in getting commissions up and running, in getting programming up and running, and developing housing. We need funds to retire four bishops this year.

"There is an opportunity here," Tombe said. "I want to see the church running effectively in three years with people theologically trained, and a staff competent to handle project funds. I want missionaries who come to Sudan to see the church self-governing, self-propagating, self-supporting. The first two have been achieved, yet to achieve the self-supporting dimension of the church, I stress we need to begin economic development."

The church's proposed post-war plan identifies education, health, peace-building and reconciliation, communication and transportation as areas of greatest need.

The North/South Sudan conflict is "the longest racial, religious, political and economic war ever fought in the Continent of Africa," according to the plan. "A large part of the population of Southern Sudan has been born into the war and grown in the war with no experience of peace or independence, justice and human dignity. This war has left virtually nothing in terms of development. Yet the church has never been crushed" even though 2.5 million died and 4 million were displaced.

About 90 percent of Southern Sudan's population is illiterate and few children, especially females, are educated. Clean drinking water and sanitation systems are needed, as are clinics to offer primary and emergency health care services, and HIV/AIDS counseling and treatment centers.

After the 21-year civil war, a peace accord was signed in January 2005 between the Sudan People's Liberation Army and the Government of Sudan. The region continues to suffer from food shortages, a lack of education and medical facilities, electricity, transportation, housing, very few roads and sporadic violence.

In his role as provincial secretary, Tombe anticipates assisting dioceses in developing their own structures. The Episcopal Church in Sudan (ECS) dates from 1899 and until 1974 was a diocese under the jurisdiction of the Episcopal Church in Jerusalem and the Middle East. Prior to the war, the ECS had 24 dioceses and an estimated 4 million members. Post-war, there are 21 dioceses and 40 percent of membership remains, according to an organizational assessment.

The ECS administers 800 parishes served by 1,800 pastors with 3,250 lay readers and about 2,000 evangelists; 85 pre-schools, 90 primary schools and seven secondary schools; and 13 dispensaries, 15 health care clinics, including a mobile unit. The church also operates an orphanage and other social services including literacy and vocational training programs.

"Sudan covers more than a million square miles and the dioceses are vast," the program plan said. "The bishops and training institutions need transport to facilitate their otherwise impossible work."

Tombe praised the efforts of AFRECS, which is establishing a registry of Sudan projects and hopes to serve as a national clearinghouse for information and ministry in Sudan. The gathering at San Jose's Trinity Cathedral drew about 150 participants from across the nation, including Sudanese refugees and pastors, as well as congregations engaging ministry with the Sudanese.

Tombe also hopes to gain financial support for challenges such as: repatriation and resettlement; rebuilding infrastructure; records retrieval and possibly even a reconciliation commission similar to the one created after the dismantling of apartheid in South Africa. Inter-religious dialogue, peacekeeping and sustainability remain challenges.

"We need to have dioceses able to implement the decisions agreed to in the Synod," he said. "We need to step up mission and evangelism. Training church workers is the business of the church.

"We hear talk about relief funds, but we hear little about mission and evangelism, little about worship. That is the cutting edge of the church. Our worship and liturgy define us as Christians. Thank God in Sudan we aren't waiting for money to do this. We can pray in our own way."

Other Synod actions included:

  • support for the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) of 2005;
  • an appeal to the new governments to provide services to improve the people's quality of life, especially focusing on education, healthcare and clean water;
  • an appeal to the Sudanese government and international community for support for the return of internally displaced people and refugees and assist reintegration into their communities;
  • compensation for those marginalized during oil exploration in the Upper Nile, for the rebuilding of destroyed villages and for other dioceses and partners to offer assistance and other resources in the region;
  • support for commissions to assess the need for new dioceses as well as developing strong parishes, deaneries and archdeaconries;
  • a provincial commission to make theological education a priority;
  • opposition to the consecration of the Rt. Rev. Gene Robinson and to rites for blessing of same-sex relationships in the Anglican Church of Canada, and continuing to call for repentance while listening to all voices within the Anglican Communion.

The communiqué from the 8th Provincial Synod of the Episcopal Church of Sudan can be found online at: http://www.anglicancommunion.org/acns/articles/41/00/acns4108.cfm

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