South Sudan president Salva Kiir Mayardit emphasized the strong potential of churches in helping to develop their new country during a conversation in this capital city of the world’s newest nation with the general secretary of the World Council of Churches (WCC), the Rev. Olav Fykse Tveit.
During his April 25 visit, Tveit also visited with the Sudan Council of Churches (SCC).
South Sudan became independent from Sudan in 2011 following a referendum mandated by the 2006 peace pact that ended Africa’s longest-running civil war. The WCC was deeply engaged in the peace process.
During the meeting Kiir expressed his appreciation for Christian organizations, saying that they “always played an important role in providing humanitarian assistance in the times of conflict.” He mentioned different projects including Christian hospitals and emergency responses that continued to run during the time of conflict.
“After the independence of South Sudan, it is the churches who have the capability to bring people together and help rebuild the country,” said Kiir.
“South Sudan is a state where all religious communities, including Christians, can work freely, and their contributions for the social betterment regardless of their religious associations, are welcomed,” he added.
Tveit told President Kiir, “We are committed to continue work with churches for justice and peace in the new South Sudan. The confidence in the churches and their leaders is a great asset for the healing and peace in the country and its people.”
Noting the challenges facing the peoples and churches of Sudan and South Sudan, Tveit said, “Continuing with their legacy, Sudanese churches must carry on their struggles for peace in their countries despite the separation. The churches are carrying values of human rights, democracy and reconciliation. We strongly support such processes, and we keep them in our prayers.”
The hopes of the WCC are to accompany churches in Sudan working to overcome the impact of the conflict and supporting their efforts towards lasting peace, Tveit said.
“The concept of just peace situated at the heart of the global church becomes even more significant in the context of South Sudan. Here the challenge of balancing justice with peace means, for the churches, helping build a new life for communities following a long and tenacious history of conflict,” Tveit said.
During his stay in Juba, Tveit met with a group of Sudanese church leaders led by the Rev. Mark Akec Cien, SCC's acting general secretary. The group, included Bishop Michael Taban Toro, SCC's chairperson, SCC's ecumenical relations officer the Rev. Emmanuel Natania, Archbishop Paolino Lukudu Loro and the Rev. Daniel Deng Bul.
Speaking to the SCC staff and board members, Tveit affirmed the great significance of the work of the council of churches in South Sudan.
Staff of the international ecumenical relief and development organization ACT Alliance based in South Sudan participated in the meeting. Anne Masterson, country representative of ACT member Norwegian Church Aid shared with the general secretary about their programs for peace building, emergency response and community projects in the country.
The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) is a member of the ACT Alliance, through Presbyterian Disaster Assistance.