A high-level ecumenical delegation representing church organizations will arrive in Juba, South Sudan on Friday, May 2, amidst continuing conflict in the country with an imminent threat of widespread hunger and malnutrition among its people. The delegation will meet with church leaders and government officials, urging immediate actions for peace and reconciliation.

The World Council of Churches (WCC) general secretary the Rev. Olav Fykse Tveit, the ACT Alliance general secretary John Nduna, the WCC Central Committee moderator Agnes Abuom, general secretary of the World YWCA Nyaradzayi Gumbonzvanda, the WCC’s former general secretary the Rev. Samuel Kobia, general secretary of the All Africa Conference of Churches the  Rev. Andre Karamaga and WCC program executive for advocacy for Africa Nigussu Legesse will be among the delegates.

The delegates, while in Juba, will accompany churches in advocating for a cease-fire, asking parties in conflict to come back to peace negotiations, allowing humanitarian access in fighting areas and encouraging governments to pledge more aid.

“The crisis in South Sudan has unfortunately not been solved,” said Tveit. “The current crisis has a potential for escalation with a risk of famine and hunger involving a large number of refugees and people displaced by the conflict,” he said.

“At this time it is important to have progress in the political process to re-establish cooperation among parties, so that the safety of people caught in fighting can be ensured.”

“The ecumenical movement has long supported initiatives for peace in South Sudan as well as the establishment of the state of South Sudan,” Tveit said.

He added that churches and political leaders must amplify the voices of people longing for justice and peace. “We express our support to them when they seek a way towards reconciliation, and a focus on rebuilding their nation and feeding their people,” he said.

“We want the churches in South Sudan to know that they are not alone,” said Abuom, the WCC Central Committee moderator.

“Through this pastoral visit on behalf of the global Christian community, we want to express our solidarity with the churches in South Sudan. While we pray with them for peace in their country, we also want to hear from them how we can support them in disseminating the message of stopping hostilities and seeking solutions for peace,” said Abuom.

The urgency for peace in South Sudan has been expressed by the WCC on several occasions, including in a recent minute adopted by the WCC Central Committee. The minute calls for “immediate cessation of hostilities,” asking “all warring parties to respect, honor and implement in good faith the cease-fire agreement.”

Tveit expressed his concerns over violence in the country in a letter to South Sudanese president Salva Kiir Mayardit, whom he met in April 2013.

ACT Alliance members in South Sudan are supporting life-saving relief operations. Since December, work has focused on distributing water, sanitation and hygiene kits, drilling boreholes for water, distributing relief goods, supporting mobile health clinics, offering psychosocial care and carrying out peace-building work in some camps.

However, the prospect of heavy rains will soon hamper operations, Nduna warned. “In a month or so, some areas will be water-logged and muddy, preventing relief vehicles getting access to remote areas. We now have a small window of opportunity to get more relief goods in before the weather turns.”

“With more than a million people forced from their homes and heavy fighting continuing, this dire situation will only worsen,” Nduna said. “This is an extremely serious situation. You wouldn’t have thought it could have taken a turn for the worse, but it has. We urgently need funds to carry out our life-saving work.”

Nduna has called on ACT Alliance members and the international community to keep up the pressure on the parties to the conflict in order to bring an immediate stop to killings and violence in South Sudan.

The United Nations humanitarian coordination agency, UNOCHA, said in a situation report on April 25 that as many as 4.9 million people need humanitarian assistance.