A team of Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) leaders is traveling to South Sudan the first week in February, joining an ecumenical delegation that includes the Pope, the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland.
Civil war began in South Sudan in 2013. As Reuters reported, “Despite a 2018 peace deal between the two main antagonists, violence and hunger still plague the country.”
Beyond dialoguing with local stakeholders as part of an international effort to encourage reconciliation, the PC(USA) team is gathering with Presbyterians from two South Sudanese denominations: the South Sudan Presbyterian Evangelical Church and the Presbyterian Church of South Sudan. Discussing, and mostly hearing about, ways the PC(USA) can support South Sudanese Presbyterians in the coming years is a major trip goal.
Joining the Rev. Shavon Starling-Louis, Co-Moderator of the 225th General Assembly (2022) are Dr. Dianna Wright, Director of Ecumenical and Interreligious Relations; Jeff Boyd, Co-coordinator for the Africa Office; Sharon Kandel, Regional Liaison for the Horn of Africa; and the Rev. Bob Rice and Kristi Rice, Mission Co-workers in the South Sudan capital of Juba.
Wright said that the trip invitation came from Presbyterian partners in South Sudan.
Prior to leaving Louisville for Juba, Wright was “learning about the latest events there and thinking about what we can do to help ... Our goal is to be present with our church partners, supporting them and listening to them discuss the struggles they are having.”
She said this kind of denominiational support is reciprocal, with churches from around the world helping the PC(USA).
“We had the moderator of the South Sudan Presbyterian Evangelical Church, the Right Rev. Thomas Tut Puot, at our General Assembly [in 2022]. He was able to share his story in a way that helped the International Engagement Committee he worked on. We want to return that gift that he gave to us.”
Wright emphasized the importance of listening as opposed to bringing solutions from outside, an unfortunate tendency of western churches dating back to the colonial period.
“Some [in South Sudan] have talked about how big names come in talking about peace but little happens after that ... We want to follow through on our participation.
“We don’t have the answers for peace in South Sudan; that comes from the people there. But maybe we can help them discern their process.
“There are so many groups involved — NGOs, churches, government, citizens. If any are missing the conversations aren’t going to work.”
Wright hopes that the visit will also help the PC(USA) plan its continued partnership with South Sudanese Presbyterians and help mission co-workers serving there — far from a simple matter given the peace situation. She also hopes the PC(USA) will strengthen its longstanding ties with ecumenical partners joining the peace journey, including the Church of Scotland, the Anglican Communion and the Roman Catholic Church.
The trip itinerary from February 1-6 includes conversation with the U.S. Ambassador to South Sudan and an ecumenical prayer service alongside church leaders at the mausoleum of John Gurang, whom Reuters called “a hero of South Sudan’s independence struggle who died in a helicopter crash in 2005.”
Others the team plans to meet with include the Rev. Peter Tibi, lead mediator and Director of RECONCILE; current and previous leadership of the Presbyterian Church of South Sudan and the South Sudan Presbyterian Evangelical Church; and the Rev. Ian Alexander of International Partnerships.