Rev James Makeui Choul from South Sudan visited the VicTas synod this week to share his experience with conflict resolution in the world’s youngest nation.
Mr Choul is the executive director of the Presbyterian Relief and Development Agency. He was also the Presbyterian Church of South Sudan’s representative at recent peace talks between the two warring parties in South Sudan. The Presbyterian Church of South Sudan is a partner church of the Uniting Church in Australia.
In August this year, a peace agreement was reached between President Salva Kiir and his rival, former vice-president Riek Machar. Mr Kiir is a member of the Dinka, the largest ethnic group in the country, while Mr Machar is from the second-largest ethnic group, the Nuer.
The fragile peace agreement came after 20 months of conflict which claimed tens of thousands of lives and displaced more than two million people.
The number of people displaced is second only to the Syrian crisis. Ethiopia is home to the greatest number of South Sudanese refugees, with up to 200 refugees crossing the border every day.
Crosslight sat down with Mr Choul, who spoke about his visit to Australia. Mr Choul arrived in Melbourne after visiting Brisbane for the South Sudanese National Conference on 25-27 September.
“The purpose of my trip is to convey the current situation in South Sudan, especially as I have been involved in peace talks for the resolution of the conflict until the day of signings on 17 August (the initial peace agreement deadline) and also on the 26 August (when President Kiir finally signed the peace agreement),” he said.
“I’m here to engage with the churches and to advocate for conflict resolution and reconciliation among the South Sudanese community who are divided by war.”
Mr Choul said the church community in Australia can play an important role in achieving peace and justice in South Sudan.
“The church community can assist in advocacy so that the peace that was signed by the two parties will hold,” he said.
“They can also assist in terms of training in the church ministries and helping with development in areas of relief.”
The UN warns that approximately 4 million people are facing food insecurity in South Sudan. This is exacerbated by competition over scarce resources and heavy rains hampering transportation of food and essentials to displaced communities.
UnitingWorld, through the Presbyterian Relief and Development Agency (PRDA), is providing humanitarian services for impoverished and disenfranchised communities in South Sudan.
“PRDA has already been involved in partnership with UnitingWorld in the area of health training, especially midwifery training schools currently taking place in Kenya,” Mr Choul said.
The October issue of Crosslight featured the story of Deborah, a South Sudanese refugee undertaking a PRDA midwifery training course. Through the support of PRDA, Deborah is saving the lives of mothers and children living in refugee camps. You can read about Deborah’s story here.
Mr Choul’s vision for South Sudan is one where the country embraces a spirit of reconciliation and common humanity.
“Our hope is a peaceful and developed South Sudan that will cherish human values, Christian values, peace and development – these are our expectations,” he said.
“Then comes reconciliation and then reforms in the public intuitions so that ethnic connotations do not actually take over the president in the country.”
Mr Choul also appeared on ABC’s The World, where he talked about the challenges of achieving a lasting peace in South Sudan. You can watch his interview here.
Uniting Church in Australia President Stuart McMillan said the Uniting Church stands in solidarity with its brothers and sisters in South Sudan.
“We pray for peace to prevail in South Sudan and for an end to the suffering of the South Sudanese people,” Mr McMillan said.
“We pray for reconciliation, for healing for the millions whose lives have been shattered, and for courage for church leaders to continue to speak the truth to power.
“Our prayers too are with the members of our Sudanese faith communities in Australia, and the many people whose family members have been suffering in this conflict.
“We pray that the love of God and hope of Christ will sustain them, their families and loved ones through this deeply stressful time.”
UnitingWorld’s Everything in Common catalogue has a range of Christmas gift ideas to support people in South Sudan and other countries. Your gift will be vital in training South Sudanese midwives to continue their life-saving work.