With peace elusive and a return home uncertain, South Sudanese Baptist refugees have been meeting the physical and spiritual needs of their fellow refugees.
Forced to flee their homeland due to a protracted civil war, Baptist refugees, like Edward Dima, have not been able to return home in more than three years.
Dima, the pastor of First Baptist Church in Kajo-Keji and president of the Baptist Convention of South Sudan, has been providing EthicsDaily.com firsthand insight into this conflict.
Clergy and laity alike are living either in refugee camps or other housing arrangements in neighboring countries like Ethiopia, Kenya and Uganda.
After helping address basic needs for refugees like food and shelter, Dima and his fellow Baptists have been working to provide educational opportunities for school-aged children and youth, as well as forming local churches in their temporary homes.
Though hampered by limited financial resources to pay teachers and to provide learning materials, efforts have continued to encourage teachers and students through in-person visits and to coordinate with churches and other groups to obtain educational resources for the schools.
In refugee camps and surrounding areas, dozens of congregations have emerged through the work of Baptist leaders who are seeking to provide hope and comfort to refugees.
Dima reported on Feb. 18 via Facebook that in the western region of Gambela, Ethiopia, more than two dozen churches have been formed.
“Pray for the Baptist churches in north Uganda refugee camp, Kakuma refugee camp in Kenya and the refugee camps in Gambela, Ethiopia and South Sudan,” Dima requested in an email to EthicsDaily.com.
Though unsure when they will be able to return home, Baptist leaders have also sustained their denominational work, including a recent review of their convention’s governing documents.
Dima told EthicsDaily.com that leaders were returning to their refugee camps after a “successful” meeting, providing EthicsDaily.com with a photo of those who had gathered in Uganda.
South Sudan became an independent nation in 2011, making it the youngest nation in the world.
Within two years, disagreements between the nation’s president, Salva Kiir, and the vice president, Riek Machar, boiled over into a power struggle that divided the nation.
Military forces chose sides, with The Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA), also known as SPLA-IG (in government), loyal to Kiir, and the SPLM In Opposition (SPLM-IO), supporting Machar.
Several factions have splintered off from these two main groups, creating an even more complex dynamic in the peace efforts.
Intermittent conflict and ongoing peace talks have been the “new normal” for the nation’s citizens since 2013.
As of October 2018, nearly 400,000 had died due to the conflict, more than 2 million people had been displaced, and thousands of children had been involved in armed conflict through the various military and militia groups.
The U.N. Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan reported on Feb. 20 that “deliberate starvation and corruption” have been “hallmarks” of this conflict, negatively impacting millions of civilians.
A peace agreement signed in September 2018 has held, even as skirmishes have continued between various military and militia groups.
Several matters related to security arrangements and U.N. forces have been sticking points in finalizing the unity government, Dima told EthicsDaily.com, as well as uncertainty regarding several opposition factions “who are not signatories for the peace [agreement], and [are] not sure if they will join the government or not.”
According to a Feb. 20 Associated Press report, Kiir and Machar said unresolved matters would be worked out after forming the unity government.
“There are still tens of thousands of refugees in north Uganda. No one has left the camps until everyone is sure of the peace in South Sudan,” Dima said. “We need to pray for a true peace … Pray for our political leaders to have a will to implement the peace in South Sudan.”