The church has a crucial peace-building role to play in South Sudan, the world’s newest country, according to a Baptist leader there.

Rev. Ramadan Chan Liol, general secretary of the Sudan Interior Church, which is affiliated with the Baptist World Alliance, said churches are focused on a major program of reconciliation in an attempt to help heal the scars caused by the long and bloody civil war.

Chan, also general secretary of the Sudan Council of Churches, a Christian Aid partner, explained that South Sudan suffers from long-standing tribal and military divisions as well as the conflict with the north.

“People have been at war a long time. There is the issue of trauma, and the need for cohesion,” he said.

“We know it’s going to be a long process and we don’t know when it will end, but that is what the churches want to do and they are committed to it.”

South Sudan became the 193rd country recognized by the United Nations recently after voting overwhelmingly for independence from its northern neighbors in a referendum at the start of the year.

The referendum was the culmination of a six-year process that began with the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement in 2005, ending a civil war lasting 22 years that witnessed the death of 2 million southern Sudanese, the internal displacement of 3 million to 4 million people, and the migration of more than 600,000 individuals into neighboring nations.

As well as past traumas, South Sudan faces huge challenges in other areas, Chan said. The nation’s infrastructure is “not good” because of the war, and the sheer vastness of the country means it will take some time to improve.

Nevertheless, Chan described an upbeat mood when speaking to The Baptist Times on the day before independence.

“Cars are hooting their horns, people are dancing in their flats and their houses. The general mood is jubilation.”

The Sudan Interior Church, with 225 churches and 40,000 baptized members, has also “worked hard” to remain united, he said.

It came into being just three years ago when its north and south sections merged. Chan will continue to be based in Sudan’s capital, Khartoum, but will make regular visits to the south.

He will monitor events in Sudan, where concern has been expressed for Christians as the predominantly Muslim country prepares to implement Sharia law.

Chan also requested prayer for flashpoint areas, such as Abyei, South Kordofan and Darfur, where people “still have no rights.”

This article appeared originally in The Baptist Times of Great Britain.

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