By Stan Friedman
MALAKAL, SOUTH SUDAN (December 18, 2013) — A leader of the Evangelical Covenant Church in South Sudan (ECCSS) said today that the situation for members of the denomination amid the violence in the capital city of Juba is unknown, and he expressed concern that the spreading conflict will lead to ethnic violence in other parts of the world’s newest country.
Mathew, ECCSS projects and social development director, said, “We are still safe in Malakal, Upper Nile State, but the future is not promising. However, the situation of our brothers and sisters in Juba has deteriorated for the last two days and we are not sure of who is alive and who is not alive from our church members in Juba.”
Juba is the capital of South Sudan, and ECCSS headquarters are located in Malakal.
Violence erupted between military factions, some of which are loyal to President Salva Kiir and others that support former Vice President Riek Machar, on Sunday. Since then, as many as 500 people have been killed, and 20,000 have sought refuge at the United Nations mission in the capital, according to the international organization.
“There are thousands of people who are seeking refuge at (the) UN compound in Juba and are being protected by the UN forces but lack basic needs like food, water, shelters, and medicines,” said Mathew, who currently is in Kampala, Uganda. He said he has been unable to return home due to the closing of roads and airports.
UN officials said the fighting is “largely along ethnic lines.” Soldiers loyal to Kiir are of the Dinka tribe, the nation’s largest, while troops supporting Machar are Nuer, the nation’s second largest tribe.
The ECCSS is comprised almost entirely of Nuer, but the denomination is committed to pursuing reconciliation among the tribes, and a new congregation of primarily Dinka tribe members now exists in Malakal. Most members of Sudanese Covenant churches in the United States also are Nuer, although some congregations are largely Dinka.
Mathew asked people in the West, “I am asking your prayers to Almighty God for the quick end of such a terrible situation in my country.”
Curt Peterson, executive minister of the Department of World Mission, said, “We join our brothers and sisters in South Sudan praying for peace, that the cycle of conflict and violence will be broken and that healing will come to this new country of people who have suffered so much for decades.”