By Stan Friedman
GAMBELA, ETHIOPIA (MAY 12, 2014) — Amid the cycle of hopes for peace repeatedly raised and dashed in South Sudan, the Evangelical Covenant Church of South Sudan continues to expand its ministry to refugees while temporarily operating out of headquarters here—where it was founded by others who had fled previous violence in the 1990s.
The ECCSS was established in 1997 through the work of American missionaries and Sudanese refugees who were able to make their way to U.S. Covenant congregations in the Northwest Conference. They were fleeing years of civil war while South Sudan was still part of Sudan.
Last January, church leaders and many other ECCSS members in South Sudan escaped to different refugee camps in Uganda and Ethiopia when Malakal, where their headquarters were located, was caught up in the fighting that erupted among government factions. The warfare along mostly tribal lines broke out in December.
In recent months, the ECCSS has worked with two other denominations that make up the Coalition Churches of South Sudan Relief (CCSSR) and a faith-based community service organization to conduct a needs assessment of Sudanese stranded at the Tiergol and Bure-biey refugee camps in the Gambela region of Ethiopia, said Mathew Jock Moses, the ECCSS projects and social development director, in an email.
More than 45,000 South Sudanese are displaced to Ethiopia, and 16,000 people are still living in camps, Mathew said.
Calling the disaster “appalling and overwhelming,” Mathew said the CCSSR and other organizations are working together to provide coordinated relief according to region and expertise, Mathew said. The Covenant church is focusing on providing nutrition and shelter at the Tiergol and Bure-biey camps as well as one in Pagak.
Malnutrition and disease are extensive, and many of the refugees are living without any shelter. Last week Covenant World Relief released additional funds to help the church. Money is being used to purchase food, temporary shelters, and mosquito nets.
“We are committed to standing with the ECC of South Sudan through this national crisis,” said CWR director Dave Husby. “I am humbled by the way in which the ECCSS church leaders, who have suffered themselves, are seeking to bring relief to those who have suffered even more. When peace does come to South Sudan the road to recovery will be long, requiring significant resources.”
However, peace seems a long way off in the world’s youngest nation, which was formed two and a half years ago following the civil war in Sudan that killed millions of people. Long-standing tribal conflicts have threatened to tear South Sudan apart ever since.
The fighting in December erupted when troops loyal to ousted vice president Riek Machar mutinied against the government led by President Salva Kiir. The two met for the first time last week and agreed to a ceasefire. It was broken within hours.
The violence has impacted members of the ECCSS living in the United States.
Covenant World Relief has established a special fund to help provide assistance to the ECCSS.