GAMBELA, ETHIOPIA (November 12, 2015) — Amid a civil war during which horrific atrocities have been inflicted between tribes, the Evangelical Covenant Church of South Sudan (ECCSS) has initiated a peace process within several refugee camps that is already showing promise.
The South Sudan Refugee Peace, Reconciliations, and Healing Project is bringing together 250 people of different tribes to be trained as peace ambassadors in three camps located in Ethiopia and Kenya. Professional facilitators guide the training.
More than 290,000 refugees have crossed the borders into Ethiopia and Kenya since civil war broke out in December 2013 between political factions that fall along Nuer and Dinka tribal lines. Most of the refugees have been Nuer, and tribes generally occupy different sections of the camps.
The training conferences are being held against the backdrop of acts of extreme cruelty committed by both tribes. Last month the African Union Commission of Inquiry on South Sudan released a report that blamed both sides for atrocities against civilians that included sexual violence, mutilation, and people being forced to jump into fires and engage in cannibalism.
Family members of James Tang, the Covenant’s missionary to South Sudan and a member of the Nuer tribe, are among the casualties, but Tang is determined to pursue peace and reconciliation. “We are called to be ambassadors for Christ,” he said. “If we don’t do what the Bible says, then we are not representing Christ.”
Tang facilitated the first conference meeting, which was held at the Kakuma Camp in Kenya. He emphasized that Christ is the only one he represents. “I don’t represent the rebels, I don’t represent the government. I don’t discuss politics. I don’t even touch it.”
Earlier this year, the ECCSS invited Dinka pastors to the first meeting and seven walked through the Nuer section of the camp to attend, which Tang said was a brave act. Once everyone was together, they discussed paths toward reconciliation and worshiped together.
“For reconciliation, you talk about your family, not what happened in general,” Tang said. They sang songs in each other’s languages and washed one another’s feet.
After the session, one of the Dinka pastors confessed to Tang that he had previously seen him only as Nuer but now considered him a brother in Christ.
Two weeks later, a Nuer pastor preached at a Dinka church in the Kakuma camp, and 500 people attended, Tang said. “They had learned about what we taught at the conference, but the tension is still there so they wanted to hear what he had to say.”
More conferences are slated, and members of the different tribes will help lead them. The ECCSS is partnering with other sister churches and faith-based organizations to sponsor the conferences. Covenant World Relief also has been helping to fund expenses.