By Stan Friedman
KAMPALA, UGANDA (January 6, 2014) — The leader of the Evangelical Covenant Church of South Sudan who monitors the denomination’s Vulnerable and Orphaned Child project suffered a gunshot wound to the hand while trying to escape the fighting that has broken out between warring factions of the nation’s military.
Buildings as well as some schools operated by the ECCSS also have been destroyed or damaged.
Mathew, another ECCSS leader, reported Sunday that the injured man named Simon was admitted to the Malakal Teaching Hospital. “We thank God that there was no fracture seen in his X-ray examination. His condition is very good, stable, and I have been able to communicate with him.” (Covenant News Service is publishing only the first names of church members.)
Mathew has been stranded in Kampala where he was when the fighting erupted December 15 between factions loyal to President Salva Kiir or to former Vice President Dr. Riek Machar, who was ousted by the president last July. Fighting began in the capital city of Jubal and quickly spread to Malakal, where the ECCSS offices are located, as well as to other parts of the country.
The ECCSS president and several other board members fled to Wubel village 27 miles south of the city. They are currently safe but still fear for their safety, Mathew said.
James Tang, a Covenant missionary to his home country, said several of the ECCSS leaders have fled to Fangak. The location of other leaders is unknown, and some are living “in the bush” but are believed to be unharmed.
Tang added that he has heard unconfirmed reports that some ECCSS members have been killed.
Ten shops that the ECCSS rents to local businessmen as a way to generate income for the denomination were “burnt to ashes,” Mathew said. “Soldiers first looted the buildings. It is a big loss for the ECCSS and its members.”
Fire also destroyed the windows of the ECCSS school that was built with funds from Salem Covenant Church in New Brighton, Minnesota. “But we thank God that the school and the church which are located in the same compound did not get burned too,” Mathew said.
Like the businesses, however, “The chairs and others essential materials of the school were looted by the soldiers.”
The fighting has been largely along tribal lines. Kiir is Dinka, the largest ethnic group in the country, and Machar is Nuer, the second largest tribe. “There is a very big concern that the current crisis could drag the youngest nation to civil war that may result into ethnic conflict,” Mathew said.
More than 1,000 people have been killed, and more than 200,000 were displaced to UN compounds. Others “ran to the bush in a very horrible environment full of dangerous reptiles,” Mathew said.
“There are more sufferings for the internally displaced people who are currently living in United Nations camps,” Mathew said. “There are no basic services like food, water, shelters, and no sanitation at all. There is also a fear of outbreak of disease like cholera or any other communicable disease.”
Peace talks among leaders of the factions began today in an effort to initiate a cease-fire. Those efforts have been unsuccessful and fighting has continued.
Churches have called for hostilities to end. “The South Sudan Council of Churches (SSCC) of which the ECCSS is one of the free accredited members, condemned the ongoing violence and support the mediation efforts initiated by Eastern African Countries and western powers,” Mathew said in an email last week.
John and Letha Kerl, regional coordinators for Europe, Africa, and South Sudan, said last week, “The Evangelical Covenant Church and Covenant World Mission wish to express our deep concern and consternation over the events in South Sudan. The senseless killing of so many and the instability this has brought to South Sudan has disturbed us deeply.
“We want to assure those of the Evangelical Covenant Church of South Sudan of our fervent prayers for them and for South Sudan during these difficult days. We express our condolences over the loss of life and the ensuing chaos of these recent events. We pray that this conflict can quickly be resolved and that peace and stability will return for all South Sudanese.”