An ecumenical team of church representatives began their solidarity visit to churches and ecumenical organizations in war-ravaged Sudan on Wednesday.
The international team, organized by the World Council of Churches (WCC) and the All Africa Conference of Churches (AACC), will visit Darfur, Khartoum, Rumbek and Yambio before joining a conference in Juba with Sudanese church leaders, women and youth during their weeklong visit to Sudan, which ends on April 2.
WCC General Secretary Dr. Samuel Kobia, the first African head of the WCC, will lead the team, and the ACT-Caritas Darfur Emergency Response Operation will facilitate the visit in Darfur.
Delegates aim to express solidarity and encourage Sudanese churches with their visit, while also learning about the concerns, hopes, and needs of the Sudanese people who have lived under decades of conflict.
For more than 20 years, Sudan had been entangled in a civil war between the mostly Muslim north and the Christian and animist south. The conflict killed some 2 million people and left more than four million people internally displaced. In addition to the human toll, forces from the north also destroyed hundreds of churches in southern Sudan.
The conflict finally ended in January 2005 with the fragile Comprehensive Peace Agreement. That, however, has already revealed signs of unraveling.
Meanwhile, in Sudan's western region of Darfur, there has been ongoing conflict between ethnic rebel groups and the government-backed Arab militia. Ethnic African rebels complained of decades of neglect and discrimination by the Sudanese Arab-dominated government in Khartoum, which is widely accused of unleashing Arab militias known as janjaweed on Darfurians.
Between 200,000 and 400,000 people have been killed in Darfur and about 1.8 million people have been forced to flee their home and another 200,000 Darfurians have taken refuge in neighboring Chad and the Central African Republic.
U.S. President George W. Bush, the U.S. State Department and the U.S. Congress in 2004 identified the situation in Darfur as a genocide – the first time such a declaration was made.
In recent years, Christians have joined activists at the forefront in the campaign to end the Darfur genocide. South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu joined former U.S. president Jimmy Carter in October to promote peace in Darfur.
Meanwhile, Christian leaders such as the Rev. Dr. Geoff Tunnicliffe of the World Evangelical Alliance and the Rev. Richard Cizik of the National Association of Evangelicals have urged and helped mobilize American evangelical churches to educate congregants on the crisis during the annual Global Days for Darfur.
"Every passing day, Khartoum gets closer to its goal which is the ethnic cleansing of Darfur … we cannot say that we didn't know. And knowing, we have a moral imperative to act," said Dr. Richard Land of the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission during a teleconference in October.
This week's WCC-AACC organized ecumenical field visits will be followed by the conference in Juba – the capital of southern Sudan – from March 31 to April 2, when church leaders, women and youth will share testimonies and discuss the challenges they face on issues such as peace making, HIV and AIDS, post war reconstruction and other issues.
The international ecumenical solidarity visit to Sudan is part of the WCC Living Letters project and the AACC Eminent Persons Ecumenical Programme for Peace in Africa. The initiative is also supported by the Fellowship of Christian Councils and Churches in the Great Lakes and Horn of Africa (FECCLAHA).