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Through the Diocese of Rumbek, MCC supports peacebuilding workshops such as this one. (MCC photo by Heather Peters)

Through the Diocese of Rumbek, MCC supports peacebuilding workshops such as this one. (MCC photo by Heather Peters)

MCC calls for prayers for peace leading up to Sudan referendum

Linda Espenshade
September 28, 2010

Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) leaders and workers in Sudan are joining other church groups in a call for worldwide prayer for peace as Sudan moves toward a landmark referendum on Jan. 9.

The referendum, which will allow people in southern Sudan to determine if they want to secede from Sudan, is widely expected to lead to secession. The right to hold this referendum was established as part of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) in 2005, which brought two decades of Sudanese civil war to an end.

No matter the outcome of the vote, the potential for conflict and violence before and after the referendum is real, and violence would have significant ramifications for Sudan and its neighboring countries, according to MCC Sudan representative Leroy Willems.

To address these concerns, MCC is adding its call to prayer to those of the U.S. Episcopal Church’s “Season of Prayer for Sudan” and the Catholic Relief Services’ prayer campaign, “101 Days of Prayer for a Peaceful Referendum in Sudan.” The campaign began on International Peace Day, Sept. 21, and will continue through Jan. 1, 2011.

With permission, MCC has adapted the campaign resources for use on its website, as a guide that people may use for their daily prayer. These resources can be found at

MCC partners with the Catholic Diocese in Rumbek, Sudan, where MCC workers Heather Peters and her husband, Joel Kroeker, members of Hanley Mennonite Church, Hanley, Sask., serve as peace and justice coordinators for the diocese. The couple attended mass at the Holy Family Cathedral on Sunday, Sept. 19, the week the prayer campaign was launched.

Peters wrote in her blog that the Vicar General, Father Andrea, called the people to prepare for prayer, not war. “… war should never be an option because prayer is powerful enough, he said, ‘We need to hold prayer in our hands.’”

As the world prays, the Sudan Council of Churches (SCC) hopes to discuss concerns of its people with the political leaders of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM). A meeting, referred to as Kajiko II, was scheduled for Sept. 28-30 but has been postponed. Willems was to be part of some of the discussion as a chairperson of all the organizations that support SCC. Willems and his wife, Joan Willems, are co-representatives from Peoria, Ariz., where they are members of Trinity Mennonite Church, Glendale, Ariz.

The Sudanese churches, which are the only part of civil society to have survived the two-decade-long civil war, have a “high moral responsibility” to speak to the government on behalf of the people, Willems said. “The church is there to say, ‘This is what our people are concerned about.’”

Some of the topics to be discussed at Kajiko II, according to Willems, may include why the SPLM is not yet organizing voter registration for the referendum and why the southern and northern leaders haven’t decided on border demarcation or how to divide revenue from oil resources, which lie between the north and the south.

Church members are also concerned about the safety of Christian friends and family members who fled to the north during the war. They will raise the need for civic education for people in the Blue Nile and South Kordofan, who are not eligible to vote in the referendum, but can voice their concerns in other ways, Willems said.

The international community bears responsibility for influencing a peaceful outcome in Sudan according to MCC advocacy staff in MCC Canada, the MCC United Nations Office and MCC U.S. Washington Office.

The Canadian and U.S. governments took a lead role in brokering the peace agreement. Since then, violence in Darfur and lack of diplomatic resources distracted Canada, the U.S. and other members of the international community from ensuring full implementation of the CPA.

Continued diplomatic pressure is critical before, during and after the referendum in January, Willems said. More specifically, he said, Canada and the U.S. must urge the governments of Sudan and southern Sudan to hold the referendum on time and to peacefully respect the results.

In addition to prayer, MCC is encouraging people to ask the governments of Canada and the U.S. to do more to actively support the referendum process.

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