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Makul Marial watches over cattle as they graze near Rumbek, Southern Sudan. MCC is supporting Sudanese churches in mediating conflicts and improving public health in the region. Melissa Engle

Makul Marial watches over cattle as they graze near Rumbek, Southern Sudan. MCC is supporting Sudanese churches in mediating conflicts and improving public health in the region. Melissa Engle

MCC supports Sudanese churches in working for peace and public health

Tim Shenk
April 17, 2009

AKRON, Pa. — Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) is supporting Sudanese churches in several new initiatives aimed at building peace and improving public health in Southern Sudan amid new concerns about peace and stability in the region.

Southern Sudan is slowly recovering from a devastating, 22-year civil war that ended in 2005 after causing nearly 2 million civilian deaths. Under the terms of a peace agreement, the region will hold a referendum in 2011 to determine whether to remain part of Sudan or form a separate nation. This process is complicated by staggering poverty — 90 percent of Southern Sudanese live on less than $1 per day — and occasional violence between ethnic groups over land and other resources.

Christianity is the predominant religion in Southern Sudan, and Sudanese churches are among the largest and most trusted organizations in the region, according to MCC staff members. MCC supports several Sudanese churches and church agencies, such as the Sudan Council of Churches (SCC), in mediating conflicts and promoting peace.

In November 2008, the SCC began a series of public meetings in Southern Sudan's Juba and Magwi counties to discuss land disputes that have arisen as Southern Sudanese refugees have streamed back to the area following the war.

MCC is sponsoring these meetings and plans to support the SCC in educating communities about the 2011 referendum. Because of the civil war, most people in Southern Sudan have no experience with voting, according to MCC's Sudan representatives, Joan and Leroy Willems, of Peoria, Ariz.

"This is the first vote in over 50 years," Leroy Willems says. "To set up voting stations, to organize registration, to explain, 'What is a ballot?' ... this is all new."

Many Sudanese churches responded warily to the International Criminal Court's March 4 indictment of Sudanese President Omer Hassen Al Bashir for war crimes in western Sudan's Darfur region. In a joint statement, 13 leaders of the SCC and its member denominations expressed concern that the indictment could jeopardize peace and stability throughout the country.

"The court case will affect Sudan negatively ..." the church leaders wrote. "Whilst justice is extremely important, societies in transition like Sudan need other instruments and other models in order to supplement one form of justice. There should be holistic justice that encompasses accountability, truth recovery, reconciliation, institutional reform and reparations."

In a major new initiative, MCC is providing $150,000 U.S. to the Catholic Diocese of Rumbek to construct a center for AIDS treatment, education and counseling. The center will serve an area of Southern Sudan's Lakes and Bahr el Ghazal states that has very limited health services for a population of more than 4 million people.

MCC is also expanding its team in Sudan from three workers to six in the coming months. MCC is accepting applications for an additional three positions in Southern Sudan, which are listed at serve.mcc.org.

MCC is appealing for financial contributions to help the people of Southern Sudan recover from war and remain at peace. Contributions should be designated "Coming Home: Sudan" and may be made online at mcc.org/donate or through any MCC office.