By Howard Stringfellow
Archdeacon, Diocese of Bethlehem
Charlie Barebo and I flew to Kajo-Keji October 20 none the wiser. We landed on the grass and gravel airstrip the following day still not knowing anything had happened. When Bishop Anthony arrived from Juba having attended an election of ten new bishops for ten new dioceses in the Episcopal Church of Sudan, he told us.
“President Obama has changed U. S. policy regarding Sudan. It just happened.” I looked at him blankly for two reasons: I knew nothing about the old policy, and as surely I knew nothing about the new one. But right away my neglected homework stood right in front of me. No way around it. An agenda had been set. “Archdeacon, I will send you some documents that I just received.”
It was one of those moments that seemed then and now as though time slowed, and something was being revealed from somewhere beyond the surface. I find that the priestly vocation is like this. Another layer of possibility and reality is revealed when you least expect it. There’s no danger of missing the revelation, but there’s every danger that the revelation won’t be heeded or won’t be honored. We come in to the picture heeding and honoring the revelation; we come into the picture by accepting the love of God the revelation represents.
And Bishop Anthony was true to his word. The documents found their way to my notebook computer before I returned to Bethlehem. You can download the most important of the documents here, from the State Department’s website. And you can find the background article about Sudan at the same website. Read them, and you will know more about Sudan than most all of the people in the world.
I draw from the first link, “Sudan: A Critical Moment, A Comprehensive Approach,” that the old policy differs little from the new one except that the new one is comprehensive. Not lost on me, either, is the presence of the word comprehensive in the document outlining the policy and in the name of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement of 2005 that brought the war to an end while the world watched. Old policies have been sutured together to make the new one, and the new one, the State Department promises, will be implemented by uniform and consistent application. The policy has three strategic objectives:
1. A definitive end to conflict, gross human rights abuses, and genocide in Darfur.
2. Implementation of the North-South Comprehensive Peace Agreement that results in a peaceful post-2011 Sudan, or an orderly path toward two separate and viable states at peace with each other.
3. Ensure that Sudan does not provide a safe haven for international terrorists.
In March President Obama appointed (Retired Air Force) Major General Scott Gration to be his Special Envoy to Sudan. Born to missionaries, he spent his youth in the now Democratic Republic of the Congo and Kenya. Gration is charged with implementing the new policy, and he reports to Secretary Hillary Clinton. News stories indicate that Gration sits with other U. S. officials quarterly to evaluate Sudan’s progress toward the goals of the policy. Their next meeting is in January. I am on the lookout for reports of this meeting.
Travel to Sudan moves me deeply. I have said that my participation in New Hope is the most important thing I have done in my life. New Hope’s mission in Kajo-Keji is life-giving: building schools offers new hope to hundreds of school-age children and their families in our companion diocese. New schools represent systemic change, an improvement that will address poverty in time.
And our mission there gives us new hope also. Our mission in the power of the Spirit has led the Diocese of Bethlehem to transcend our parochial interests and to do something for other people who need it. As Christians, our lives are not just about us; our lives are about our life in Christ and the lives of all of his people. New Hope has given us the opportunity to know and to experience how fully true this is.
In November I started catching up on some of the overdue homework about Sudan. I heard the call in the brief conversation with Bishop Anthony. But I did not let that be the end to it. I started spending more time praying about Sudan, all the people of Sudan, offering in a spiritual way something to accompany what I am continuing to do administratively and financially.
Prayer about Sudan has become more and more important to me. Tensions rise as elections, scheduled for April, approach. On Saturday, The New York Times reported a tribal conflict between the Dinka and the Nuer in Duk Padiet. Such conflicts are not unusual, but recently they have been more intense with more weapons, fresh uniforms, and military paraphernalia. People fear that Northern Sudan stokes tribal conflicts in the South to sabotage South Sudan’s unity and peace. Recent skirmishes have raised the possibility of outside support and interference.
In 2011, also, according to the Comprehensive Peace Agreement of 2005, a referendum will be held that will offer South Sudan the choice of self-determination. Then the people of South Sudan will decide whether to secede or remain part of a unified Sudan. Northern Sudan grudgingly accepted the U. S.-sponsored CPA, and staying on schedule for the referendum remains U. S. policy. In January 2005, when the CPA began the cease-fire, Sudan had captured much of the world’s attention. That interest, I observe, has waned somewhat but not very much. The new U. S. policy indicates our officials’ eyes are on Sudan.
Yesterday, a report from the BBC (that Bishop Paul shared with us) and one from the Voice of America indicate agreements have been reached between the major political parties of North and South Sudan about the proportion of votes and turnout required for the referendum to be binding. Some other issue, unnamed in the BBC report, remains unresolved at the moment.
To answer these concerns and to answer the needs of our sisters and brothers in Kajo-Keji, I wrote and use a prayer that I want to share with you. It’s the prayer we used at Good Shepherd in Scranton yesterday in response to Bishop Paul’s request for prayers for Sudan from all of our churches.
A Collect for All the People of Sudan
Lord Christ when first you came to earth, you proclaimed the Kingdom of God by blessing the poor in spirit and by healing the sick: Grant such grace to all the people of Sudan that they may grow to the measure of your full stature; all this we ask in your holy Name. Amen.
Growing to the measure of Christ’s full stature Christ wants for each of the Sudanese. And he wants it for you and for me, too. With New Hope, we have an instrument in place for Christ to use to accomplish that for them and for us at the same time.