View from Nzara, South Sudan, includes prayers for Renk

The Episcopal Diocese of Iowa is a companion with the Diocese of Nzara in the Episcopal Church of Sudan. Tonight Ray Gaebler of St. Timothy’s in West Des Moines sends word of his communication with Nzara’s bishop, The Rt. Rev. Samuel Peni. Nzara is a good distance from Juba, where the conflict is most intensely felt; but concerns are still very real.

A few days ago, religious authorities in Sudan called for peaceful resolution to unfolding conflicts.

Bp. Peni called today to say all is peaceful in Nzara and nearby Yambio where both his and [the bishop’s spouse] Sentina’s families live. The mayhem is far from Nzara and moving farther away as the rebels have moved into Unity State to try to take over the oil producing areas. There are no Dinka nor Nuer tribal groups in his vicinity. They are glad to have all his children home for Christmas as they are on vacation from their school in Uganda.

Samuel has been visiting all the deaneries for confirmation, making several trips each week since the beginning of Advent. He is home now for Christmas and preparing for Christmas services. They are 9 hours ahead of Iowa so it is already Christmas eve in Nzara. He wishes us all a happy Christmas and asks that we pray for a cessation of hostilities and safe travel for all.

Samuel is chair of the Episcopal Committee of the Peace and Reconciliation Commission and hopes to travel to South Africa for a conference in this regard immediately after Holy Name Day. Presently he is booked to go to Juba on Jan. 2 then to South Africa via Entebbe on Jan. 4. Obviously the safety of traveling through Juba is a concern now and he may try to go directly to Kampala if necessary. If all goes well he will return to South Sudan on Jan. 12. The children will go back to school that week or the following.

Concern for the Diocese of Renk remains high. [The Diocese of Renk has a companion relationship with the Diocese of Chicago and St. Michael’s Episcopal Church in Barrington, Illinois and is linked with Renk Theological College and the Diocese of Renk. –ed.] Bishop Joseph knows only that his brother was shot last week in Bor but was alive. There is no communication from Bor so he does not know what is happening with his brother. Joseph’s wife Rhoda and his twin daughters want to leave Renk but are afraid to go via Juba because of the large number of people trying to leave the country via that route. They will attempt to leave via Khartoum but of course that involves a whole different set of issues since relations between Sudan and South Sudan are not the best.

Joseph is also greatly concerned about the anticipated increase of internally displaced persons that may arrive in Renk as strife moves north. Fighting was reported just south of Malakal, capital of Upper Nile State this morning. Upper Nile State is a major oil producer and a prize sought by the rebels. Renk receives refugee pressure from both north and south because it is the first stop inside South Sudan for refugees returning from Sudan. The diocese is doing all it can to cope with this pressure but resources are extremely stretched.

Pray that a road to peace is found.

Ray Gaebler

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