MAF workshops change lives in South Sudan, 10 years after independence

Published: 6 Nov 2021

The last day of MAF’s peace and reconciliation workshop features ‘Kings' Table’ – a celebration of diversity amongst the participants

In South Sudan’s tenth year of independence, MAF continues to run peace and reconciliation workshops all over the country. This month, Rumbek in central South Sudan hosted MAF following on from Kajo Keji in the south and Malakal in the north. Since 2018, 18 workshops have transformed lives, replacing hate with hope…

South Sudan’s civil war (2013 to 2018) has killed 400,000 people and has triggered Africa’s largest refugee crisis since the 1994 Rwandan genocide (source: Reuters).

Although a peace deal was signed in 2018 – and again in 2020 - violence continues to mar the country. According to Oxfam, nearly four million people have fled their homes with two million of them now living in neighbouring countries.

Fear, despair and mistrust have plagued the people of South Sudan for many years, but  church leaders continue to hope, pray and work towards a better future, including the Bishop of Kajo Keji - the Rt Rev Emmanuel Murye Modi.

Bishop of Kajo Keji - the Rt Rev Emmanuel Murye Modi

The reverend was appointed bishop back in January 2017 - three days before war reached his town. His home became a battle ground and people fled.

Today, many of Kajo Keji’s people are still languishing in the refugee camps of Uganda. For those who have remained, government forces are an authoritative presence in the area.

Bishop Emmanuel explains how he has worked tirelessly over the past four years to broker peace:

‘The opposition here was led by the Kuku people. Others of us supported the government. Hatred was building. In 2018, the army and the opposition tried to come together and I became the mediator. They were able to unite and since then, the security situation has changed - people are no longer tortured and properties haven’t been removed.’

Armed cattle raids however, continue to disrupt communities. There is still a long way to go and forgiveness, peace and reconciliation after much atrocity and mistrust, take time.

MAF flies course facilitators around South Sudan to deliver peace and reconciliation workshops

MAF workshops start and end with God

In 2021, MAF facilitated ten workshops across the country. 

In June, Bishop Emmanuel gathered people from his diocese in Kajo Keji to participate.

It’s not the first time they have attended such workshops, but MAF’s workshops teach that reconciliation starts and ends with God. A change of heart is required.

MAF’s peace and reconciliation workshops are based on Biblical teaching

Peacebuilding is like building a house - brick by brick on the foundation of God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

The walls symbolise people’s wounds. When they are revealed and acknowledged, healing begins. Healing the leads to repentance, forgiveness and finally reconciliation, which is the roof of the house.

This message of hope is achieved through drama, discussion and various activities. MAF’s Bible-based workshops engage people and give them an opportunity to respond.

The workshop uses a number of tools to achieve hope and healing

‘Thank God for MAF. Your service to our people helps us a lot. We want to expand MAF’s programme. We must multiply and reach many more people. We must remove our heart of hatred and replace it with trust.’

Bishop of Kajo Keji -        Rt Rev Emmanuel Murye Modi

Peace is like a lemon tree

Bishop Emmanuel closes the workshop with a tree planting ceremony, which encapsulates his vision for Kajo Keji:

‘Today, we will plant lemon trees as part of our peacebuilding. In Genesis it says we should take care of the land and nature, which God has created. It says: “I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it.”

‘I wonder why God reminds us why trees have seeds? Maybe it’s up to us to replant them so that we can change our environment. We have to plant more trees and do afforestation ourselves.’

A participant plants a lemon tree as a symbol of peace

Bishop Emmanuel hopes that the lemon trees will be a permanent reminder of the commitment that people have made during the MAF workshop.

He hopes that the people of Kajo Keji will be just as determined to nurture peace as carefully as they will tend to their trees.

Both will take time to grow, but Bishop Emmanuel looks forward to the day when the whole community will be able to come together to enjoy their fruit.

Partners in peace

Bishop Emmanuel is enthusiastic about his partnership with MAF:

‘I thank God for our relationship with MAF. Your service to our people helps us a lot, especially when people are sick and you fly them to Juba.

‘It’s also very important to build peace, bring people together, and build confidence between people who mistrust each other, so that eventually they can live like brothers.’

 Course participants have the opportunity to replace hate with hope

Bishop Emmanuel continues:

‘It’s difficult to live with your own brother who has done something wrong, so we are making peacebuilding a priority. We have to build confidence between our own brothers and sisters. We look forward to forgiveness and reconciliation.

‘We want to expand MAF’s programme. We must multiply and reach many more people because we must remove our heart of hatred and replace it with trust.’

 One course participant’s tee-shirt sums up his desire for his country

Malakal – a city ‘set back 50 years’

In September, MAF took the workshop to Malakal in the north following an invitation from South Sudan’s Presbyterian Church.

The civil war has ‘set back Malakal 50 years’

Before the civil war, Malakal used to be the second largest city in South Sudan, but that all changed in 2015, when war wreaked havoc. Jaap de With, MAF Sudan’s Partnership and Development Manager, describes the scene:

‘It's unimaginable to see how a city has been set back 50 years. Before the crisis there was electricity - now there’s just one generator you only hear at night.

‘There used to be a bus station where buses drove back and forth all day long - now there are no buses, cars or trucks in sight. The few cars you encounter now belong to NGOs or the governor. All the roads were demolished to make transport as difficult as possible.’

People’s livelihoods in Malakal have been drastically affected by the civil war

Residents are slowly trickling back into the city, but healthcare and the local economy have been severely impacted.

This particular workshop targets the youth and youth leaders with the aim of participants sharing what they have learnt with their communities, thus multiplying the impact.

Foot washing ceremony

More than 40 participants arrive from three different tribes - Nuer, Shilluk and Dinka.

The Shilluk come from an IDP camp (internally displaced persons) and the Dinka come from town. Just bringing these tribes together in one place is a significant step in itself.

The workshop begins with a foot washing ceremonyThe workshop begins with a moving foot washing ceremony - an expression of unity reminiscent of Jesus washing the disciples’ feet.

Sessions include the reason for our existence, sin and guilt, prejudices, loss, wounds, the healing process, confession, asking for forgiveness and valuing others by saying what they’re good at and what you wish for them.

Given the trauma of what the participants have gone through, some of the sessions are really tough. For some, it’s the first time they have shared their personal horrors of war.

One participant expressed huge relief once he confessed to killing a young person. Within the safety of the workshop, he was able to ask for forgiveness.

 The ‘King’s Table’ is a celebration of diversity on the last day of the workshop

On the last day, ‘Kings' Table’ takes place - a celebration of people’s differences with lots of singing and dancing.

In closing, the participants give and receive blessings. Jaap de With concludes:

‘Now I know that these people no longer look at just what they’ve lost through the crisis, but what they have overcome through Christ.’

A further six MAF workshops in South Sudan have been booked for 2022.