It is a phrase that you often hear in Advent and through Christmas “Peace on Earth and goodwill to all”.
This phrase very much affects me because in the country I come from, South Sudan, these two things are very often missing. As an example the diocese of Wau is badly affected by conflict with many Christians displaced. Some parishes are currently closed down because parishioners have left due to insecurity and many of them fled to Internally Displaced (IDP) camps or to refugee camps in neighbouring countries.
In 2017 we received over 5000 people just in our Cathedral (known as Good Shepherd Cathedral) where they spent three months before the Government moved them because the church compound was too small for them.
They have not yet gone home and are therefore not able to cultivate their farms which is the main source of their livelihood, hence they are in need of food aid.
The majority of the IDPs who came to us were members of the Luo/Jurchol community as well as members of Dinka and Fertite communities displaced by fighting between the armed Dinka cattle camp youth popularly known as Gelweng (Cattle Guards) and rebels allied to Former Vice President Dr Riek Machar. So the perception was that the conflict was between Dinka and the Luo and Fertite communities.
But the IDPs were shocked when we warmly received and cared for them (of which we are so grateful to our partners who supported us with funds to buy food and other essential non-food items for the IDPs) in our compound without any sign of discrimination based on tribal or political affiliation.
They also saw us living together in the same house and working together in the same church as Luo and Dinka and Fertite Church leaders. This helped with trust building among different communities who lived in the camp which has significantly contributed to the reduction of tribal conflict in Wau as some of the community leaders were able to persuade young people from their communities who had joined the conflict to come back.
I am so proud of the example my Pastors and church workers gave which really displayed peace on Earth and goodwill to all, and even our partners who do not live in Africa, do not share our culture and do not even have the same coloured skin. They too demonstrated this idea of peace and goodwill to all.
It is a fundamental part of Christianity, to forgive others and try to live as God wants. We must all remember that the Christmas we celebration is the moment when the God of all creation came to us as a baby who would grow to be the Prince of Peace and Saviour of all Mankind.
The Jesus that we see in Bethlehem will lead the world by humble example and teach us peace. Not just how to live together without war, but the peace that means we know God and wish to make God pleased with us. This means abandoning the rule of guns and violence and accepting the rule of law for all in South Sudan. It means accepting one another and not hating one another simply because of the tribe they come from. It means politicians taking responsibility for their bad actions and it means forgiving the sins of the past to move into a better future.
Bishop John Jock Chol of the Diocese of Akobo (which is in the Lou Nuer community) and myself recently formed an initiative known as Church Leaders Initiative for Peace (CLIP). One of our main objectives is to promote forgiveness among South Sudanese communities based on the Lord’s Prayer: “Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us”.
We sincerely hope that in 2018 that CLIP will be able to help develop peace in our region. My Prayer for South Sudan is that there be peace so that all the civilians who are now suffering either in the IDP or refugee camps can return to their homes to rebuild their lives.
It is my prayer that all South Sudanese will embrace the rule of law instead of the rule of guns as it is at the moment. It is my prayer that all South Sudanese will be able to forgive one another, reconcile and live in peace and harmony. I pray that justice, equality and love will form the central values of South Sudan.
I would like South Sudan to be an example to the world of peace on Earth and good will to all, not just at Christmas, but starting at Christmas and never, ever stopping.
Every Blessing to you at Christmas