Tomorrow, I shall be back in Southern Sudan. At the SSS Board meeting a question was
asked about the security and safety of our SSS members during the time of the
referendum. Similar questions have been directed to me outside of the Board meeting by
others interested in our work in Sudan and once or twice there has been almost a
suggestion that it may be foolish for us to be in Sudan at this time of uncertainty.
My reply has been that those of us living and working in Southern Sudan assess it to be a
situation where there is some risk and it is inevitabile that there will be varying degrees of
anxiety about this. None of us are seeking to be martyrs for the cause but, nevertheless, we
have assessed the risk and believe the right decision is for us is to stay. Most NGO
personnel left the country during the election. We stayed. In fact many of the missionaries
stayed right through the war years and the Church has great credibility in the eyes of the
people because the Church, by the presence of both expatriate and local, priests and
religious, stood in solidarity with the people during those devastating years.
SSS has taken care to establish a clear policy decision. Any individual SSS member who
wishes to leave the country during this time of uncertainty may do so, even if the rest of
the community decide to stay. But if the community decides it would be wise to evacuate,
everyone must go: no individual may choose to stay behind. We think we are as well
prepared as we can be. We have purchased reserved supplies of food in case it becomes
dangerous to go out. We have discussed how to maintain communciation.
We have decided, however, not to invite extra volunteers to help during the first half of
next year. The Sudanese people in the localities where we live and work know us and
recognise that we are Church people. That is our greatest protection. Volunteers would
not be so well known. So we have made a different assessment for short-term volunteers
who could well have found something very different from what they had imagined.
It is not that we are expecting violence. I think the 101 Days of Prayer for Peace has helped
greatly to bring both religious and civil leaders to focus on the strong priority, being
expressed by the people, for peace. Add to this, the self-interest of those in power on both
sides, and there is a strong recipe for peace. There is likely to be continuing peace because
the leaders who led the fighting are now doing so well in peace-time. They are benefitting
the most from the prosperity peace brought and now they have the most to lose.
It is a limited analogy but consider what happens when we fly. Several hundred people
board a plane. Those people have assessed the risk and placed their faith in the pilots, the
air trafic controllers and those who built and those who maintain the plane. Boarding a
plane only becomes foolishness, in retrospect, if that plane crashes! Flying is reasonable. If
one joins the police, the fire brigade, the armed services, it is reasonable risk-taking.
If I were a married man with a wife and children, then my responsibilities to them would
also become key considerations. Thus the decisions taken by many NGO personnel are
also reasonable for them. But as religious who publicly profess faith in God and try to live
by the meaning that brings to our existence, it is not a hard decision for us to stay in
solidarity with the Sudanese people. Sudan is their country. Most of them have nowhere
else to go. We will continue to offer programmes to help them have better opportunity.
If north and south separate and good relations, especially in trade, are not maintained,
there will be great shortages of supplies in the south. This could lead to unrest and
conflict. But it is likely such violence would build up gradually and we would have time
to reassess our situation. Nonetheless, let us all pray for a peaceful referendum, followed
by a mutually respectful transition process that maintains the peace.