Nearly six years after celebrating its new nationhood, South Sudan’s once euphoric hopes for the future have seemingly crashed and burned amid civil war, escalating tribalism, human rights abuses and a catastrophic food crisis.

Independence in July 2011 – after Africa’s longest war, between the Muslim and Arabic-speaking north of Sudan, and the indigenously African and Christian-influenced south – brought hopes of peace, freedom, democracy and nation building.

Since 2013, more than three million people have been forced to flee their homes in a country of 13 million.

But it was short-lived. In December 2013, South Sudan sank into civil war driven by a power struggle between President Salva Kiir, an ethnic Dinka, and his former deputy Riek Machar, an ethnic Nuer.

Since 2013, more than three million people have been forced to flee their homes in a country of 13 million. Almost six million people are in need of humanitarian assistance. More than one million people have sought refuge in neighbouring countries.

After recently visiting South Sudan, I believe the church has a great role to play in helping this dialogue to steer the young country back towards peace and stability.

There is a saying in South Sudan that “easy things are not easily done.”

In the capital, Juba, I met with church leaders who have been engaged in urgent talks to find solutions to “the forgotten war in the heart of Africa.” They spoke of a vision to see the church bring reconciliation across the fractured country, where an estimated 200,000 children are suffering from severe malnutrition. While the government spends 44 per cent of its budget on military and security, just 11 per cent is spent on health, education and humanitarian affairs.

There is a saying in South Sudan that “easy things are not easily done.” The church in this predominantly Christian nation is aware of the challenges. It has stood faithfully alongside the suffering through the most brutal periods of struggle.

The church in South Sudan has vowed to remain a credible beacon of hope.

It has witnessed the failure of the church in Rwanda, where too many pastors and priests were accomplices to the 1994 genocide. The church in South Sudan has vowed to remain a credible beacon of hope.

Reconciliation of opposing forces is the only way to peace. And those deeply-divided forces will have to work with the church if there is to be hope. In this time of uncertainty, the church is using its influence to bring about forgiveness and reconciliation – an alternative word for salvation.

This is a defining moment in the life of the nation and South Sudan’s Christian leaders. Pray for them to remain united and committed as they model peace and reconciliation to a watching world.

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