Churches working to end escalating crisis in South Sudan

(AP Photo/Rebecca Vassie)Refugees who fled the recent violence in South Sudan and crossed the border into Uganda carry their belongings as they await transportation from a transit centre in the town of Koboko to a nearby settlement in Arua District, in northern Uganda Monday, January 6, 2014

A charity working against the persecution of Christians has launched an appeal to help South Sudanese churches in the midst of escalating violence across the country.

Fighting erupted in the capital city of Juba on 15 December following an attempted coup by soldiers loyal to President Salva Kiir's former deputy Riek Machar, who was removed from office last July after accusing Kiir of dictatorship.

The violence then spread throughout South Sudan, and rebels supporting Mr Machar took control of major towns Bor and Bentiu in the north, among others. Reports suggest that the country is splitting along ethnic lines as the two political leaders belong to different tribes, Dinka and Nuer.

The government has failed to establish a peaceful and stable state since declaring independence from Sudan in 2011 following two bloody civil wars, and there has been significant political unrest ever since.

International Director of Barnabas Fund Dr Patrick Sookhdeo described the current situation as "desperately sad".

"Christian civilians of South Sudan, having gained independence from the Islamic North, now find themselves in the midst of another conflict," he said.

"They have been let down by their political and military leaders, who are fighting along tribal lines as they strive for power."

Barnabas reports that the newest bout of fighting has so far claimed at least 1,000 lives, and has forced an estimated 200,000 people to flee their homes with few belongings. Many are now living in horrendous conditions, with a severe lack of clean water, food, sanitation and shelter.

Fides News Agency reports that almost two and a half thousand refugees have arrived in the Kakuma camp at the Holy Cross parish in Kenya, where there are over 130,000 people of different African nationalities.

The situation has been described as "verging on the catastrophic" by Médecins Sans Frontières.

Fides quotes sources as saying things are "desperate" in the capital of the Upper Nile State, Malakal, in particular, where the South Sudanese army is trying to regain control.

"Forces of Machar have looted and burned the market town of Malakal. So there is no more food available," one source said.

"The bombs have hit many houses. Among the victims there are several children killed by bullets and bombs: The only doctor left does what he can to treat the large number of wounded who continue to arrive in the hospital."

Dr Sookhdeo has labelled it "a humanitarian crisis", and has called for donations to help provide those affected with vital aid and resources.

Barnabas is working with church leaders in South Sudan to help establish a plan to give aid to those who have been displaced. It is funding the provision of food, medical supplies, blankets and other essentials.

Though ceasefire talks opened in Ethiopia on January 3, no significant progress has been made yet and the violence continues.

Archbishop Daniel Deng Bul Yak, Archbishop of the Episcopal Church of South Sudan and Sudan has asked for prayer, advocacy on an immediate process to establish peace and for humanitarian support from across the Anglican Communion.

"We as the church are deeply concerned and worried that if the situation is not contained it will lead to chaos which is uncontrollable," he wrote in a letter to Justin Welby.

The Archbishop of Canterbury responded through a letter to Anglican Communion leaders, in which he urged them to advocate for support from aid organisations.

"I commend the appeal for the church's own response through the Sudan Development and Relief Agency (SUDRA) will soon be promulgated through the Anglican Alliance," he writes, after noting that the humanitarian crisis has reached "breaking point" in the nation.

His letter ends with a prayer that "the peace and healing of our Saviour may be the balm for all that is broken in our world".