“We are not politicians,” explained Bishop Parade Taban of southern Sudan. “We are here to speak for the orphans and the widows and the widowers, the people who are suffering on the ground.”
Bishop Taban was in New York as part of an ecumenical delegation of clergy from southern Sudan, seeking peace in their land as it approaches a January 9 referendum on possible secession for the south. That referendum was the keystone of a Comprehensive Peace Agreement, signed in 2005, that brought an end to two decades of war between over the status of the south.
The emeritus bishop of Torit, Bishop Taban is a short man. His beard is now gray, his hairline receding. That was not the case the last time Bishop Taban was in New York, when he was pleading for an end to that war, a 1986 renewal of fighting that killed millions and displaced millions more. That was 1991. It took another 14 years, but that effort, led in great part by Sudan’s churches, finally succeeded with the signing of the CPA.
Now Bishop Taban is back, again pleading with the international community to come to the help of Sudan, this time to see that his country does not return to war, that the referendum is conducted peacefully, its results respected.
“We have no position in government, no office,” Bishop Taban said. “Our office is that of shepherd with the people. We live with the people. We have lived in caves, in the forest, in bomb shelters with the people. We are here to thank the international community for giving us hope by supporting the implementation of the CPA. Now we need them to make sure that its provisions are carried out.”
This delegation is led by the Most Rev. Daniel Deng Bul, Archbishop of the Episcopal Church of Sudan. It includes the Rev. Ramadan Chan, an evangelical who is General Secretary of the Sudan Council of Churches, Rev. Sam Kobia, a Methodist who is special envoy of the All Africa Conference Of Churches on the Sudan, and Bishop Daniel Adwok Kur, the Catholic Auxiliary Bishop of Khartoum, who visited the United States in June on a similar mission.
One evening, this group gathered across from the United Nations, in Ralph Bunche Park, where a wall carries the inscription from Isaiah: “They shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore.”
Carrying candles, joined by many of their American hosts, the clergy prayed for peace in their troubled land.
In the delegation’s visits to delegations and officers of the UN, which included a meeting with Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon, Bishop Taban had explained the seriousness of the situation: “When the massacre in Rwanda happened, you said no one had told you, no one had warned you,” he said in one meeting. “We are here now telling you what could happen in Sudan, we are warning you.”
“They say it is the grass that suffers when the elephants fight,” he said. “We are here representing the grass, the people on the ground who are suffering.”
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