Report: June - September, 2014

Global community of Lutheran ChristiansPartners in Ministry,

his year (2014) has been devastating for the people of South Sudan and for the Lutheran Church of South Sudan. The crisis that erupted in mid-December last year caught the nation by surprise. The persisting conflict left unbearable pains and scars on those who survived the violence. It was heartbreaking for me to see parishioners of the LCSS in the refugee camps traumatized, hurt and broken in spirit and souls. Surely, the LORD victoriously held the refugees and the displaced in His right hand (Isaiah 41:10), and brought them to safety. Thanks for your continues prayers and financial supports to the Lutheran Church of South Sudan. Through your supports, the LCSS was able to proclaim witness to the Gospel to the hurting and bleeding nation.

The LCSS was able to establish five congregations in three camps, built three tens for worship, purchased and distributed 400 Hymnals and 10 drums and established a theological seminary to prepare and equip faithful pastors. The aims of this institution is to equip leaders, lay and clergy, to rise above the dividing walls of the conflict and to bring healing though proclamation of the Gospel.

Following is the progressive report (June - September 2014) of the LCSS mission and ministry to the refugees and the displaced.

Historical Background

South Sudan has been rocked with conflicts and violence since mid-December 2014. The crisis irrupted in the nation’s Capital, Juba, claiming more than 3,000 lives in the first two days of the fighting. The latest reports asserted that 20,000 died in the first few days of the conflict. The war quickly spread and engulfed the whole nation, killing more than 40,000 people (estimated), wiping some of the cities off the map and leaving others as ghost towns in the last ten months (December 2013-October 2014). The war displaced more than a million people and left more than half of the nation’s population at risk of hunger and starvation.

This conflict forced the Lutheran Church of South Sudan (LCSS) to relocate its Head Office to Western Ethiopian town of Gambella and to reorient its mission and ministry around the refugees and the displaced. Gambella region is a home of 180,000 South Sudanese Refugees sheltered in the camps.

Refugees Crossing Borders at High Rate

According to UN Refugees Agency’s report of July 2014, the persisting crisis and atrocities in South Sudan has displaced 1.1 million internally, forced over 400,000 refugees to cross borders for safety and left 3.8 million at risk of hunger and starvation. As mentioned above, the United Nation Refugees Agency hosted and accommodated 180,000 South Sudanese refugees in Kule and Litchuor Refugee Camps, in addition to already existing Pinyudu Refugee Camp in Western Ethiopian region of Gambella. To facilitate the influx of the refugees, the United Nations setup two reception centers, Matar and Kupri (a bridge at one crossing point) on the Ethiopian border with South Sudan. These centers process registration of the newly arrived refugees before the UN transfer them to permanent camps. During the high peak of the conflict and violence, the United Nations reported receiving 11,000 new refugees within 72 hours at a different crossing point of Buribiay (also on the Ethio-South Sudan border) while maintaining a daily record of 1,000 new arrivals(1). Other countries bordering the war torn South Sudan have also bore the burden of the refugee influx. About 118,423 South Sudanese Refugees fled to Uganda, 82,000 to Sudan and 41,115 to Kenya. Ninety percent of the refugees, who crossed the border to Ethiopia, are reported to be women and children; seventy percent of whom are under eighteen years of age. The United Nations has recorded and registered 14,000 unaccompanied and separated children from parents. Although new data are not available, these figures have now changed significantly.

Lutheran Church of South Sudan’s Response to the Crisis in South Sudan

The church found itself among the most devastated institutions during the high peak of the conflict in South Sudan. At the beginning of the war, the church became a sanctuary of refuge for many vulnerable people; offering prayers and comforts to the victims of the violence. However, the holiness and sanctity of the church never spared the lives of those fleeing the violence. The rival factions routinely forced their ways in the churches and other religious centers killing pastors, evangelists, lay leaders, other religious leaders and all who hide in the church. Female clergy were particularly targeted and brutally raped and killed during the conflict. Although this atrocities did not force the church to abandon its calling, it compelled all religious institutions to flee to safety.

Malakal, the home city of the Lutheran Church of South Sudan, switched hands five times between the rival factions. The city was completely destroyed, burned and deserted. The entire population of 150,000 either took shelter at United Nations Protection camps in the city or fled to Sudan or Ethiopia for safety. This level of violence forced the LCSS to relocate its Head Office to Western Ethiopian town of Gambella and to reorient its mission around the refugees and the displaced.

The leadership of the LCSS expressed profound gratitude to generous partners who stood side by side with the suffering and bleeding nation of South Sudan. Through this supports, the LCSS was able to nurture the wounded and hurting souls and the troubling hearts, among the refugees, with the Gospel. This caring love of Christ resulted in establishment of five congregations in three camps, building of three worship tents, purchase of 400 Hymnals and 10 drums, and facilitation of vibrant evangelism in the camps. In addition to the congregations in the camps, the LCSS was able to establish a growing congregation in Gambella town, the Trinity Lutheran Church. The LCSS uses the Trinity Lutheran Church as a home base for its mission and ministry in Ethiopia. This congregation is officially registered and licensed in the Western Ethiopian State of Gambella. The LCSS is looking for a land in Gambella for its Head Office, a church building and classrooms for a theological seminary.

Preparing and Equipping Faithful Pastors

For years, the Lutheran Church of South Sudan embarked on preparing and equipping faithful and confessional Lutheran pastors. The renewed aims of this goal is to prepare church leaders, both lay and clergy, to rise above the diving walls of the conflict and to bring holistic healings and reconciliation through witness to and proclamation of the Gospel. The Institute of Lutheran Theology and Mekany Yesus Seminary are the international and regional partners on this endeavor. From a distance, the Institute of Lutheran Theology agrees to offer classes to the LCSS students through the internet while the Mekane Yesus Seminary provides human resources and technical skills to the LCSS students and the theological seminary.

Over the last four months (June – September 2014), the LCSS undertook a huge task of establishing a seminary in Gamella. This church considered Gambella for the establishment of this institution due to the ongoing crisis in South Sudan, and due to the fact that the region hosts hundreds of thousands of refugees and the LCSS’ Head Office.

Before the war, the LCSS worked with regional and international partners to establish the seminary in Malakal, South Sudan. However, the eruption of violence forced the church to flee to safety and to shift its focus to the refugees and the displaced. The LCSS changed the name of the institution from the LCSS Theological Seminary to Trinity Lutheran Seminary. The change was to avoid complications with operating an institution in a foreign territory. The Trinity Lutheran Seminary is at its final stage of registration with the Ethiopian government. This registration will grant the TLS a license and a permission to operate and provide theological training to the refugees in Ethiopia.

The LCSS setup various boards and committees to oversee the establishment and the operation of the seminary. The first group was a five member Board of Directors headed by the President of the LCSS. Other groups include six member Curriculum Setting Committee, Candidacy Committee and thee persons Food Committee.

The Board of Directors takes charge of the governance of the TLS and bestows sole authority to make decisions for the institution. The Curriculum Setting Committee was a team of two representatives from the Lutheran Church of South Sudan, two representatives from the Mekane Yesus Seminary, one representative from Western Gambella Bethel Synod of the EECMY and one repressive from Accrediting Council for Theological Education in Africa (ACTEA). The ACTEA provides general guidance for establishing and operating a theological education in Africa and continue to provide onsite quality assurance to the institutions. The ACTEA recommends a library of about 10,000 copies for the theological education. The library could either carry hard or soft (e-library) copies or both. The partnership between the LCSS and the ILT could play a greater role in the use of the e-library.

Facility for Trinity Lutheran Seminary

The LCSS does not own facility in Gambella. This church’s growing congregation, the Trinity Lutheran Church, in the town is meeting at a vacant Presbytery church building and is in process of acquiring a land. The Presbytery Church has its internal issues that does not provide welcoming environment for the LCSS congregation. As a result, the LCSS is desperately looking for another temporary setting until a permanent land and facility is secured.

The TLS operates and offers classes at a nearby High School. The Ethiopian public school system offers classes only in the morning (8:00am-12pm). This allows the TLS to take advantage of the free afternoon and Saturdays. The TLS does not also have a dormitory for its students. The seminary rents a space to accommodate housing, office space and food preparation and the dining for the students.

Faculty and Staff

The Trinity Lutheran Seminary has recruited three Faculty members, a Dean, one Administrative Assistance (also a bookkeeper), one Security Guard, one housekeeper and three cooks. The Dean takes charge of the administrative oversight and teaches along with four other faculty. The qualification of the faculty varies from one Diploma to three Bachelor of Theology as recommended by the Accrediting Council for Theological Education in Africa. The Administrative Assistance earned an Associate Degree in Accounting and will manage the institution’s finance and secretarial functions while the housekeeper maintains a welcoming environment. The Food Committee plans meals for the students and the cooks prepare the meals.

Students

The LCSS’ Board of Directors approved twelve students for theological education this years. Two of the students were approved for Bachelor of Theology and the other ten for Certificate and Diploma in Theology. The Trinity Lutheran Seminary offers only Certificate and Diploma (equivalent to Associate Degree) in Theology in 2014/2015 academic year. This decision was made based on the capacity of the institution and the resources available. The LCSS placed the two Bachelor of Theology students, James Tor Chol and Augustine Ladu Martin, at Hosanna and Mekane Yesus Seminaries respectively. Hosanna Seminary is a Mekane Yesus’ Synodical seminary just outside Addis Ababa. Augustine is a candidate for ordained ministry from the Greater Equartoria District while James, also a candidate for ordained ministry, hailed from the Greater Upper Nile District.

Footnote:

The UN Refugees Agency. “UNHCR seeks massive boost in funding for South Sudanese Refugees.” http://www.unhcr.org/53bfdc1a6.html, (accessed August 16, 2014). Back

Rev. Jordan M Long, President
Lutheran Church of South Sudan
LCSS North American Board of Trustees
Malakal, South Sudan