Monday, January 17, 2011

Referendum Complete!

The referendum for south Sudan independence is now complete! Voting ended Saturday at 6pm. The preliminary vote count has taken place at the polling stations, and the ballots have been collected for the official count and declaration of results, which will take place by February 14. I went around Juba yesterday with some friends and we visited polling stations to review the posted results. Of the 16 polling stations we visited, they had an average voter turnout of 95% and the vote in favor of separation was 97%.

Throughout the week of voting, Juba was very quiet. The voting was conducted with more than just peace, there was a camaraderie among people, a sense of unity of purpose, a feeling of the monumental importance of these events, and an awe that they should finally come to pass. Though the wait in line took many hours, people were patent, solemn, and respectful.

The Archbishop preached at the Cathedral on Sunday. He spoke of the triumph of the people in achieving a peaceful referendum. And he challenged the people and the government to carry this same spirit of unity of purpose into the founding of the new country.

“We have shown to the world the true nature of the people of south Sudan,” he said.

The referendum week has not been universally peaceful. There were armed clashes in Abyei, which is on the border between north and south. Along with other incidents along the border. Some people in the north continue to fear what the separation may mean for them.

Prayers are still needed for this transition period, for the announcement of the results, and for peace throughout Sudan. We also need to pray for Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile, which are areas on the north side of the border, now entering into the popular consultation process about their own self determination. We continue to pray for peace in the north, for Darfur, and for southerners and Christians living in the north in this uncertain time.

It has been an honor to be here to witness these historic events, to see the people of south Sudan show the world yet again, that they are committed to the peaceful establishment of a democratic society, to see south Sudan show the world that they are a people of peace. So many people have expressed their thanks to me for being here with them at this time. There is great gratitude to the international observers and other foreign visitors who came during the referendum. But most of all, people express their gratitude to God, for bringing them to this day.

There is a book on the Episcopal Church of Sudan called, But God is not Defeated. One of the authors, Samuel Kayanga passed away suddenly last week a couple days before the referendum began. He was a great theologian and teacher, and is missed by his family and the whole Episcopal Church of Sudan. There seems to be greater mourning going on for those who died that week, because they did not get to witness the referendum. There was also greater joy for babies born the week of the referendum, and many were named “Referendum.”

Echoing the sentiment of But God is not Defeated: the people of Sudan have borne much suffering, and much joy. Though it all, they have not been left alone, nor forgotten who it is who is accompanying them. God incarnate, the living Christ, has already defeated death. God is not, cannot, and will never be defeated. While tears of sadness and tears of jubilation are shed at the events that have passed this week, we know that the Prince of Peace reigns in our hearts, and that all things are in the hands of God.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Referendum Day 3

This is day 3 of the 7 days of voting for south Sudan’s Referendum on independence. The South Sudan Referendum Commission announced that 46% of the polling stations have reported a voter turn out of nearly one million voters already. This is a good omen for meeting the required 60% voter turn out. A total of 3.75 million people registered to vote.

Bishop Alapayo in Rumbek, reported that many voters were turned away the first day because they just couldn’t process them all, but that they came back the second day, lining up at polling stations from midnight, so that they could cast their votes.

Bishop Alapayo said, “The first day of voting for South Sudan’s Referendum was marked with extreme excitement and jubilation all over South Sudan.” He described the day as the second happiest day of his life. Second only to the day he was baptized.

In Juba, lines continue to be long at registration centers, though shorter than the first two days. They have extended the period of voting by one hour, to try to help with the lines.

Across the south, the vote continues peacefully. Though there have been reports of tribal clashes between Misseriya Arabs and Ngok Dinka in the Abeyi area (which was set to have its own referendum that has now been indefinitely postponed). There were also reports of an attack near the north-south border on a busload of southern returnees.

We continue to pray for peace in the border regions, and peace throughout Sudan.

Photo: Anonymous- Voters line up in Juba

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Referendum Success!

Few generations have the chance to shape the future of their people in such dramatic way as the people of southern Sudan do today. Few people get to witness the birth of a new nation. And few nations divide in peace. The success of today’s voting is a sign that all of this is happening in Sudan right now.

Thousands of people were already lined up at every polling station around Juba when the voting opened this morning at 8am. Throughout the day long lines persisted, as people cast their votes. Despite the crowds and long waits, the people were patient and joyful. People congratulated each other as they voted. There was a general feeling of solemnity in the air, a state of awe at the historic event we were witnessing and participating in. It is hard to describe the intensity of the overarching feeling of joy and pride that pervaded Juba today.

The Catholic and Episcopal Archbishops went together to vote, with a delegation of observers including Muslim and Christian leaders from different parts of Africa. They arrived to great applause by the people waiting in line at the polling station. International and domestic observers came and went as we were at the polling station. Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter were among the International observers who came by. Jimmy Carter greeted the Archbishops, and all the people gathered there. He thanked the other observers for their presence, and encouraged the voters with confident words and a glowing smile. He spent a few minutes speaking with the Archbishops about their experience of the vote, and telling them about his own commitment as a Christian.

The voting will continue through Saturday, and the announcement of the result will be a week or so afterward. Should separation be the result, the transition period will end with the establishment of a new nation on July 9, 2011.

We praise God for this joyful peaceful day, and we continue to pray for peace in all corners of Sudan as these events unfold.

(Photos by anonymous: Voters wait patiently outside a Juba polling station. And Archbishop Daniel Deng Bul (right), and Archbishop Paulino Lukudu (center), show their inked fingers to President Jimmy Carter after voting.)

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Prayer Vigils

People gathered at Juba All Saint’s Cathedral, and all over Juba for a day of prayer today, in anticipation of the Referendum which begins tomorrow. The Sudan Council of Churches hosted the gathering at All Saint’s. It was the culmination of a 40 day campaign of fasting and prayer for peace. The mood of the service was one of joy, and a commitment to peace and reconciliation. Several speakers said that the new country must be founded with God in mind. The representative from the government called on the Church to be a witness to the government. She compared the Church’s role to the role of Moses with the Israelites, saying that the church needed to pray to God for guidance, and be a witness to the government.

Passages from the beginning of the book of Joshua were referred to, and a parallel drawn between the struggles of the people of South Sudan, and the 40 years that the Israelites spent in the wilderness.

“We have come now to the banks of the Jordan,” the preacher said. “And it is by the grace of God that we shall pass to the other side.”

It is the Promised Land which the people of South Sudan long for, and there is great jubilation that their hour has at last come.

With the eyes of the world upon us, tomorrow, and throughout the week of voting, the people of South Sudan will show the world their commitment to peace, and their joy at this opportunity to exercise their democratic right to self-determination.

Episcopal News Service Article about prayers being conducted in the US

Episcopal Church (US) page of resources and prayers for Sudan

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Power of Prayer

The referendum to divide Sudan into two countries is only 3 days away. The eyes of the world are turning this way, and we can feel it.

Juba is calm. There is less traffic than usual, and more reporters than usual. But the overwhelming feeling is one of hope.

Saturday January 8, is a day of prayer throughout south Sudan. Two other times in the last two years the city of Juba has been shut down for a day of prayer. Once in June of 2009 to pray for peace at the time of the Abyei announcement, and once in April 2010 to pray for peace during the elections. Both times I was so moved to see inter-faith and ecumenical unity in prayer. People set aside their differences, closed their businesses, left their market stalls, closed their government offices, so that they could gather together all over the city and pray. The prayers lasted all night. I have never experienced anything like it. Even in the wake of September 11, 2001, my country was not as united in prayer, as the people of South Sudan were on those two occasions. And the fruit of those days of prayer has been miraculous peace. On both occasions, the international media predicted trouble, even war, but peace prevailed.

I fully expect people from all over Sudan, north and south, to spend Saturday in prayer. And I know we will be joined by the prayers of people from all over the world. And I also expect that the fruit of that prayer will be the miraculous presence of the Peace which passes understanding.

Prayers have already been answered. Logistical problems seem to have been surmounted, and some fighting factions in south Sudan have put down their arms. The Archbishop was instrumental in negotiating a recent peace deal with one such group. And all the dioceses of the Episcopal Church of Sudan have been promoting peace, and educating their people about peace.

I thank our friends and partners around the world for joining with us in praying for peace in Sudan.

Peace be with you.