June 12, 2019

Report on Presbyterian Church in South Sudan Peaks Study Trip

I had an opportunity to travel to South Sudan recently (May, 20th-30th) on a study trip for our Presbytery, the Presbytery of the Peaks. South Sudan is the newest country of the world and extremely poor with little physical infrastructure and a fractured social society as well.  This trip was to help us learn about the situation of the people and how and in what ways the Presbyterian Church of South Sudan is witnessing to God’s love through its ministries to the people of that country. The trip might be a first step to a new relationship between our Presbytery and the church in South Sudan.

I had the chance to bring greetings from Blacksburg Presbyterian Church to a Presbyterian church in the city of Juba that had 1,750 people in the congregation that day. Seven people went on the trip from various levels of the PC(USA). Two from the Presbyterian Mission Agency (PMA) headquartered in Louisville, KY, three from other churches who have a specific interest and relationship already with the Presbyterian Church in South Sudan, Jordan Hertz, the Chair of the Mission committee of our Presbytery, and myself.

I was surprised and disturbed at the level of physical and social damage that has occurred as a result of 30 years of civil war. In the last major conflict of the war, two million people died through armed violence, disease, and famine. Many more have fled the country to refugee camps. We were warned not to take photos too obviously, to be inside our hotel by 8:00pm each night, not to casually walk around alone, and of course to avoid groups of people on the street. All this creates a constant feeling of anxiety and dread.

The highlight of the various meetings we had with church and humanitarian program leaders was to see their commitment to peace and reconciliation. Of course, in this largely Christian country, the church holds influence for peace, and the PC(USA) is helping in small ways. The PC(USA) Coworkers living in the country are joining the church in supporting many small schools with teacher training and curriculum development, community leader training in peace building skills and processes, and in other efforts I found encouraging. Violence can bubble up suddenly and with deadly results in communities, towns, and even on a regional scale.

Jordon and I plan to bring our observations and learnings to our Presbytery meeting on August 17, 2019. The Presbytery has to think, pray, and talk further before deciding about a relationship that would fit our gifts and gaps.

I am certainly thankful to see the faith of God’s people still at work and full of hope in such an oppressive situation. Thanks be to God, is all I can say.

Scott Smith, Member of BPC

If you would like to talk further about the trip you can contact Scott Smith at scottsmith4u@gmail.com

For more information about the trip be sure to check out the BPC Facebook Group and the Presbytery of the Peaks Facebook Page. There are a number of photos and updates that were posted during the trip.

Scripture Readings for June 16, 2019
Trinity Sunday
Proverbs 1:20-23, & 3:5-6
Proverbs 8:1-4, 22-31
Psalm 8
Romans 5:1-5
John 16:12-15