The top mission executive of the 10-million member United Methodist Church is calling for an international peacekeeping effort in the Sudan, where government-supported militia have caused the death and displacement of millions of people.
The Rev. R. Randy Day, top staff executive of the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries, made the appeal April 28 from the site of the denomination’s General Conference, a quadrennial legislative meeting.
In a related move, Bishop Joseph Humper of Sierra Leone, a director of the New York-based mission agency, sent a letter to United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan, urging quick U.N. action to ward off a human catastrophe in the Sudan. The bishop is chair of the Sierra Leone Commission on Truth and Reconciliation, which is trying to repair disruptions caused by civil conflicts in his country.
“Christians, including United Methodists, cannot stand idly by as the shadow of what may become genocide spreads,” Day said, appealing to church members to join their voices to call for international action to stop the carnage in Sudan. He also asked United Methodists to contribute to the denomination’s effort to care for refugees, many of whom are finding their way into the neighboring country of Chad.
The Sudan Council of Churches and Norwegian Church Aid issued an April 27 emergency appeal for refugee assistance. The United Methodist Committee on Relief is responding to that appeal by working with other agencies now ministering to refugees who have moved into Chad.
“We must engage in all productive efforts for peace, and we must reach out to victims in the name of Jesus Christ and to be agents of the Prince of Peace for combatants on all sides,” Day said.
The conflict is focused in the Darfur area of southern Sudan, where Islamic militants, which have backing from the government, continue to harass other populations despite a formal ceasefire.
Bishop Humper compared what is happening in Darfur to what happened a decade ago in Rwanda, when a government-backed, ethnically based campaign killed 800,000 people. He asked the U.N. secretary general to use the “strengths of your office to promote peace, stability and fair treatment of all ethnic groups in Sudan.”
The Pittsburgh statement was the second in a month from the head of the United Methodist mission agency. Day noted that the conflict shows no signs of abating. The United Nations continues to report the displacement of large numbers of people.
Day asked United Methodists in the United States to join in a campaign sponsored by Church World Service to win public support for congressional measures aimed at stepped up U.N. investigation of the situation. Noting that the U.N. High Commission on Human Rights is organizing a fact-finding mission, Day said that increased messages to Congress will strengthen the cause of peace and show support for the international solution in Sudan.
“The suffering of the people of Sudan is enormous.” Day said. “The U.N. states that 2 million Sudanese have died and 4 million out of a population of 29 million are internally displaced. The root causes ... include disputes over resources, power, the role of religion in the state and self-determination.”
The fact-finding mission from the U.N. High Commissioner’s Office has spent time in Chad and noted that in the past year at least 110,000 people have fled from Darfur. Other U.N. sources say that 700,000 people are internally displaced in Darfur. Atrocities have been reported, including killings and the destruction of towns, villages, schools, wells and food supplies.
An official of the U.S. Agency for International Development on April 27 said that black Africans in Sudan were victims of “ethnic cleansing.”
Day appealed to United Methodists worldwide to directly contact U.N. officials on behalf of greater peace efforts in Sudan. He expressed hope that the African Union, an umbrella organization, would move swiftly to set up a regional peacekeeping force.
The United Methodist Committee on Relief has set up a Sudan Emergency fund to respond to the needs of refugees entering Chad. The United Methodist relief arm is working with partner agencies, including Actions by Churches Together, an alliance of many denominations. Contributions may be sent to Sudan Emergency, UMCOR, 475 Riverside Drive, New York, NY 10115 (Advance No. 184385).
*Wright is a correspondent for United Methodist News Service
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