Sudan peace, stability focus of AFRECS fifth annual meeting in June

May 12, 2010

Promoting peace and stability in Sudan's dramatically changing political landscape and making that country's peace an American foreign policy priority will top the agenda for the fifth annual conference of the American Friends of the Episcopal Church of Sudan.

"We really feel that Sudan needs to become more of a priority in foreign policy," said C. Richard Parkins, executive director of AFRECS. "It is the largest recipient of U.S. aid and the largest African state. The consequences of peace unraveling would make for a catastrophic humanitarian crisis, not just for Sudan but all of East Africa."

"Sudan in Crisis: How we can help," will be held June 4-6 at St. Paul's Episcopal Church in Alexandria, Virginia. Click here for registration information. Through workshops and speakers, the conference will address the role of U.S. and global partners in Sudan's future, advocacy on behalf of peace in Sudan, church building, partners in ministry and development.

Formed in 2005, AFRECS is a 200-member network of individuals, churches, dioceses and other organizations that seeks to focus attention on the priorities of the Episcopal Church of Sudan and enable American friends to assist the church in meeting the needs of the Sudanese people.

The conference, Parkins said, will be an opportunity for those interested in Sudan and working to promote peace to hear up-to-date briefs on the country's political landscape and the work of the church.

In April, Sudan's President Omar Hasan al-Bashir, a Sunni Muslim, was re-elected in a controversial election that has been criticized by the international community. (In March 2009, the International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant for al-Bashir on seven counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in the Darfur region of western Sudan, where government-backed militia continues to attack civilians and raid refugee camps.)

In January 2005, Sudan's two warring parties -- the Government of Sudan in the north and the Sudan People's Liberation Movement in the south – signed a Comprehensive Peace Agreement that brought an end to a 20-year civil war that claimed more than 2 million lives and displaced about 7 million people. In accordance with the agreement, Southern Sudan is scheduled to hold an independence referendum in January 2011 to determine whether to secede from the north or to remain a unified country.

Parkins described the recent election as "problematic" and "seriously flawed" and stressed that "stakes are high" for the 2011 referendum.

On June 4, plenary speaker Roger Winter, Sudan expert and former representative on Sudan for the U.S. Department of State, will give a talk about the Comprehensive Peace Agreement and on June 5 it will be the topic of a workshop.

Christ Church in Alexandria will host a special reception June 5 to honor leaders of the Episcopal Church of Sudan, including Bishop of Malakal Hilary Garang Deng, and leaders of diplomatic work on behalf of peace in Sudan.

Other workshops scheduled for June 5 will address the life cycle of companion diocese relationships, the work of non-government agencies and on telling Sudan's story.

Companion diocese relationships are one of the ways the Episcopal Church has historically offered support in Sudan. Current companion relationships include: Albany (New York) with the Province of Sudan, Bethlehem (Pennsylvania) with Kajo Keji, Chicago with Renk, Indianapolis with Bor, Missouri with Lui, Rhode Island with Ezo, Southwestern Virginia with the Province of Sudan, and Virginia with the Province of Sudan.

Debbie Morris Smith's first introduction to Sudan came 10 years ago while teaching English as a second language to refugees in Des Moines, Iowa.

"There were a lot of Sudanese women," Smith explained in a telephone interview, and as a result, "I became interested in Sudan, the different tribes … before that I had no clue."

Later, after her husband Wayne Smith, was elected bishop of the Diocese of Missouri, Morris Smith traveled to Sudan with a group from the Church of St. Michael and St. George in Clayton.

What started as an informal visit by a church group grew into a formal companion relationship between the Diocese of Missouri and the Diocese of Lui, Smith said, adding that the diocese is working to raise money to build a diocesan center in Lui. .

Today Smith serves on the board of the American Friends of the Episcopal Church of Sudan and as the Episcopal Diocese of Missouri's mission coordinator and liaison to the Diocese of Lui. She will lead the companion diocese workshop.