A peace agreement signed last week in Nairobi, Kenya, may mean the end of decades of violent conflict in Sudan, Africa's largest country, located on the Red Sea.
That's the hope of the Rev. Canon Patrick Augustine of Christ Episcopal Church in La Crosse, who was in the Sudan last week for meetings with the leadership of the Episcopal Church of the Sudan.
"It was an historic time to be in Sudan, and the church leaders are now preparing themselves for peacetime," said Augustine, who returned to La Crosse on Nov. 19.
He said the agreement signed by the government of Sudan and southern rebels represented by the Sudan People's Liberation Movement/Army, calls for an end of all hostilities by Dec. 31. The signing was witnessed by the 15-member United Nations Security Council, which traveled to Nairobi for the event.
Since 1983, the civil war has killed 2.5 million civilians and displaced more than 4 million people. The country is mostly Muslim Arab in the north and animist and Christian African in the south, Augustine said. Christians make up 16.7 percent of the total population of 30 million.
The violence has worsened since February 2003, when black African groups rose up against the Arab-dominated government in Khartoum, resulting in 1 million displaced people. Some 120,000 refugees have poured across the western border into Chad since last year, and more than 50,000 Darfurians have died.
Augustine, who is the Episcopal archbishop of Sudan's personal representative in the United States, has visited the country nearly every year since 1998. He was in the nation's capital, Khartoum, earlier this month for a Nov. 9-12 meeting with the Sudan church leadership and its other international church partners. The partners assist the Sudan church in a variety of ways, including raising funds to support ministries and projects.
An ecumenical prayer vigil held in La Crosse this fall raised $600 for the Sudan church. Augustine said publicity about Sudan's problems this summer also resulted in $2,500 in contributions from local churches and individuals.
Augustine's own parish, Christ Episcopal Church, raised $3,100 for the Sudan church. Christ church members also provided Augustine with three suitcases filled with medicines, soap, body lotions, stationery, scarves, new shoes, hats, candy and 200 pairs of used prescription eye glasses.
Augustine said he distributed the gifts to an orphanage in Mayo refugee camp outside Khartoum, where 20,000 people live in poverty and hardship. The orphanage is being run by an American woman, Marie McClintock, a native of Boston, who has been working on her own in Africa for several years.
Augustine said McClintock set up her orphanage in an abandoned church-owned building of mud and straw and with five small rooms.
"She's starting this center of hope for these children who live on the streets, whose parents have died in war," Augustine said, adding that McClintock has no money, books, food or other supplies, but is convinced God will help her to find support for her ministry.
McClintock is a "hero" for even attempting such a daunting task in a place of such despair and hopelessness, he said.
"While visiting Mayo, you can actually smell poverty, see the human sufferings, hunger and lack of sanitation," Augustine said. "There are many children of war who are orphans and are on the street. They are part of gangs using drugs and have no place to go. Many young mothers have lost husbands in war and are forced to sell their bodies to support their families. There are no opportunities for jobs. The church has a big challenge to minister to several of these displaced communities around Khartoum."
Donations for the orphanage and for the Episcopal Church of Sudan can be sent to Augustine at Christ Episcopal Church, 111 N. Ninth St., La Crosse, WI 54601.