On July 8, the eve of South Sudan's formal declaration of independence from the Republic of Sudan, we talked with The Rt. Rev. Moses Deng Bol, bishop of the Episcopal Church in the Diocese of Wau. He said he had been awakened that morning by children dancing and singing in anticipation of the day's celebratory events. We then asked Bishop Moses, whose diocese partners with Five Talents, to discuss the church's role in the country going forward. What follows is an edited transcript of our conversation:
How has the church been active in South Sudan during the last few years?
During the [civil] war, the main role that was played by the church was to make peace between the southerners themselves. Because even though we had the bigger war between the north and the south, there were also small tribal conflicts within. The other role was to reach out to the international community and communicate the message of the war and the effect it has on the people of South Sudan.
What's one of your fears moving forward?
We have been just united. This morning, [it was great] to see different South Sudan rivals dancing to different styles of music, but they were all celebrating. We are worried that once this celebration is over the tribal conflicts [will resume].
What new responsibilities will the church take on now that South Sudan is an independent state?
We would like to participate in fighting corruption so we can make sure the people of South Sudan enjoy the dividends of peace and come out of poverty. We also really want to work on our main role, namely to reach many people who have not been reached for the Gospel.
What can the church in South Sudan do to support the church in the north?
There are a majority of Muslims in the north, but there are also Christians. We agreed that the church in the north and the south will remain together for the time being so that we can really support one another, so that we don't leave them alone. I [also] think we can advocate for international attention, to the international community, in order to support the church in the north.
Why do you partner with organizations like Five Talents?
Five Talents is based on the [story] that Jesus told, [in which the servants] were to increase the money [of the master]. We believe that with microfinance we will be able to help women do their businesses and increase their money and use their talent and potential. The partnership is very, very helpful.
What can countries like the US do to help South Sudan going forward?
I must say thank you, first of all, because the US was one of the countries that was really instrumental in backing the peace agreement that was signed. [We hope that the US will] continue with the capacity-building programs that will help South Sudan to stand on its own -- like literacy programs at the community level, and like addressing border and oil issues at the government level. So I appeal to people in the US to keep South Sudan on the top of their agenda, as they have been doing. Don't say, "They have now gotten their independence, they will be okay." We are not okay. We need at least some more years to get on track.