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Unreported violence in Gambella

by the Rt Revd Andrew Proud

On Friday 15 April, Murle raiders crossed the border into Ethiopia from South Sudan to raid Lare and Niniyang, two Nuer towns I know well. 182 people, all ethnic Nuer, were killed; some were shot on the spot, others were pursued into the bush and gunned down. The under-resourced government hospital in Gambella town reported that it has treated 80 for severe wounds and official reports say 102 children were abducted and 2,000 head of cattle were taken in the raid.

Church members greet Bishop Andrew, running alongside his car on the cinder topped road at nininyang.

Church members greet Bishop Andrew, running alongside his car on the cinder topped road at Nininyang.

Gambella2

An Adult Nuer man who Bishop Andrew met recently.

This was a major incident, by any reckoning, but there were no mass protests with people carrying ‘Je suis Nuer’ banners and no one edited their Facebook photo to register their outrage. Amazingly, it made the BBC and, if you search for a few minutes, you can still find the occasional news piece, but none of them is particularly well informed. Why? Because the Gambella region of Ethiopia is still one of the most remote places on earth.

Despite investment in a new road which will take you from Addis Ababa all the way through to South Sudan, Gambella still feels a little like a wild-west town and I love it. The town, which is home to Annuak and Nuer, as well as many who have settled, or been resettled there, from the Ethiopian highlands, hums with life and energy. Eighty years ago the river here was navigable all the way through to Khartoum. It is still used for trade, but you can no longer reach Khartoum that way, so the main route into South Sudan is the wide, cinder-topped road that sweeps through Lare and Niniyang. There are Anglican thriving congregations in both towns and I have stayed with friends there many times. Believe me, there can’t have been anywhere for them to run to and nowhere to hide.

Talk to anyone in the Gambella regional state, particularly my friends among the Annuak, in Dimma (two days’ drive from there) and they will tell you that Murle tribesmen have been raiding across the border for years, stealing cattle and abducting children. Some believe the children are forced into marriage; others that they are sold on to slavers. We cannot begin to imagine how anyone could talk about that as if it were just a fact of life, but they do. So far, these raids have been small-scale but I know that they have been terrifying.
This raid was of a different order of magnitude entirely. They came in force, they were very well armed, they had plenty of ammunition, wore combat clothing and they were brutal. Speculation is rife and fear is running very high. Several of the raiders were killed and whilst some of the tribal markings [scarification] were definitely Murle, others were more ambiguous, which has fed memories of other ethnic conflicts. It also looks as if these raiders avoided the main road, but had made a long detour through the bush to avoid conflict-ridden, contested areas in South Sudan.

The people of the Gambella region are deeply shaken, the Addis government is about to send troops into South Sudan to deal with the raiders and the people in these towns and villages will be getting on with life as best they can, constantly looking over their shoulders as they collect firewood or walk to School or Church. They know we are praying; they would love us to stand in solidarity with them, too. Perhaps I shall change my cover photo now.

The Rt Revd Andrew Proud is the Bishop of Reading.

Theresa May joins turf cutting at St Andrew’s

THERESA May, the Home Secretary, joined the Rt Revd Andrew Proud, the Bishop of Reading in a ground cutting ceremony at St Andrew’s Church, Sonning, Berkshire, last month.
The ceremony marked the start of work on a new oak framed hall and church office. Theresaforweb

The Revd Jamie Taylor, the Vicar, said: “There has been a church here for well over 1,000 years and the present building is much loved. However we are about much more than a beautiful building and recognise that the church is actually about people. This hall and office will not only enable us to better serve our regular congregation, but also give us the space to reach out to the communities of Charvil, Sonning, and Sonning Eye in new and exciting ways.”

Photo by Chris Knight

Help prevent the spread of Ebola

CHURCH members are being urgently asked to pray, give and act to support people working non-stop for an end to the deadliest ever Ebola outbreak.

Medical staff from the UK are particularly being called on to consider whether they could join teams to staff treatment centres in Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia.

Janice Proud, the Relief and Programmes Manager of the Anglican Alliance, reported that there have been nearly 5,000 reported deaths from the virus so far.

“The epidemic is critically serious,” Janice said. “Despite the current international response the number of people infected is expected to continue to increase. Other countries are preparing in case Ebola spreads further afield.”

Janice, who is married to the Rt Revd Andrew Proud, the Bishop of Reading, noted that the UK is not at risk because we have strong health care systems compared to the under-resourced areas affected.

Churches take action

Churches in the affected countries are already taking action. They have strong grassroots links, and church leaders are working to spread correct Ebola-prevention messaging, to promote safe burial practices, to help people deal with grief in communities when traditional funeral rituals are not possible, and to prevent stigmatisation of survivors.

In addition they are supporting medical work. Janice reports that the Bishop of Freetown has provided land for the construction of an isolation unit; the Diocese of Liberia has provided food for patients at a clinic in Monrovia; and the Diocese of Guinea, with the support of Anglican mission agency Us, has been distributing protective kits and equipping church clinics.

Milton Keynes based World Vision is one of many charities working to combat Ebola. Justin Byworth, its Chief Executive, noted: “World Vision have been working to educate people and tackle the stigma as well as providing thousands of sets of protective gear to front line health workers.”

To illustrate the scale of the issues, he told the story of Sarah from Sierra Leone who went to a clinic with her four-year-old son. “Sarah was unconscious for three days but when she came round she learned her child had died. ‘I don’t know what happened to him or how his body was buried. They gave me a certificate to say I was Ebola free, and I came home but my neighbours have told me they don’t want me here,’ she said.”

Justin said World Vision teams were also working non-stop to provide burials for victims. He quoted a member of one team, who said: “It is heartbreaking to watch these families but all we can do is ensure people are buried safely and with some dignity.”

Meanwhile Radiohead bassist Colin Greenwood launched an appeal for young reporters in Liberia to save lives through the Children’s Radio Foundation. The President and Executive Chair of the Foundation is the Revd Charlotte Bannister-Parker, who is a priest in Summertown in Oxford. Colin said: “The Children’s Radio Foundation has a unique network of young radio journalists and radio stations across five African countries including Liberia, the epicentre of the disease. These young reporters can play a vital role in the fight against the epidemic – helping to bring life-saving information to their communities. Radio is the best way to get through to people.”

 

All about bacteria

ploughWednesdayBISHOP Andrew is pictured with farmer Ian Brown, a churchwarden from Leckhamstead during Plough Wednesday in January. Ian had just finished talking about the bacteria grown on his farm which is used for water free urinals and composting materials saving water and the environment.

Crowd gathers for ‘IF’ launch

THE Bishop of Reading, the Rt Revd Andrew Proud, the Mayor, Jenny Rynn and MP Alok Sharma officially launched the ‘Enough Food For Everyone – IF’ campaign at St Laurence’s Church last month.

The crowd celebrate the 'IF' launch at St Laurence's, Reading.

The crowd celebrate the ‘IF’ launch at St Laurence’s, Reading.

A crowd of people gathered as students from Leighton Park School played an especially composed tune for the local launch of the national, multi-agency campaign.
The idea behind IF is that the world produces enough food for everyone, but not everyone has enough food. It is estimated that almost 900 million people, about one in eight human beings on our planet, suffer from chronic hunger. IF brings together more than 100 charities and faith groups (including the Church of England) and is asking for change in four areas, some directly related to food production and distribution and some where the general improvements made could help improve people’s access to food as well.
At the same time, the Oxford Diocese’s Food Matters campaign was launched in an event at New Road Baptist Church in Oxford.

Read a full report on the launch of Food Matters.