Bishop Joseph Garang Atem of the Diocese of Renk in South Sudan spoke at the convention of the Diocese of Chicago, which has a companion diocese relationship with Renk. Bishop Garang is among those wrestling with how to feed, house and provide medical care for tens of thousands of homeless people fleeing religious persecution and ethnic and political violence.
“In the rainy season it is very tough,” Garang said. “We need things to take care of people’s immediate needs: food security and health care, but also to take care of them long term, so fuel and building materials. But it is hard to get these things into the country and it can take a long time.”
And so he travels, seeking emergency assistance, resources and relationships that can help build South Sudan’s economy. “You want to meet the needs of those who are in need,” he says. “So my role is to connect the people who are in need to the people who have resources for the development of human beings. We must train many, many different people so they can take on much work for the development of the diocese and the development of the country.” In a lunchtime talk in Chicago, Garang told convention goers that South Sudan was not without economic resources, but that people were not yet able to make use of them. “There is lots of good land, but little knowledge of how to use it well,” he told the gathering convened by the diocese’s Commission on Global Ministry.
“Traditional means of agriculture don’t work as well as we need, so we need a scientific approach. We can grow food, but also, we have sunflower and sesame, and these would create jobs in the refineries making the oil. This would bring a good generation of income for the government.”
The agricultural potential of his own diocese is a subject particularly close to his heart. “Renk is one of the best areas in South Sudan for agriculture,” the bishop said in an interview after the lunch. “It could feed all Sudan if this were done in a good way. … If there were irrigation for a whole year we would be self-sustainable, and feed maybe all Africa, not just South Sudan.”
The next step, Garang said, is to begin building villages and other infrastructure so people can be moved from camps into permanent housing, and, eventually, jobs. However, this work is almost impossible with the border blockaded, fuel and building materials scarce and refugees and returnees straggling in from Sudan.