Director of Office of Public Witness Meets with United States Embassy Officials in South Sudan

South Sudan MapThe Reverend Dr. J. Herbert Nelson returned this past weekend from ten days in South Sudan. While there, he investigated ways that the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) Office of Public Witness (OPW) can better partner with World Mission to more effectively engage partner churches and organizations, mission co-workers, and other personnel, for more effective justice advocacy.

Before leaving Juba, South Sudan, Nelson spoke with officials at the United States Embassy and appealed for their intervention in returning South Sudan pastors who had been arrested in Sudan, back to their families, congregations, and communities. A Presbyterian News Service article dated January 21, 2015, reported that Reverend Yat Michael, a South Sudan Presbyterian Evangelical Church (SSPEC) pastor was arrested after preaching on December 21, at Khartoum North, a congregation of the Sudan Presbyterian Evangelical Church. Subsequently, the Reverend Peter Yen, a SSPEC pastor who was also visiting Khartoum, hand-delivered a letter from the SSPEC General Secretary. The letter called for the release of Reverend Michael. A few days later on Sunday, January 11, Yen was asked to report to security and he too was detained without warrant or charge. No further information is known at this time about Reverend Yen. Click here to See full PNS article.

“I went to South Sudan on a missionary experience and ended on a mission of mercy,” said Nelson. “It is important that we prevent the intimidation and possible loss of life among Church leaders and others who are expressing the gospel’s call for love in a militarized and war-torn part of the world.” The U.S. Embassy in South Sudan was not aware of arrest and promised to investigate the matter with the U.S. Embassy in Sudan. According to Human Rights Watch, since December 2013, up to 10,000 people have died, one million people have been displaced, and 400,000 have fled to neighboring countries. According to those we spoke with on the ground, some estimate the death toll to be as high as 40,000 persons since the beginning of the most recent outbreak of violence.

The PC(USA) Office of Public Witness is now in the fifth year of a plan to revitalize and strengthen the work of advocacy in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). Of the trip to South Sudan, the Reverend Nelson said:

JHN“We are intentionally focused on reaching out to entities of the denomination that are working with marginalized people — those who most often face injustice in the world. World Mission is one entity within the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) that has historical connections with church partners and global reach to persons and communities. Given the political significance of South Sudan to global politics and the longstanding mission of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) in Africa, it was important for me to witness first-hand the recent devastation that the people of South Sudan and mission co-workers are encountering.

“It is imperative that we make a connection in the denomination regarding mission and justice. We tend to view mission as an essential element of our historic role as Presbyterians, but oftentimes we fail to see the connections between our mission work and efforts to challenge systemic injustice in our country and our world. We must seek to uphold the human rights of all persons in the United States and around the globe. Jesus affirmed both mission and justice in his ministry. He taught that they are both essential to the promotion of the Kingdom of God. The bible reminds us of both prophecy and mission. These two elements are not mutually exclusive in living out the fullness of the gospel’s intent.


AUTHOR BIO: The Reverend J. Herbert Nelson, II, is the Director for Public Witness at the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) Office of Public Witness in Washington, DC.

Learn more about the work of the Office of Public Witness.

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