YAMBIO (10 Aug 2015) Following several weeks of violence in what has been the most peaceful state in South Sudan; discussions were held between high-level delegation led by SPLA Deputy Chief of Staff Lt Gen James Ajongo, Governor Bakosoro and Azande King Wilson Rikito Gbudwe.
Incidents of continued violence have been reported with gunfire and explosions occurring sporadically around Yambio, capital of Western Equatoria State. SPLA forces tried to get control of the armed “Dinka boys” and renegade elements of the SPLA who have been committing acts of violence in and around Yambio State in an effort to destabilize the goverment of Governor Bakosaro. UN peacekeepers from Sri Lanka’s military were seen patrolling the city streets in their white military vehicles during the crisis but quickly returned to the UN Compound when any violence broke out. They have little authority or the will to intervene and “they are never around when trouble occurs” said Paul Abraham, a resident of Yambio.
Governor Bakosoro and the SPLA military commanders from Juba along with a high level delegation who have been sent to investigate the violence seem to have restored some confidence and people began to return to Yambio as life begins to return to normal in the state capital.
An unlikely partner in the effort to restore calm in Yambio has been the presence of the Reverend Dr. Ronald Clark (58), from the United States. Clark serves on the staff as his apostolic representative of the presiding bishop for the 4 million member Communion of Evangelical Episcopal Churches (CEEC). Rev. Dr. Clark was in Yambio before violence broke out. Rev. Clark was in Yambio on behalf of Archbishop Charles Travis to begin plans for renovating the Yambio General Hospital, which has fallen into disrepair.
Clarks mission was interupted late on Friday night when Yambio erupted in gunfire and explosions. Violence continued sporadically through out the night. By Saturday morning, August 1, nearly a hundred thousand people were trying to flee the city in fear. Clark, who was staying at a local hotel found the hotel vritually empty since most of the employees had fled the violence. His local contact, CEEC Canon Yepeta eventually made his way to the hotel. Clark had brought a guest minister, Rev. Martin Stringer, a black American minister from Houston, Texas was very uneasy as a result of the violence and was seeking a way to leave. Rev. Clark, who is a US Army veteran and a former law enforecment officer in the United States was unshaken.
Clark, who stood out in the crowds of people is a tall and somewhat imposing man with blonde haired, blue eye and fair skin darkened by the Equatorial sun had remained calm and reassuring through out the day, refused repeated offers to seek safety at the UN Mission or ADRA but chose to stay with the crowds of people who had gathered around the UNMISS bases seeking safety from the violence. Clark could be seen through out the day greeting the people, praying with those who were fearful and comforting those who had been injured. Clark’s presence and strong faith seemed to encourage the anxious and bring a sense of calm to the people who were obviously fearful.
The Rev. Clark refused to flee the city or evacuate with all the other UN and NGO workers but chose to stay behind in order to try and calm the people and provide help to those who were wounded, injured or afraid. Rev. Clark was asked by SPLA generals and Governor Bakosoro as well as Azande Paramount Chief Wilson to accompany them with the high level delegation to the UN camps and then to UNCIEF where many thousands of civilians had fled in panic in an effort to restore calm and confidence in the goverments ability to control the violence.
Following speeches by high level members of the delegation from Juba and local leaders for the masses of displaced people to remain calm. Rev. Clark, who some in the delegation called the “last white man in Yambio” was given the opportunity to address the gathering and pray with the crowds that had gathered around ADRA and to pray for the members of the delegation and the people. Clark, took the opportunity to instill his brand of faith in gathering had the people pray for the delegation and the goverment in Juba for peace and then had the delegation reach out their hands towards the people and pray for God’s help and forgiveness. The delegation then walked to the next camp to do it all over again. The quick response of the goverment to the violence in Yambio seemed to bring a sense of “hope” that the violence that has plauged South Sudan for nearly 50 years might soon come to an end. When asked about Clark staying behind rathering than leaving Yambio in this time of trouble, one senior SPLA officer said, “He has the bearing of an military officer who is wearing a priests collar…” and another said “He did not run and we will not forget it. He chose to stand with us for peace…”
A SPLA general was heard saying, “He is the last white man standing in Yambio”. “He did not run but chose to stand with us for peace…” Rev. Clark brought a sense of calm and hope back to Yambio when he led everyone in prayers.
Rev. Dr. Clark was seen meeting with SPLA generals and their staff who were billeted at a local hotel as well as visiting the homes of the governor, Azande King Wilson and many other officials to encourage and pray with them. Rev. Clark would not provide any comment as to what was discussed saying, “I am here as a spiritual father and the conversations that I have […with the leaders] are considered sacred.” Neither would the government nor the church would comment further on the conversations and would neither confirm the names of any leader that Rev. Clark met. However, Rev. Clark was seen through out the week with numerous military, government and spiritual leaders but was also seen through out the week walking the streets of Yambio with his black Bible in one hand, a warm smile, and a handshake for everyone he met. “He was like chaplain or priest for the city”!
Even as gunshots could be heard in the distance, Clark continue to show no alarm. His presence in this time of conflict brought a sense of calm to the people. When asked why he was not scared, Clark replied with a smile, “It is a little hard for me to hide” he said jokingly! However, the truth is “The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me”? Clark continued walking through downtown Yambio inspite of the ongoing conflict, like a man on the Lord’s peace mission!
Research indicates that Clark’s biography found online said he had served during the Vietnam War Era in the United States Army as a military police investigator and had worked for years as a law enforcement officer in the United States. Maybe his years of facing danger mixed with his faith in God that gave him confidence in the face of danger.
Clark was given an ooportunity to speak on the government run FM station, which broadcasts, to all of Western Equatoria State and the Democratic Republic of Congo on Sunday, August 9th for an hour encouraging the people with a message of faith, repentance and forgiveness. Inspite of the security risk, Clark held an outdoor prayer meeting in Freedom Square on Saturday afternoon and then a Gospel, healing service on Sunday. Hundreds attended.