Road notes: Praying and waiting for news from troubled South Sudan
In Bor, South Sudan, the newly built Jonglei Christian Vocational Boarding School serves as the meeting place of a Church of Christ. (PHOTO BY CHUCK DENNIS)
South Sudan is about 8,220 miles east of the corner booth at Denny’s in Wichita Falls, Texas.
It felt a lot closer as I talked with Dennis Cady and Chuck Dennis, members of the Faith Village Church of Christ. Over cups of coffee and glasses of iced tea, we shared stories and photos from our experiences in the landlocked African country, the world’s newest nation.
And we prayed for its people.
Cady and Dennis, who represent the Starfish Foundation, have helped construct a Christian vocational school in the town of Bor in South Sudan’s Jonglei state. The town has become a focal point of the conflict — seized at least once by troops fighting against the country’s government. The vocational school’s overseer and his family fled — as did most of the members of a small Church of Christ that meets on the school’s campus.
Church member Jacob Agany stands next to the sign for the Christian vocational school built by the Starfish Foundation in Bor, South Sudan. (PHOTO BY CHUCK DENNIS)
“We want to be prepared to re-enter Bor when the opportunity is right,” said Cady, a former missionary in Malaysia who has worked in humanitarian aid in Indonesia. “There will be short- and long term humanitarian needs. Our experiences after the 2004 tsunami and 8.7-magnitude earthquake in Indonesia tell us there will be a period of heightened receptivity. Then, as things smooth out again, people will not be so aware of their need to seek and find God’s way.”
The conflict that grips the troubled new country is complicated, though this explainer by the Washington Post’s Max Fisher does a good job of presenting the basics.
Before the nation of 10.8 million souls gained independence in 2011, its people, identified mostly as Christians and animists, fought a decades-long civil war with the predominantly Muslim north, which retains the name “Sudan.”
During the civil war, thousands of people from the south fled across the borders to refugee camps in neighboring countries, including Ethiopia and Kenya. In Uganda, refugees from Sudan found themselves embroiled in another conflict between that country’s government and the Lord’s Resistance Army, headed by the infamous Joseph Kony.
Members of Churches of Christ worked among the refugees and established congregations in the camps. As South Sudan’s independence day approached in 2011, refugees returned home and planted new congregations. (See our 2011 feature on the trend, reported from South Sudan’s capital, Juba. I also visited the town of Parajok, where The Sudan Project, overseen by the Mt. Juliet Church of Christ in Tennessee, has established a preacher training school. See our 2011 report from Parajok and our 2012 “Churches That Work” profile of the Mt. Juliet church.)
In addition to recent conflicts with its northern neighbor involving access to oil fields, the country now endures conflicts among its own people, sparked by fighting among troops in the country’s presidential guard Dec. 15.
The conflict is ethnically charged, the Washington Post reports, with members of the country’s largest people group, the Dinka, battling rebel troops from its second-largest group, the Nuer. (However, one South Sudanese I’ve talked to says the violence has more to do with politics than ethnicity.)
Regardless of the cause, it’s likely that more than 1,000 people have died in the conflict so far — and our brothers and sisters in Christ are caught in the middle. Workers with The Sudan Project tell me that the believers in Parajok are safe for the moment. We will post updates as we get them. (We’ll also keep you updated on a different conflict in South Sudan’s western neighbor, the Central African Republic.)
Meanwhile, from coffee shops and our dinner tables, we continue to pray for South Sudan.