Tag Archives: civil war

The Difference Between Liberation And Eviction.

The past week or so, I’ve been thinking a lot about the harder aspects of some of the things I’ve seen over the past several years. I’ve been thinking about things like poverty and setting the captives free. I’ve been particularly thinking about why some people and some cultures have been successful at dealing with theses things and why some have gone down tragic roads, when from the outside it looked like many of them had similar origins.

These are particularly hard subjects to understand for the western mind, because we live in a culture where we get most of our information about poverty and oppression from movies and a media that sees these subjects as sufficiently distant from personal experience to understand them in the kind of visceral way that people in South Sudan or the Congo would.

We believe in a number of things that, though possibly politically correct, when tested turn out to be factually false. We believe things like; poverty is mostly a problem of lack of resources, or that all oppressed people are naturally angelic, or that if people could just have oppression removed they would thrive. We believe these things because they are the subject of so many feel good stories. I would like to believe them to, but my experiences in parts of Africa have taught me that even though these things can happen, life is usually far more complicated and usually much messier than this.

My time in South Sudan was a huge eye opener for me. The South Sudanese were oppressed horribly by the Northern Sudanese for decades, in ways that for brevity I’m not going to get into. I first went to South Sudan in 2010, right before they achieved independence from the North. I saw the hope and the excitement on people’s faces as they prepared for the vote that would free them from their oppressors. Surely this was the Hollywood story everyone wanted and expected to see. Not quite.

Over the next three years, I went back three more times, and got to personally see the situation devolve into chaos. The South Sudanese went from fighting against the Northern oppressors to fighting against each other. If you’d like to read more about that, you can go back into some of my blog posts from 2013 and 2014 particularly. So what happened?

To say I can explain all of the aspects of this in a single blog post would be naive and foolish, because it’s an incredibly complex subject, and entire books could be written about it. So I’m going to focus on just a small part.

I want to start by drawing some parallels between the situation in South Sudan and the written account we have of another oppressed culture that was freed from its captors around 3400 years ago. I’m speaking of the exodus of the Israelites from Egypt as written in the book of Exodus. There are many things written that can give us insight into the kind of things that happen when an enslaved culture is freed, particularly if you know what you’re looking for. The great thing about Exodus is that is quite comprehensive, and conveys a complete timeline.

One of the things that many Westerners don’t have a grasp of is the mental, emotional, cultural, and spiritual damage that is caused by institutionalized oppression, particularly slavery. This can manifest in people as hopelessness, a feeling of powerlessness, depression, and sometimes even paranoia. The end result is that when an opportunity comes for people to be free, they often don’t take it. Oppressed people often choose the miserable security of keeping your head down and staying alive than taking a chance at freedom. This is evident in Exodus 6:9. Moses is interceding on behalf of his people, and he goes to give them instruction. Their response is in Exodus 6:9. “So Moses spoke thus to the children of Israel; but they did not heed Moses, because of anguish of spirit and cruel bondage.”

Later on there are a series of events that happen that as I read them, made me initially think about these parallels. The Israelites have been set free and are crossing the desert when it dawns on the Egyptians that they’ve lost their free labor. The Egyptians send out their army to retake the Israelites. As the cloud of dust rises on the horizon from the Egyptian army, there is a record of what the Israelites say, and it is surprisingly fatalistic and even has a hint of longing for the land in which they were enslaved.

Exodus 14:11 Then they said to Moses, “Because there were no graves in Egypt, have you taken us away to die in the wilderness? Why have you so dealt with us, to bring us up out of Egypt?

Exodus 14:12 Is this not the word that we told you in Egypt, saying, ‘Let us alone that we may serve the Egyptians’? For it would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than that we should die in the wilderness.”

And in another situation, later on, Exodus 16:3, And the children of Israel said to them, “Oh, that we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the pots of meat and when we ate bread to the full! For you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger.”

Their response is puzzling until you realize one thing, and this is the key. Moses interceded on the Israelites behalf because it was God’s will that they should be freed. For many of the Israelites, they were content with the security of the situation, miserable as it was. After God sent the plagues, the Israelites became a stench in the nostrils of Pharaoh, and there was no longer a choice to stay. This is why it’s so important when we’re working with oppressed people to allow them ways to empower themselves. Many of the Israelites were not so much liberated as evicted from Egypt, and it’s when we realize this that their responses suddenly make sense. The Israelites continue to act like slaves even though they are physically free people for the next forty years. Moses was able to take the Israelites out of slavery, but he was unable to remove the slave from the Israelites. In fact, it is not until the next generation grew up, a generation that never knew what it was like to be a slave, that they are able to enter the promised land, because you can not build a nation with people that are still slaves in their heart.

This is what I found in South Sudan. A nation that knew nothing but oppression and slavery and warfare, and doing what each person needs to do to survive on a daily basis, has walked into freedom with the same attitude. Whereas the common enemy used to be the North, now the common enemy is every man’s neighbor. No one has a plan for the future, because people are still living to survive the current moment. I understand that it is hard to change an entire way of thinking and living, but I hope and pray that the South Sudanese don’t have to wander in the desert for forty years until a generation is raised up that know how to live in freedom.

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An Update To The Situation In Bor, South Sudan

I wrote a couple days ago about the situation currently going on in South Sudan, specifically about what looks to be civil war in a power grab between South Sudan’s president, Salva Kiir, and the ousted vice president, Riek Machar. We have been trying to keep in contact with those we know in the church in Bor. Some people managed to flee to their home villages, some we are hearing from but are in dire straits, and others we have not heard from since the first days of the violence. I am incredibly worried for these people, as they have become good friends over the last couple years.

sudan-0744smI’m amazed that any news gets out at all, but thanks to Facebook, I am still getting some updates. How they’re getting power I have absolutely no idea, but I’m thankful that they do, as it allows us to pray more specifically for what they need.

Currently the situation (as far as I understand it at this point) is as follows. Nuer Rebels have taken over Bor and are executing people. The United States and other nations have tried to evacuate their personnel from Bor, but have had difficulty after some evacuation aircraft were shot down. This is also hampering any relief effort.  The government of South Sudan has agreed not to launch an all out assault on Bor until foreigners have been evacuated. This is also making things more difficult for those who have had to flee, because they are running out of food.

A large number of the residents of Bor have fled, either to the UN compound at the edge of the city, or out into the bush. The general opinion that I’ve read from those there is that they generally don’t consider the UN base to be a safe place. From those in the bush, they are currently still safe, but are sleeping out in the open without protection from the weather or the mosquitos. Two babies were born yesterday to women on the run in the group we’re in contact with. They’re also running out of food. They’ve been eating acacia nuts and fish to survive, but the fish are becoming scarce. They’re crying out for relief.

Please keep the people of Bor in your prayers. God is in control, but we need to stand in the gap for these people. As we live here in peace during this Christmas time, please take time from the traditions and busyness of the holiday to lift up those who are suffering tremendously during this time. Pray for the wellbeing and encouragement of those we haven’t heard from.

Here is a link to a recent BBC story on the events in Bor.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-africa-25487084

Civil War in South Sudan (again), and Facebook.

This is an incredibly hard post for me to write today. I was greeted with the wrenching news a few days ago that civil war has started again in South Sudan, and ground zero for it is where our friends are in Bor. The initial indications are that the vice president, (a Nuer), who was dismissed by the president (a Dinka) back in July, has begun to air his grievance against the president with an uprising. During this uprising, the town of Bor was taken by Nuer rebels. Bor is where most of our friends are in South Sudan. If any of my South Sudanese friends have more accurate information than this, please feel free to post.

sudan-0313

Now, with that short background, we are praying for them with a lot of nail-biting. This is the first time that war has affected me in such a personal way. People talk about the fact that only in the past thirty years or so have people been able to find out almost immediately via news what is going on in a foreign war. But previously it was still hard to see it as real , because the disseminator of news was always a news agency, and it was still a bit impersonal. You could always tell yourself that whoever it is that you knew might not have been wherever the bad news was happening.

Facebook changed all that. No we know within hours or even minutes what is going on with people who aren’t just acquaintances, they’re friends. And we can’t tell ourselves that they’re not involved or suffering, because these are personal statements being put on Facebook, coming right from their own experiences.

On one hand it tells me specifically how to pray for them, but on the other hand it breaks my heart to see what they’re going through.  We have a very hard time in the United States relating to what’s going on in a country many of us have never heard of, so I’m going to post some of their own statements (with no names on other personal info), to make this more real.

“All the displaced people of Bor Town are in the UN compound, but the open air will not be enough for the gunshot victims.”

“Gunshots have started now, at 4 AM.”

“Bor town is scare by gunshot at block 4 this evening.they were trying to be the part of what is happening in Juba. i don’t know how is gonna be tonight oh God !!!!!!! guard the live of these innocent civilians who are the suffer of this nonsense war.”

“Keep your battery charged.  I was told by a source that commandos together with tanks were on the way to try to retake the Town of Bor. Whatsup with Bor and the rescue mission? Do u hear sounds of artillery fire from ur hide out or it’s calm in town? The Army sent ystrday is really enough to push them out. God be with you.  XXXX refused to leave the house n she said if they wanna kill her, no problem! I am dead here man.”

“Hi! Freinds. I am fine with people in the bush on our third day sleeping in the cold. Thanks for your prayers.”

“Using computer power to charge phones in the bush, the only last chance for phones to stay on.”

“For those looking relatives, stay calm, all hiding are calm yesterday and today. I can still hear sound of heavy machine guns from Bor town. I don’t have an idea of what is happening there.”

Folks, it just got a lot more real. Please pray for these people caught in the crossfire.