Tag Archives: war in south sudan

He Prepares A Table For Me…

I’ve had a number of things on my mind lately that I’d like to write about, but I decided tonight to go back to the basics and tell a story of my travels. Specifically I’m going back four years to my last journey to South Sudan. At the time, South Sudan was the second most dangerous country in the world, and was quickly devolving to number one, which is where it currently stands. I’d like to be able to give reasons for why this is the case, but that would take volumes to describe. This being a blog, I fully expect to lose almost everyone if I go over 1000 words. If you’d like to know more about the how and why of the situation in South Sudan, feel free to look back through the archives where I write about it at length.

Staying put in South Sudan is not so bad. And if you have the opportunity to take a small plane where you need to go, you can avoid most of the danger, minus that of actually flying in poorly maintained small Russian planes.

The problem is when you have to travel the roads, and this is what we had to do. There was a village we had neglected to visit the last time we were there, and it was necessary to go and visit this time, despite the fact that the situation had gotten worse in the last six months since we’d been in country. The problem was two-fold. The first issue was what are known as “black snakes”. These are not literal snakes, though those exist as well, but rather armed bandits that wait along the road with Kalashnikovs for an easy looking target or a vehicle that has gotten separated. They then stop the vehicle and in the best case they only rob you. This is an ever present danger of road travel in South Sudan.

The other, more pressing problem was that of the White Army. An army of mostly children and teenagers from the Nuer tribe, they rub ashes on their faces as an insect repellent, hence the “white” moniker. They had been emboldened by the renegade vice-president and occasional war-lord of South Sudan, Riek Machar, to attack and raid villages of their cattle. The village we were visiting was directly in their path, and the only road back was in their territory. So to say the least, we were concerned about our road travel, especially since it would be nearing darkness as we were returning.

Many seemingly daunting or hopeless situations are punctuated by the simple phrase, “but God.” This one was no different. Normally I avoid soldiers in developing nations as much as possible, especially in South Sudan, where loyalties change at the drop of a hat. As Sung Tzu so famously wrote in “The Art of War”, “the enemy of my enemy is my friend.”

As we turned out of the village along the Nile onto the rutted dirt road, a cattle truck full of SPLA soldiers was passing. We hung back a bit, but drove within sight of the truck the entire way back. Their presence offered a deterrent to any would-be attackers for the whole journey. As I thought about it later, a couple of things came to mind. Part of Psalm 23 was one of them.

“Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,

I will fear no evil;

For You are with me;

Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.

You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;”

The table prepared came in the form of a cattle truck full of soldiers, and I was thankful for it. I managed to snap this clandestine picture as we drove.

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Revisiting The Terrifying Sound Of Silence.

When I write this blog, I always have to be aware that everything I observe is as an outsider. As such, my thoughts on everything African should be treated as suspect, even if the opinions I express are informed. So I take it as a blessing when something I have written in the past is confirmed by an African source, even if I’d rather the subject was not true. That happened this week, as a friend of mine in South Sudan wrote a small piece. His name is Manyang Mayar, and he’s a journalist.

Four years ago, I laid in a hammock in Bor, South Sudan, trying to sleep. I was unable to sleep though, because the noise was keeping me up. I wrote down an observation at that time that has been one of the most commented on since then. This short entry was written as an outsider coming into South Sudan. This week Manyang wrote a piece from the perspective of an insider going out of South Sudan. I’m going to post mine first, then his. I think you’ll find the two perspectives enlightening.

The Terrifying Sound Of Silence.

Just a short post as I sweat here in my hammock. As I lay here in complete darkness, but hearing music in the background, I’m reminded again of an observation made on my first visit and only confirmed since then. The South Sudanese hate silence. They listen to music all night. When they’re in a car they crank the stereo up until it distorts. You can be standing in a group of people having a conversation, and one of them will start blasting a song from their cell phone. It’s as if they think as long as there’s music or noise, things are ok. That bad things only happen during the night, when things are silent and dark, and terrible things come out of the darkness and silence. When it’s dark and silent, that’s when the attacks come, when children and cattle are stolen. It’s when the snakes crawl into your bed for warmth. It’s as if as long as there’s noise, things are alright. It’s like children who are afraid of monsters, only here the monsters are real. There’s been a lot of talk here about insecurity, about the attacks that come from cattle raiders, and the fact that they’re not far away.  70 people were killed here just last week in cattle raids, and people go to bed afraid. And so I think of that as I lay here in my hammock, wishing for silence.

And now Manyang’s article. This was used with permission.

A night out of Juba is worth good meal of hundred years.

First Published in PaanLuel Wel. For those who could not access the site in Juba.

By Manyang David Mayar, Eldoret, Kenya

(SSB 7 January 2018) I just discovered why my fellow South Sudanese who travel outside of the country’s capital return to Juba healthier compared to the time they left Juba.

For the past many years, I have been seeing some South Sudanese leaving Juba to East African Countries in order to spend their holidays. Sometimes others go for training or for studies in Nairobi or Kampala, Addis Ababa or China and other foreign countries. Most of them fly out of Juba International Airport or cross through the Nimule border with a rough skin and wrinkled faces. But when they return, they come back home with smooth skin; looking fresh and healthier than the time they left Juba.

I have been wondering what could it be – the thing that improves people’s health instantly in the foreign countries. I used to think it might be the cold nice weather in those countries that improve their health, or it might be the nice food or perhaps the free public transport that you don’t need to fight for like in Juba. Fortunately, a time came for me to experience the secret myself.

After spending some few nights outside of Juba recently in one of the East African countries, I had a chance to discover the secret of why South Sudanese become healthier when they are out of Juba.

Sleeping in one of the estates in one of the Kenyan towns, I experienced the calm and peace that my soul and spirit had been longing for. Every evening after I take my shower and eat (just the same maize flour and ngete, the same food I eat in Juba), I go to bed and sleep until morning.

There was no time in the night that a sound of bullet from robbers woke me up. I didn’t have to pause my breath at midnight in order to pay attention to some little sounds outside. And when my bladder has accumulated urine, I wake up easily and go to the urinary without any worry at all. And during the past few days that I have been here, I have found that relaxation and peace of mind that I, like most other South Sudanese, don’t really find back home.

In Juba, after taking my shower and have taken my evening meal, I go to bed. I spend many hours paying attention to little sound happening outside. It could be a wind blowing those empty bottles outside, or some of those wild cats and dogs stepping on some metals. But because my subconscious mind is full of stories about how unknown gunmen had raided the other house, I don’t usual catch my sleep and rest easily.

Worse of it all is when my bladder becomes full of urine. When this happens, I usually open my eyes into the dark and throw my ears outside to access the situation. Is there someone moving, could there be someone waiting for me outside? And then my heart will start pumping. Because of those thoughts, I sometimes convince myself that the morning is soon approaching and that I should ignore for just few hours. My bladder would remain hurting until morning.

Some other nights, I carry with me a container to use later at night when urine knocks the door of my bladder. But even though I have a container in the house, you don’t urinate at ease. I first let my ears do the environment check before I make any move in my own house.

This is the life many South Sudanese go through. People in Juba go to bed alive and died through the whole night. And when the daylight breaks, their being alive becomes a reality again. This is the reason they look healthier when they travel outside Juba even if it is just for a week. This is another beauty of peace that we don’t know. That is why some of us are desperately looking for peace.

When we talk about the need for peace, it is not just about stopping war, it is actually about bringing that kind of atmosphere where citizens can sleep at ease in their houses and not worrying about anything at all in their country.

So what is it that make these East African Countries peaceful compared to our country? It is on two simple things: the strong rule of law that crack down the crimes and the hard working citizens who strive to work for themselves.

In my country, the rule of law is weak in combating crimes and people are relying on short cut to get their wealth. Instead of going to the countryside and produce food, majority of unemployed hungry folks remained in the city only to be night robbers. Of course they exploit the chance of the soft rule of law against them. And by doing what they do, they are making most of their fellow citizens especially in Juba get sick each night.

When we choose to embrace peace and hard work, we will experience the very best of our country.

© Manyang_David 2018

Just a quick reminder that if you’d like to read more about my experiences with missions, you can buy my ebook at the following link, as well as at major online sources like Ibooks and Barnes and Noble. The title is “The Missional Life. What I Learned From Engaging in Missions in East Africa.” The proceeds from this book help fund the work I continue to do in Africa.

https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/704141

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.

Trying To Understand Juba

Juba, South Sudan, seen from the air.
Juba, South Sudan, seen from the air.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There aren’t a lot of places like Juba, at least not that I’ve experienced. If you fly in, generally you either come from Addis Ababa or Nairobi, and the first thing you notice is the shock of the first blast of heat as you step onto the tarmac, especially after the cool temperatures of either of the previous places. Many things in Juba are just like other cities in Africa; the dust, the ubiquitous Toyota Land Cruisers and motorcycle taxis, the smell of diesel and wood smoke. But other things are distinctly different, namely the tangible sense of desperation. It’s hard for me to describe to someone who hasn’t been there, but I’m going to try. After that, I’m going to try to do an even harder task, and that is to explain why.

The first thing is to describe the conditions on the ground. Juba went from a town of 115,000 in 1993 to a city of somewhere between 500,000 and a million in the past couple years. Obviously there was no way for infrastructure to keep up with that kind of growth. Since the oil shipments into Sudan stopped a couple years ago, there is no functioning power grid in the entire country, and you only have electricity if you have a generator. There are some paved roads through town, but almost all roads are just rutted dirt tracks that become very hard to travel if it rains. Juba’s dirt turns into a slick mud you could almost skate on, so driving is quite a challenge. Copious amounts of garbage is burned because there is no other way to deal with it, so it occasionally rains black ribbons of ash, and smoke sits on the city. There is no central water supply. All water is trucked to individual water tanks from the Nile, which runs through the city (and is quite beautiful). Consequently waterborne disease is a major problem. None of these things on their own really explain the sense that comes over you in Juba, though. I believe the reason for that sense is the same reason the city has grown so fast in the last fifteen years.

Traditionally, the South Sudanese have lived in villages in the scrub forests and grasslands. They live in traditional thatched huts in family groups, among a larger village. Some villages are extremely large. They raise cattle with enormous horns, and do some farming with very basic methods. They have very tight family and community ties. One of the reasons westerners (especially Americans) have a hard time understanding Africans is because of the way we see time and the way we see our role within a community. We see time as a finite thing to be planned out and quantified, divided and packaged. We have day planners and use phrases like, “time is money” or “how am I going to get that hour back?” Africans largely see time (or don’t see time) more as somewhat of an unlimited resource, and if something doesn’t get done now, that’s ok. The focus is more on relationships and community. Church doesn’t necessarily start at such and such a time It starts when the pastor is ready and the drum beat starts to signal for everyone to come. There are advantages and disadvantages to each way of seeing time. In the first way, time can be used more productively for producing goods or services, but the other way people tend to have closer relationships and a stronger sense of belonging and community. Villages truly raise the children, and the elderly are not abandoned to nursing homes.

So what happened?  Well, in a nutshell, the war happened. South Sudan was at war with northern Sudan almost constantly from the 1950’s through 2011, when independence was finally declared (though some level of war still goes on with north Sudan.) Even when there wasn’t all out war, there was oppression from the Arab, Muslim northern government against the Black Christian and Animist south. Decades of war caused people to flee to wherever they could find safety. One of these places was Juba. The choice was to stay and raise cattle and be killed, or head to the relative safety of a large group of people in Juba. This desperation along with tribal division (which is a subject worthy of a book more than a blog) caused violent cattle raids and the abduction of children. This was another reason to leave the villages and head to the city.

So people left their villages. The lucky ones could take their families with them, the unlucky ones either had lost their families to the war, or had been separated from them in the diaspora. Community was lost.  The cattle were raided, which is currency in South Sudan, so they no longer had assets. From a distance, Juba looked pretty good as the promise of a job and security called. Juba has now become the African version of a gold-rush town in the American west. People come with hope of a new life, security, and a way to take care of their families.

This is where those two different ways of seeing time come in. There are a certain number of South Sudanese and a lot of foreigners that run businesses in Juba. They understand that time is money, They are also more individualistic people who are driven personally to succeed rather than seeing themselves as much as part of the community. They are there to make money, not build a community. It’s a very western way of thinking. It’s good for running a business, but not good for building lives, and it’s not the prevailing way of thinking in South Sudan. These people naturally become successful as business owners, but people coming in from the villages don’t think this way, and are quickly exploited by those that do. Making this situation worse is that in Juba, all the tribes have been thrown together, and there’s always that tension under the surface. Consequently you have a high capacity for violence. You have a large number of people who came looking for a better life and didn’t find it. They’re alone, their community is gone, everything that is familiar is gone, and they have no money. The only thing worse than having no hope is thinking you had hope and then finding out it was false.  All of this together is what creates that tangible desperation I was speaking of. Juba is a place where I always feel like I have to look over my shoulder.

I might try to write later on what might be done about this, but I really don’t know if I’m up to the task. My goal today was really to try to bring some understanding to this subject. There are of course more layers to this, as nothing with people is simple.

Praying That The Truck Stalls.

“The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective.” James 5:16b

Prayer has been on mind mind today, in particular in regards to some of the situations I’ve been in when traveling in South Sudan. One particular instance comes to mind. I was traveling in the back of a Toyota Land Cruiser with two other missionaries and several natives, going from the town of Bor to a village about three hours north called Liliir. The seasonal rains had run long that year, and there were huge sections of road that were virtually impassible. When I say virtually impassible, what I mean is that some vehicles made it, and some did not. We passed many vehicles that were stuck deeper than the wheels in mud, and were being unloaded to take the weight off so hopefully they could be moved. I remember one that had its rear axle sitting behind it, and was clearly not going to be going anywhere. I have a picture I took of one of those vehicles as we passed.

Toyota being unloaded to try to get it out of the mud, South Sudan.
Toyota being unloaded to try to get it out of the mud, South Sudan.

 

So now, knowing the situation, you would think that our driver would take the utmost care to avoid those kinds of situations on the way back from the village that evening. You would think wrong. He apparently had a terminal case of denial, and as we came to this very spot where only six hours before we had seen the above vehicle stuck, he decided to go through that very same spot rather than go the route we knew was safe. The thing about traveling in South Sudan is that you really don’t want to be doing it at night, and getting stuck would have put us in that situation.  Just for reference, since I’m unable to get the travel warning we were under at the time, I’m just posting the current one from the Dept. of State. ”

The U.S. Department of State warns U.S. citizens against all travel to the Republic of South Sudan.  After review of our security conditions, the U.S. Department of State lifted the ordered departure status for the U.S. Embassy in Juba on June 12, 2014.  However, as a result of continued instability and a poor security situation resulting from the civil conflict which erupted in the country in December 2013, the U.S. Embassy will continue operating at reduced staffing levels for the foreseeable future.  The U.S. Embassy is therefore only able to offer very limited emergency services to U.S. citizens in the Republic of South Sudan.  This Travel Warning supersedes the Travel Warning issued on April 23, 2014.”

So you can see now why we wouldn’t want to be stuck out at night with no way to get back.  Despite our loud objections, our driver tried to put the vehicle into four wheel drive low, and descend into the muck. What he didn’t know, though, was that we had a team of people praying for us back home.

As our driver tried to put the vehicle into four wheel low, the engine stalled. He started it back up, tried to put it back into four wheel low, and stalled it again. This happened three or four times. Finally, he gave up, backed up the vehicle, and drove to the route we had come through that morning. As he got to the crossing, he dropped the vehicle into four wheel low gear with no trouble and no stalling, and crossed easily.

It’s situations like this that make you realize the difference between tourism and missions. It’s not the place you are going that makes the difference, it’s the spiritual currents that are running just below the surface. Is what you’re doing moving things in the spiritual realm? If they are, you are going to face opposition, and this is why those who are still at home in prayer are just as important if not more so than those who actually go. I will probably go into other situations where this was very apparent at a later time.  For now though, the subject of prayer is forefront on my mind as some of my friends are currently on their way to Kenya, some of them for the first time. Also, in the next three months, I’ll be going to Kenya as well, and then to Ethiopia. More on that later.

Trying to explain South Sudan

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In the movie “The Matrix”, Morpheus tells Neo, “No one can be told what the matrix is.”  The same can be said for South Sudan. When I tell people where I do missions there, I get one of two responses. The first response is a cringe followed by, “Wow, rough place!”  They’ve seen the BBC stories about civil war, starvation, tribal warfare, etc.  The second response I get is, “Did you bring your wife and kids along?”  They know nothing about South Sudan at all. Neither is really a correct assessment of what South Sudan is like.

Even as I go to write this, I’m tempted to try to explain what South Sudan is really like, but I know that I can’t do it myself.  There are unfortunately too many preconceptions and paradigms that Americans have about the way they think life is and about what’s important, and any explanation goes through those filters first. There was a show a while back called “Meet the Tribe”, where five men from Vanuatu come to America and stay with families for a while to see what American life is like. When they got to California I can honestly say I was embarrassed for our culture. Between the in-house botox parties and the many luxuries that are seen as needs, I was made aware of just how hard it is for many Americans to comprehend what life is like for most of the world. Fortunately, I took a lot of video footage the last couple trips I made. I was lucky enough to be in on a conversation that really put a lot of things into perspective, and explain a lot about why South Sudan is the way it is. It is also a great explanation to those people who ask, “Why do you go all the way over there to do missions when there is so much to do here.”  It’s all in understanding what need is.  So check this video out. It was shot this last November, about 30 days before the town we were staying in was destroyed over things that are talked about in the video. Hopefully it will bring some understanding.

 

Thankfulness and Faith in Hard Times

It’s been a rough week in Bor, South Sudan. I’m still trying to sort out all the details as to what happened, but in any case, the end result is that about fifty people are dead. Even as the mass graves settle from the previous conflict, new conflict has arisen, this time between youth in Bor and United Nations soldiers. I hesitate to call them peace keepers because that doesn’t seem to be their primary goal. In any case, the violence continues.

One would think that this would be a time when people would be angry and would lash out at each other or at God. This is not what I’ve seen though.  We ask ourselves many times, “why would God let this happen?”  I heard an evangelist recently speak about their conversation with an atheist. The atheist insisted that the blood of Christ makes no difference in the world, because the world is worse off now than when He came.  The evangelist responded that the atheist was mistaken.  He said the blood of Christ is like soap. You can own soap, and even work in a soap factory, but until you apply it, you will not be clean.

The response I have seen from those I know in South Sudan is truly humbling to me. In a week where it seemed like a lot of things went wrong for me, one of my friends in South Sudan posted on my Facebook page the following verses; “He will judge between the nations and will settle disputes for many peoples. They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation nor will they train for war anymore” ISAIAH 2:4 If you are please this verse say AMEN.”

It was truly humbling to receive that. Faith for them is not a tool to add to your utility belt, it is everything. They realize that in a world where nobody wants to apply the soap of Christ’s blood, He is still their only hope. They don’t dread Christ coming back, they long for it, because only then will there be real peace. Hebrews 11:1 says, “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.”  Their faith astounds me.

I’m finishing by posting a shot I grabbed from one of my friends. It’s a picture earlier this week of a parade to celebrate Palm Sunday. Even as violence brewed and the town of Bor is still in shambles, they are celebrating.  Lord let me be like that.

borparade

Cut The Baby In Half

I haven’t written for a while. I’ve been waiting to hear some definitive news that anything has changed in South Sudan. I wish I had good news to report, other than the fact that there have been some miraculous stories of escape and rescue, including a boat that appeared out of nowhere to rescue a family that was about to be overrun by Nuer rebels.

There is talk of resolution at the peace talks in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Salva Kiir’s government has been negotiating a peace deal with Riek Machar’s rebels. The thing I have to ask is; “for what?” The damage is done. Thousands are dead. The “good” news came yesterday that the town of Bor, where our friends are, has been retaken again by SPLA (South Sudanese government) forces. At this point I’m not sure how many times Bor has changed hands.

I put the word “good” news in parenthesis, because at this point, what is there to go back to?  South Sudan’s leaders need to take a hard look in the mirror.

A friend of a friend in South Sudan brought up a very poignant allegory. It’s the story of the two women that came before Solomon with a baby, each claiming to be the mother.  1 Kings 3:16-27“16 Now two women who were harlots came to the king, and stood before him. 17 And one woman said, “O my lord, this woman and I dwell in the same house; and I gave birth while shewas in the house. 18 Then it happened, the third day after I had given birth, that this woman also gave birth. And we were together; no one was with us in the house, except the two of us in the house. 19 And this woman’s son died in the night, because she lay on him. 20 So she arose in the middle of the night and took my son from my side, while your maidservant slept, and laid him in her bosom, and laid her dead child in my bosom. 21 And when I rose in the morning to nurse my son, there he was, dead. But when I had examined him in the morning, indeed, he was not my son whom I had borne.”

22 Then the other woman said, “No! But the living one is my son, and the dead one is your son.”

And the first woman said, “No! But the dead one is your son, and the living one is my son.”

Thus they spoke before the king.

23 And the king said, “The one says, ‘This is my son, who lives, and your son is the dead one’s; and the other says, ‘No! But your son is the dead one, and my son is the living one.’” 24 Then the king said, “Bring me a sword.” So they brought a sword before the king. 25 And the king said, “Divide the living child in two, and give half to one, and half to the other.”

26 Then the woman whose son was living spoke to the king, for she yearned with compassion for her son; and she said, “O my lord, give her the living child, and by no means kill him!”

But the other said, “Let him be neither mine nor yours, but divide him.

27 So the king answered and said, “Give the first woman the living child, and by no means kill him; she is his mother.”

28 And all Israel heard of the judgment which the king had rendered; and they feared the king, for they saw that the wisdom of God was in him to administer justice.”

What the leaders of South Sudan have essentially done is decide to cut the baby in half.  Rather than let your enemy win for the good of the country, they’ve decided that no one should win. When self comes before brother or family or nation, that nation cannot stand. I understand that it’s a hard thing to do, but old hostilities need to be left behind, no matter how deep they run. It’s only by the grace of God that South Sudan will stand, because it’s going to take a level of forgiveness that only God can give to heal the wounds that exist. And shame on those that have exploited old tensions for their own gain. In the end they will lose too, because they will not have a nation to rule. And when that happens, South Sudan will again fall under the rule of someone who is not only not Dinka, and not Nuer, but also not even South Sudanese.

The following is a before and after picture of the market in Bor. The first picture was taken in November, last time I was there. The second picture was taken in the last few days.

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A Further Update To The Fighting In South Sudan

It’s been over a week since I last updated this blog, not because there was not something to write, but because it was just too difficult to write it. I wouldn’t have believed it possible, but the situation has further deteriorated since then.  Only now when there is a glimmer of hope can I write about it. We have heard stories of incredible escape, but also tragic, personal, heartbreaking stories. The latter I may tell when there is some emotional distance, but perhaps never.

Last time I wrote, our friends were hiding in the bush as the town of Bor was overrun by Nuer rebels known as the White Army, named because of the ashes they cover their skin with to protect from insects. They are not much more than armed children and youths, but deadly nonetheless.  Our friends were able to return to Bor after about a week, after SPLA forces forced the rebels out. One of our friends escaped harm in the bush, only to return to Bor and get shot in the arm by a random bullet. Fortunately he will be alright. Another was caught by rebels and told to sit down. Had he complied they certainly would have shot him. As he put it, “I decided to make my own decisions. I ran. They shot at me, but God said no to the bullets.”

Since then, the SPLA pulled out of Bor, for two reasons as far as I can tell from what I’ve been told. The first is because the town of Bor was full of unburied bodies, and the risk of disease was a concern. The second and I’m sure the larger reason was that 25,000 Nuer rebels gathered to the east to try to retake the town of Bor, which they subsequently did.

So for our friends the situation became even more difficult. Their trip back to Bor was largely fruitless, since the entire market and the hotels were looted, and much of the town was burned. As the threat of a further assault built, thousands gathered at the Nile to cross  to safety in a place you can’t even google. A number of children drowned in the crossing, and many more died from dysentery from drinking the Nile water, which was the only water available. Thank God, though, it sounds like most of the people made it across.

From there the people of Bor were able to flee to Juba, where the fighting was not as fierce, though it’s still going on.  As a footnote, I’ve been to Juba probably ten times, and there’s never been a moment there when I didn’t feel like I’ve had to constantly look over my shoulder. So to flee to Juba, you know it’s bad.

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Refugees coming into Juba in the back of a flatbed truck.

At this moment, it look as if there is another assault imminent on the town of Bor from SPLA forces. The talk is that Riek Machar is trying to hold onto the town of Bor so he will have a bargaining chip during peace talks. It’s a tragedy that our friends are the bargaining chip he is using in his bid for power.  Please pray for our friends, and the people of Bor and the church there as this atrocity continues. Pray for a real peace, for the safety of our brothers and sisters, and that Northern Sudan doesn’t use this as an excuse to try to take back their former territory.

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