By Rachel Baker
It’s been nearly six months since the people of South Sudan have had government supplied electricity, only those with generators have access to this resource. Farmers are not farming and businesses are dying, as a baby country groans in its infancy amid tribal and political conflict. Africa’s 55th nation became its own in 2011, but quickly after its birth has experienced threat of failure and famine.
Currently the country, which is primarily composed of former refugees, faces staggering statistics. A mere 27% of the population aged 15 years and above is literate, with two-thirds of the population is under the age of 30. The infant mortality rate is 105 in 1000 and only 17% of South Sudan’s children are fully immunized. Roughly 38% percent of the population walks an hour round trip for drinking water and nearly 80% of the nation does not have access to any toilet facility.
Political tension keeps the country ravaged, as President Salva Kiir and his former Vice President Riek Machar are at war with each other, a feud that has resulted in 50,000 deaths, as guesstimated by the United Nations and ICG (International Crisis Group), though the number could be much higher.
Failure to accurately assess the death-toll is what Sudan expert Eric Reeves, a professor at Smith College, is calling a failure of morality. “If we give up on establishing mortality estimates we are, in one way or another, saying that the lives don’t really count,” he said.
The South Sudanese currency has dropped by 300% in recent days and although the country is rich in oil resource, it is costing them more than they make to export. Cargo planes fill the airport, flying in food, a necessity to keep the country fed. Amid chaos and lawlessness South Sudan is on the brink of no longer being a country. They must find unity in order to survive.
The situation is dire, but despite threat of failure or worse, church leaders around the country are clinging to faith, remaining optimistic, and planning for tomorrow.
In early March, Saddleback Church sent members of their PEACE team each uniquely fitted to the task— Mike Constantz, Hector Tamez, and Ken Smith—to South Sudan to meet with church leaders in the hope of unifying the local church body across all denominations and tribes to achieve peace and purpose amid the strife and chaos.
Following a successful PEACE Plan model from Rwanda, the goal is to launch a nation-wide movement in South Sudan of healthy churches transforming their communities and planting churches where none exist, touching the lives of unengaged unreached people groups (UUPGs).
The team arrived in South Sudan and spent the first 12 hours of their trip with Bishop Arkanjelo Lemi, a former refugee and pastor of the African Inland Church. Together they traveled to the UUPG areas of the country—there are 16 groups of UUPGs in South Sudan—and later met at a church with 78 church leaders in the nations’ capital, Juba. There, Bishop Arkanjelo shared the vision from the “All Africa” gathering that had taken place in Rwanda and shared Pastor Rick Warren’s videos, The Rwanda Story, Purpose Driven Church and The PEACE Plan.
The leaders were unanimous in response, stating “We need healthy churches and life transforming mission through our members.” The leaders have an overwhelming desire to create a united front despite the grim state of their nation. The task of unifying churches and tribes may seem daunting at first, but the PEACE team has orchestrated out-of-the-box learning environments to meet the people where they are. Hector Tamez, a Saddleback member and missionary in Pueblo Mexico, has been using the Purpose Driven and PEACE Plans in his field with great success. While in South Sudan he shared his experience on church planting among UUPGs in southern Mexico, which are very similar to the UUPGs in South Sudan. Considering the low levels of literacy, the majority of the trainings will be oral and story based. A large majority of the current UUPGs face tribal persecution, which creates a need for home-based learning rather than brick and mortar.
The Episcopal Bishop that led the recent peace process shared his distress with the team before they left. “You will be the last group that visited us before the end,” he said. Against all odds and despite trepidation, the rest of the church leaders believe that God will prevail and their nation will rise as God’s people humble themselves and pray and turn from their ways. They are “All In” on Purpose Driven and PEACE Plans, and eagerly await partnership from Purpose Driven churches to help plant and build. They even want to take on all of the UUPGs in Sudan, their northern neighbor.
Though this Arabic speaking Christian nation has a hostile Islamic northern neighbor, major internal tribal conflict, and the very real threat of starvation the majority of the church leaders remain optimistic.
In South Sudan they say over and over; “Praise the Lord. God is good, all the time and all the time, God is Good!”
The team has returned from South Sudan with the commitment of returning in the months to follow. As the government is at war Church leaders feel responsible for taking the lead on the peace process. Seven church leaders are leading the process and signing peace agreements—calling for unity amongst believers despite diverse tribal backgrounds. Their enthusiasm is so great that they even want to reach the Arab communities in Sudan.
Ken Smith, Saddleback member and leader of PEACE teams to South Sudan is building a team to return with him every few months to assist in training of those who do not have a church. The first step is to create healthy churches following the Purpose Driven plan, then to launch the PEACE Plan.
A Call to Action
The church leaders are continuing to meet to unify the churches across tribes and denominations, with the intent of creating an environment of peace. Saddleback in looking for a partner church for South Sudan. The country is a country of refugees and a country in recovery. Most of people that are back have spent the last decade in refugee camps. The church leaders believe the Church is the hope of the nation; and await partnership to begin plan training and PEACE work.
*If you would like to learn more about how you and your church can serve along side the local church in South Sudan, please contact Mike Constantz, Pastor of The PEACE Plan, firstname.lastname@example.org.
“We only go where we are invited. If the church leaders want us,” Pastor Rick Warren. In South Sudan we have been invited.
South Sudan Overview, The World Bank, http://www.worldbank.org/en/country/southsudan/overview
South Sudan is Dying and Nobody is Documenting, Business Day, http://www.bdlive.co.za/africa/africannews/2016/03/11/south-sudan-is-dying-and-nobody-is-documenting-these-deaths
South Sudan New, The Telegraph UK, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/africaandindianocean/south-sudan/12191208/Sixty-men-and-boys-deliberately-suffocated-in-shipping-container-in-South-Sudan.html