"Greetings from the new nation of South Sudan!" These were the excited words that began my last e-mail from Isaya Jackson, one of our native preachers in South Sudan.
On July 9, 2011 at 12:01 a.m., South Sudan became the world's newest nation, officially splitting away from Sudan in the north. Their birth was preceded by two bloody civil wars stretched over five decades and cost the lives of millions. Most of their 8 million citizens were born into war and have never known peace.
As July 9 dawned, the new South Sudanese capital of Juba rang with rejoicing as residents cheered, danced and played music in the streets. Chants of "We're finally free!" were heard everywhere. Believers in Christ in the southern part of the country had finally been freed from the persecution of Arab Muslim extremists in the north.
As this baby republic sees the light of an independent life, they must confront manifold obstacles and impediments as its population learns how to govern themselves, improve their nation, and lead productive lives.
If one wants to get a sense of the challenges and opportunities facing them, take a ride with us down the 120-mile Juba to Nimule Road. This route is one of the new country's most heavily traveled, connecting the capital with a dusty border town that serves as a gateway into and out of the bordering country of Uganda. But it is unpaved, and years of civil war have left it strewn with land mines. Today, it takes eight hours to make the journey.
Less than a month old now, South Sudan is one of the world's least-developed countries. The entire country has only about 30 miles of paved roads. There is no infrastructure; electricity, water supplies, sewers, mail service, phone service and roads will all need to be established.
Forty percent of the population has to walk half an hour or more to find drinking water. Schools would be crowded at 129 pupils per classroom, but only about a third of its eight million population has ever attended school.
Furthermore, the war that officially ended in 2005 still simmers on the border as the two sides contend for disputed territory and how to split the proceeds of the petroleum that is now on the South Sudan side of the new international border. Fighting in the disputed, oil-rich Southern Kordofan state has forced more than 73,000 people to flee their homes since June 5, according to the United Nations.
South Sudan produces about 375,000 barrels of oil per day, making it one of Africa's biggest oil fields and generating considerable revenues. This also keeps South Sudan in the attention of resource-hungry China. Sudan was China's sixth-largest source of oil in 2010.
The infant state's fertile White Nile valley also includes some of the richest agricultural land in Africa, and the river has sufficient flow to generate large quantities of hydroelectricity. Their large wildlife herds could be used to attract eco-tourists.
With the aid and oil money flowing in, South Sudan's capital of Juba has become a boomtown. Its population has more than doubled in the past six years to approximately 375,000, swelled by refugees as well as by opportunity.
The country will have to be rebuilt from scratch, but the potential to do so is there. We must also be there, ready to share the gospel with the South Sudanese, souls eager to change their lives for the better.
Abduction, Survival and Salvation
Fleeing one war, Sudanese refugee James Sokiri was immediately immersed in another.
Sitting in a hotel restaurant, the young Sudanese man quietly recalled the night he was abducted from his refugee camp in Uganda by the Lord's Resistance Army, rebels fighting the government.
Violent and brutal, the LRA raided camps, murdering adults, forcing young girls into sexual slavery, and brainwashing boys to become child soldiers.
"'I don't know which Lord's they are," Sokiri said with a slight chuckle. Then, in hushed tones, he described the night he heard footsteps in the camp. He was studying for exams and thought his neighbors were out hunting white ants--a local delicacy. Then he heard the cock of machine guns.
All he remembers next is white light and shouting. LRA soldiers bound his hands and dragged him from his house. He didn't fear. In his mind, he already was dead.
As his captors led him away from the camp, the man holding him let go briefly to steal chickens. Sokiri bolted and hid, face down, in a garden of cassava roots.
"I was praying all the time," he said, "because I know there is no power anywhere except from God."
After what seemed like hours, he heard gunfire and rocket-propelled grenades. The Ugandan army had arrived, and the rebel soldiers fled.
Sokiri left the Ugandan refugee camps and moved back to Juba, Sudan, in 2006, where he now writes for a United Nations publication. He searched the Internet to learn about the Bible and found World English Institute. He then studied the Scriptures with a church of Christ member in Kentucky.
On Aug. 29, 2010, Sudanese evangelist Isaya Jackson baptized Sokiri in the waters of the Nile River.
"I felt as though something physical was removed from my body," Sokiri said. "I imagined the time Jesus was baptized in the Jordan River... and how happy I will be with Him in eternity."
James Sokiri's story is typical of many new Sudanese Christians. Now uppermost in his mind is becoming a preacher and carrying the gospel to his home village.
Thanks to The Christian Chronicle
Parts of the above story were excerpted from Erik Tryggestad's article in The Christian Chronicle. This newspaper has been kind enough to feature our work in South Sudan with several articles and numerous pictures in their August, 2011 issue.
The Christian Chronicle is an international newspaper for churches of Christ. For a limited time, they are offering friends of The Sudan Project a free subscription. Just e-mail your mailing address to email@example.com. Include "Chronicle subscription Sudan Project" in the subject line. Or send your address to The Christian Chronicle, P.O. Box 11000, Oklahoma City, OK 73136-1100.