Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Back to Sudan (after nearly 21 years)

It’s been over 20 years since I lived in a remote desert village of northern Sudan for a year. It was a life-changing experience that left me with many wonderful memories that have softened the rough edges of the challenges I faced. Sudan was then at war with itself, and though the north and the south are no longer at war, Sudan still seems as unstable now as it was then. So why then – now that I’m a husband and a father – would I plan to go to southern Sudan in this present climate of tension and uncertainty? I suppose another question I could ask is, having been invited to consider going, how serious do the needs need to be in southern Sudan before I'm prepared to leave my safe and affluent environment to go and help?

I and two other people from our church plan to travel to southern Sudan about a month from now, and plan to spend almost two weeks ministering there. One of our threesome is originally from southern Sudan and has not been back for 17 years, and due to the war, has been separated from his family for 25 years. And though he is from a family of 15 siblings, only two of his siblings are still alive today. We plan to travel to his home town where he will most certainly be welcomed back with many tears and great celebration!

While we are there, it is our desire to minister to the local Christians in any way we can. We will spend time in the Word with them and will pray with them, and we hope to be an encouragement to a church that has been through great pain in the past couple decades.

In 2005, a peace agreement ended 21 years of fighting between the north and the south of Sudan. It had been Africa’s longest civil war, devastating the entire region of southern Sudan, and leaving two million people killed, over four million people internally displaced and half a million refugees. Christians experienced significant adversity throughout this war, and yet now is an opportune time for the Church outside of Sudan to help Sudan’s Christians be the light they’re meant to be among their own people.

What else could we possibly do to help? That remains to be seen.

As you can imagine, the task of rebuilding after such a long and terrible war is tremendous. Between one and two million internally displaced persons (IDPs) have already returned to their home towns since the peace agreement was reached and many more are expected to follow. But in the midst of limited resources and opportunities, tensions between the returnees and those who had remained are very real. Many homes and herds have been destroyed, schools and clinics are unable to cope with the numbers, and the cost of food as well as basic building materials is continually rising. This has left many thousands of people living in the bush or in primitive camps around the towns they returned to, with minimal aid or no aid at all to help them. There is an urgent need for clean water supplies, food, housing materials and medical care. And yet humanitarian aid has decreased of late because some aid agencies have moved on after the cessation of armed conflict in southern Sudan.

In addition to such pressing needs, education is neglected. It is estimated that three-quarters of the adults in southern Sudan are illiterate and only about 22% of an estimated 2.2 million school-age children are enrolled in schools. However, a third of these schools are simply wooden benches under a tree and many of the teachers lack proper training or adequate curriculum. We’re asking the Lord to guide and direct us to see how we may be able to partner with a church in Uganda to help with education in the area of southern Sudan we will be visiting. This could include meals and clothes, as well as a classroom and a teacher for children in need.

So why would I go to southern Sudan in the present climate of tension and uncertainty? My concern is that if God’s people were to stay away in such times, how would the people of southern Sudan know the love and light of Christ when they most need it? It’s at such times that I see many secular agencies helping people. So how can I as God’s child – who has my heavenly Father to help me – not be prepared to also help?

That is why I am planning to go to southern Sudan this August. We as a team would appreciate your prayers.

© 2008 by Ken Peters

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