South Sudan (MNN) — Building the state of South Sudan was ambitious, exciting, and hope-filled.
However, in the days after ethnic killings exploded in South Sudan in December, an estimated 10,000 people died in the fighting, and delayed hope has led to disillusionment.
Since the start of the year, the United Nations estimates 234,000 people have fled fighting but became Internally Displaced People. The number of people who have ﬂed from South Sudan to neighboring countries has increased to 226,000. The United Nations reports that up to 3.7 million people now face extreme hunger or starvation because of the conflict.
The humanitarian aid group made a plea for help, only to receive a lackluster response.
Baptist Global Response executive director Jeff Palmer says, “I think there’s just a weariness of seeing all of this war. But at the same time, we have to remember these are still people who are suffering, that are really in need of our help. The Bible says, ‘Let’s not grow weary in well-doing,’ and I just pray that people do not get weary, because the needs are not going away.”
What’s more, as the story faded from the headlines, a potential genocide has gone under the radar. “One people group goes out to purposefully and publicly exterminate a whole other people group because they’re from a different tribe or of another faith. We’re seeing some of this happen in South Sudan.”
The atrocities were triggered by a political struggle between the presidential guard between forces loyal to President Salva Kiir, who belongs to the Dinka ethnic group, and supporters of former Vice President Riek Machar, of the Nuer ethnic group.
Now the fledgling country must grapple with the future. Palmer says, “Part of it is how do we get beyond the violence? What we’re dealing with Baptist Global Response is how we help the folks that have been dislocated by that violence and help those that are suffering?” First and foremost, BGR is about the Gospel. “Not neglecting the physical needs that are there, but at the same time, not neglecting the fact that people do need to hear a Word of Truth and a Word of Comfort from the Gospel.”
Yet, with this kind of upheaval, continuing outreach has been tricky. The Southern Baptist International Mission Board recently featured the story of a pastor whose ministry was disrupted by the fighting. Aside from the innocence of his children being lost, his ministry will have to start over if/when the family can return home.
One of the regions that saw the most violence was Upper Nile, where John Monychol has worked as a church planter for 14 years, planting 11 churches. Upper Nile is an area where both tribes live, making it a volatile region. Monychol and his family are now living in a refugee camp on the border as he waits to return to Upper Nile to check on his more than 600 church members in the area.
“My desire is to minister to them and also do some counseling,” he said. “We need to pray together with members to see how we can promote peace and reach out to our area.” Monychol is encouraging South Sudanese believers to be united and not divided.
Monychol’s plight highlights the scope of the problem faced by hundreds of thousands who are fleeing anywhere they feel safe. Palmer says, “Don’t think of big U.N. camps because they’re more makeshift camps. There’s just not a lot of help getting to them right now. We’re probably going to do food, maybe some water.”
In order to determine what that looks like on top of the ongoing projects, Palmer says an assessment team is on the ground this week. “Pray for the survey teams that are in there right now, to give them wisdom and understanding as they look at the problem, what are the best ways to address the issues? Pray for our projects on the ground and our teams on the ground inside the country.
First and foremost, BGR is about the Gospel. “Not neglecting the physical needs that are there, but at the same time, not neglecting the fact that people do need to hear a Word of Truth and a Word of Comfort from the Gospel.”