South Sudan (WAS/MNN) — Some 77,000 South Sudanese civilians hiding in United Nations peacekeeper bases over the last three months are to be moved to new camps, said UN officials. So far, over 705,800 people have been displaced by tribal violence.
Overcrowded conditions and the problems they’re bringing have been worsened by the early arrival of torrential rains.
Brutal fighting broke out in December with reports of massacres and targeted ethnic killings. With the tit-for-tat reprisal killings threatening to spiral into genocide, people are afraid to return home.
Aid officials had hoped the situation would calm enough to allow the refugees to return to their homes, but they’re now readying more permanent sites for people. With so many people on the move, life’s disruptions are on an epic scale.
The UN says over 930,000 civilians have fled their homes since fighting began, including over quarter of million leaving for neighboring countries.
That’s also having an effect on Gospel work, whether its pastors and church members being scattered, or seminary classes disrupted, or Bible translation teams being forced to flee. Wycliffe Associates President/CEO Bruce Smith explains, “Our teams have actually temporarily evacuated in recent months because of some of that violence. So, it does impact the translation process and teams directly, but the way we approach this strategically is to continue to seize whatever opportunities arise.”
Wycliffe Associates, a global organization that involves people in the acceleration of Bible translation around the world, will be focusing its efforts in South Sudan on members of unreached people groups, many of whom are living in refugee camps. It’s about making opportunity, Smith adds. “During stable times, sometimes resistance from entrenched interests that are against Bible translation can solidify and resist the process, whereas in unstable times, those interests are less coherent.”
Additionally, the refugees from Northern Africa who have fled their homes, their farms, and the land of their ancestors, live in crowded, unsanitary refugee camps. They have no way to work or grow food for their children. These men, women, and children live without dignity, without joy, and worst of all, without hope.
And then when it seems life could not be any more difficult, those who sought safe refuge in South Sudan are now in danger again. The entire area is a hotbed of unrest. Recent reports are frightening: men, women, and children have been caught in the crossfire of battles between government and rebel fighters.
Violence has surged throughout the country. The people of South Sudan do not know who to trust. They are lost and afraid. “This is what makes Bible translation so urgent, so that people can hear, they can understand, they can dialogue with God, hear God’s Truth to them, to speak into their situation, and change their hearts, so that they can then change their own nation.”
“This ongoing conflict has created a fertile ground for seeds of faith in the most unlikely soil: that of refugee camps,” says Smith. “More than ever, these refugees are open and hungry for hope and truth. They must have God’s Word in their heart language to cling to in the midst of such persecution and tragedy.”
The solution begins one-on-one. “Political, military, economic…all of those kinds of solutions are really not solutions at all. They’re facades, they’re superficial. They’re veneers over an underlying problem of the heart that can only be dealt with by God.”
Wycliffe Associates facilitates the ongoing projects through their Bible Translation Acceleration Kits. Smith says the equipment includes a solar power supply and a battery for charging and for operating a low-powered laptop computer, and then an internet modem that connects through the satellite. Why? Portability. “They can fit in a backpack: you can roll up the solar panels. We’ve had stories of translators in other countries that have had similar disturbances, who’ve basically just put it all in a backpack and hiked down the road in order to keep their translation project going. So that capability at least gives the translation teams the flexibility that they need in order to respond to the local security situation as it changes.”
With the reports of churches, families, and ministries being scattered by the unrest, it’s reassuring to know the translation teams haven’t lost focus. “We’re currently working with 8 to 10 language groups that are actively in the translation process. But the opportunity and the need that still arises there is that there are more than 50 language groups that still need Scripture translation to begin,” says Smith.
What can you do, aside from helping to resource these teams? “Pray for the teams and for the nationals, for the Christians, especially, that are laboring in a difficult situation, to try to speed God’s Word to their nation.”