For over 75 years, we’ve been coming alongside families displaced by violence, poverty and injustice — both in the U.S. and across the world.
So, how is South Sudan? It’s a question that I get a lot these days. From other humanitarians in different countries, from friends who caught a rare headline, from family members who just want to know what is it that I do all day when I say I am going back. It’s a question that is so much more complicated than it seems.
This month, we’re sharing stories from our work around the world. It is our hope that these stories will inspire, encourage, and enrich your lives. The following post was written by Darren Harder, Country Director for World Relief South Sudan.
“Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me;
Let there be peace on earth, the peace that was meant to be.
With God as our Father, brothers all are we,
Let me walk with my brother, in perfect harmony.
Let peace begin with me, let this be the moment now;
With every step I take, let this be my solemn vow
To take each moment and live each moment, in peace eternally.
Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me.”
The lyrics to this beloved Christmas hymn seem to ring truer with each passing year.
Peace. Something that has too often seemed unattainable in 2016. A year that has been difficult, contentious, and violent both here in the U.S. and around the world. A year that has challenged us all as individuals, as parents, spouses, friends, colleagues, even as Christians. Now, as we draw near to the end of the year, we long for a more peaceful 2017, one filled with love and with hope for a better tomorrow.
Amidst this darkness, what better time to look to stories of incredible hope where peace can indeed triumph against the odds? Stories that encourage and inspire us. Stories that show us we can rise above our doubts. Stories like the one of the Church in war-torn South Sudan.
Though pushed from international headlines by the tragedy of Syria and the horrifying images streaming almost daily out of Aleppo, few places have more tragic histories or precarious futures than South Sudan. After decades of civil war with North Sudan, the world’s youngest country was born to great fanfare and hope in 2011. But that hope did not last long. In 2013 violence broke out, between supporters of the President and former Vice President of South Sudan. Over the last three years, ethnic-based killings have taken place on all sides, accompanied by growing demands for vengeance. According to the U.S. Institute for Peace, nearly 4 million South Sudanese face severe food insecurity, and more than 2 million have been displaced by the war.
The stories circulating in international media, paint a bleak picture of South Sudan and its immediate future. Even bleaker are the suggestions from the diplomatic community that the situation could get worse before it gets better. Despite multiple efforts to broker peace, South Sudan, like too many other places around the world, now faces impending catastrophe. Militias are mobilizing along ethnic lines, hate speech is circulating on social media, and international human rights groups are now documenting widespread human rights abuses.
And yet, against this dark canvas of suffering, fear, and forced displacement, one area stands out, determined to be a place of peace and love. This place is Ibba, a county in Western Equatoria State, where World Relief South Sudan is partnering with Church leaders, determined to become a light amidst the darkness.
In Ibba, World Relief is working in collaboration with local Churches to build homes for the elderly and the sick, run agricultural trainings to increase harvests in order to feed the hungry, and start savings groups. We are training women and young mothers in fostering peaceful family environments and in other life skills. Above all, we are focused on working together to organize spiritual activities that help build the unity of the Church, enable them to share each other’s burdens and challenges, and share in peaceful solutions.
On November 20, 2016 a joint prayer service was held at St. Charles Lwanga Catholic Parish of Ibba, which brought together more than 3,000 people from across the region for over eight hours of prayer and worship. It was the first time that four Christian denominations, namely ECSS/S, Roman Catholic Church, Evangelical Lutheran Church, and Seventh Days Adventists, have come together to worship in Ibba. Church leaders preached messages of peace, unity, and collaboration. Many announced it was the first time in their lives that they’d seen such unity, and challenged the congregation to take the message of peace home to their neighbors.
As I watched the church come together as a unified body of believers, to pray for their communities and to serve the most vulnerable, I reflected on how much we can learn from our brothers and sisters in South Sudan who are doing the hard work of peacemaking each day. Even though insecurity exists in neighboring counties, Ibba has remained calm, and I have no doubt it is due to the leadership shown by the local pastors in Ibba. I thank God for them daily and pray that they will continue to find their voice as they become beacons of light in their suffering communities.
Now and in the coming New Year, let us stand up for change. Let us join together with these peacemakers. Let us come alongside them to learn from them, to stand with them, and to give to them, so that they may increase their capacity for peace in South Sudan and beyond. Let us find peace on earth, and let it begin with you.
[This post comes to us from a team member in South Sudan, however we’re choosing to keep the author’s identity private at this time.]
In most parts of the world, Independence Day is something to celebrate. It’s a day to remember past sacrifice and to celebrate the victory of a battle hard fought. And yet, last week’s Independence Day in South Sudan was a different story.
July 9—a date that has been celebrated in South Sudan since the country gained independence in 2011—was greeted this year with heightened vigilance, rumors of violence, and little sense of victory. Fireworks did not end in awe-inspiring bursts of color and grace, and families were not underfoot admiring the spectacular display. The color in the South Sudanese sky that night was brought instead by tracer ammunition and accompanied by the reverberating staccato of heavy weaponry.
As we settled into Thursday evening, I could hear the distant bursts of gunfire. It’s been a while since it’s been this loud and this consistent. It’s been a while since tensions in Juba have been this high. That’s why, when my phone rang that night, my brain began anticipating several scenarios. In the end it was a warning from one of my security guards. “Security isn’t good…stay in your compound. I’ve taken shelter with a brother because I can’t make it home.”
I offered my thanks for his update and a few shallow words of encouragement. What can you say when this nation finds itself once more on the edge? Where a slight nudge is sufficient to ignite a conflict with unimaginable consequences.
Friday brought that nudge.
While the details are not entirely clear, here’s what the weekend held. There was heavy fighting on Friday at the Presidential Palace while the President, First Vice President, and Vice President were meeting–resulting in significant loss of life. Saturday was calm by comparison, but Sunday was chaos.
Hundreds have died and thousands have fled. The peace negotiated almost a year ago is over. Staff are at home, reporting fighting in their neighborhoods. They are lying on the floor, hiding under beds, and reporting that they do not know if they will survive the day. I expect the worst.
My heart breaks for this nation and for these people. Please pray for the following:
- Our teams in South Sudan, as we finalize safety and security plans for World Relief staff and volunteers.
- Our work, as the nation spirals back into chaos.
- This nation. It has been reported that war has been declared; we do not know what tomorrow will bring but we trust that this will not be the end.
Independence. Just four short years ago, the people of South Sudan voted to break away from the north and form their own independent nation with the hope of a fresh start. Finally free from their opponents in the north, they could now look forward to a better future.
But freedom is not the reality that the people of South Sudan have come to know.
While the people of South Sudan became citizens of a new country in 2011, they could not escape conflict for long. Before South Sudan became its own country, the Sudanese in the north and south expressed differing political, economic and religious views.
Four years later, the people have, once again, found themselves in the midst of conflict. This time, the president and vice president are vying against each other for power – inciting ethnic differences to mobilize fighters around the country. After nearly a year and a half of calm, the renewed fighting has left tens of thousands of people in need of protection, basic provisions such as shelter materials, cooking supplies, food items and peace. Though another Independence Day has passed, it’s important to consider the reality of the situation in South Sudan.
After 17 years, World Relief’s efforts continue despite intensifying conflict, evacuations and the loss of two staff members. Our teams, as well as those of other organizations working in the region, have had to take a step back and reevaluate our work. But, we continue to provide emergency health, nutrition and safe-child programming while we distribute food and essential goods in Unity State.
In Western Equatoria State, which has been more peaceful, we’re taking a groundbreaking approach. This year, church leaders across denominations began to meet together to serve their communities with their own resources. These pastors have great hope that their churches can be a foundation for change and peace in South Sudan.
At World Relief, this is our hope as well. The people of South Sudan are still facing great adversity, but our God is faithful. We continue to work and pray, believing that South Sudan will come to know true freedom like Jesus promises.
On July 9 South Sudan celebrated its Independence Day. While we realize the tremendous challenges that still lie ahead, we celebrate the independence they have now and the freedom that is to come.
Let’s remember the words of Paul in 2 Corinthians 3:17: “Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.” God’s presence is real and active in South Sudan, and he is our ultimate hope for true freedom.
Since 1998, World Relief has responded alongside the local church in South Sudan. Through disaster response, agricultural development and health programs, we’re laying the foundations for lasting peace.
You can join us today as we continue to provide emergency food and medical supplies to the people most affected by the unrelenting conflict.
World Relief is on the ground in the midst of unstable communities in West Darfur, where the lack of natural resources can easily increase conflict between communities. Not only do we help to reconcile inter-communal conflict, but we also provide important resources like water, which can be lifesaving in cases like Batol Mohamed’s. Batol, a 34-year old mother of six, lives in Kongok village of West Darfur. Just one week after she delivered her youngest child in November 2014, conflict erupted when her village was attacked. The village was looted, homes were destroyed and Batol’s own family experienced the violence first-hand. While many chose to flee to safer areas, Batol stayed. She was concerned that if she left her home, both she and her child would get sick. So she remained in the village despite the conflict that was happening around her.
Because so much had been destroyed and everyone had fled, Batol had to find a way to care for her family all on her own. And she had no water to cook and worried her family would go hungry – it’s dangerous to venture too far out of the village in search of water, because she had just given birth and some of the attackers remained close by.
Thankfully, the water tank built by World Relief had not been destroyed when the attackers moved their animals into the farms around the village, and she was able to retrieve water for her family. “I was able to cook breakfast for my children and I thanked God for this gift,” Batol told our staff on the ground. She said that the availability of the water in the center of the village helped them survive for six days until the conflict was resolved and people were able to return back to the village. She said “our life is spared, thanks to World Relief, by the water the organization provided to my village.”
World Relief partners with local churches and organizations to empower the vulnerable to pursue peace and have access to tangible resources. To learn more about World Relief’s work to build peace and save lives in West Darfur, visit www.worldrelief.org/WagePeace.
World Relief deeply believes that sustainable peace-building without involvement of women is impossible. In Sudan, particularly West Darfur, deeply rooted socio-cultural issues prevent women from being involved in many decision-making processes. Usually, women assume lower positions in the community and their voices are neglected. However, women constitute a large proportion of the society and are actively involved in economic activities.
In 2011, World Relief launched a peace and reconciliation project aimed at tackling the root causes of conflict and enhance co-existence among the different tribes in the operational areas. To achieve this objective, World Relief launched community-based peace-building initiatives. Peace and Reconciliation Committees (PRCs) oversee and promote peace at the community level. Sub-committees focus on things like crop protection, water supply area protection and more.
Through these committees (PRCs) and the subcommittees, World Relief has worked to ensure participation of women by confronting the cultural practices that exclude them from leadership.
Recently, World Relief organized workshops on peace-building and gender awareness. At first, World Relief staff and volunteers trained 150 women on the issues of gender equality and peace-building. Next, men and women were brought together and taught about the importance of women’s involvement in the peace-building process.
Following the training, 73 women joined the existing peace committees. Today, those women are working alongside men in their community to actively restore peace.