Part of our work together as a local congregation and a church body named the ELCA, is to accompany our Global Partners. One of those instrumental partnerships is South Sudan. Please view this link on the ELCA website (http://semnsynod.org/southsudan/) to see the work that is being accomplished.
As you are reading this, I will be participating in the dedication ceremony of the Lutheran Center in Juba, South Sudan. This is a center for education, medicine, and faith. Most importantly, it serves as a center for real hope in the midst of one of the worst refugee crises that the world has ever seen.
"This center will be a place of encounter for a community that has experienced the horrors of war," said the Rev. Rafael Malpica-Padilla, executive director for ELCA Global Mission. "It will be a place of hope for the next generation of leaders, an instrument through which we will touch people's lives for the flourishing of human community and where the good news of the gospel will be proclaimed."
Since South Sudan became an independent nation four years ago, it has been dealing with immense internal conflict among its many tribes. Due to the armed conflict, more than 1.6 million people are internally displaced, and many families and individuals, particularly youth, are flocking to the urban centers seeking a place for healing, as well as training and education. Local partners, including ELCA Sudanese congregations in the United States, the Episcopal Church of Sudan and South Sudan, and the South Sudan Council of Churches, hope to see the Lutheran center and clinic become that place of reconciliation and restoration.
"This project has been, since day one, a story of hope, reconciliation, and rebuilding," said Andrew Steele, director of ELCA Global Church Sponsorship. "The Sudanese community in our ELCA congregations started a movement to establish the Lutheran church in their home country and now we are able to do just that. A $1.2 million goal of support from across the church was pledged to ensure our brothers and sisters in South Sudan are able to experience the love, grace and healing of God." Our Savior’s Austin is an outreach partner in this life changing project. It not only brings hope to those in South Sudan but to our brothers and sisters right here in Austin.
South Sudan is in the midst of a massive humanitarian crisis. Political conflict, compounded by economic woes and drought, has caused massive displacement, raging violence and dire food shortages. Over 5.1 million people are in need of aid, and 4.8 million are facing hunger.
When did the crisis start?
South Sudan gained independence from Sudan in July 2011, but the hard-won celebration was short-lived. The Sudan People’s Liberation Movement, the ruling political party that originally led the way for independence, is now divided and fighting for power.
In December 2013, political infighting erupted into violence in the streets of the capital, Juba, after South Sudan’s president accused his vice president of an attempted coup. Fighting between the two factions of government forces loyal to each soon moved to Bor, and then to Bentiu.
Violence spread across the young nation like wildfire, displacing 413,000 civilians in just the first month of conflict. Tens of thousands of civilians rushed to seek refuge in U.N. bases that were subsequently turned into makeshift displacement camps. The fighting has continued, becoming increasingly brutal and affecting the entire country.
What's going on now?
A handful of peace agreements have been signed over the course of the war — the most recent in August 2015 — but they have been repeatedly violated. The situation remains highly unstable and is prone to outbreaks of violence. This year new areas of the south of the country have become embroiled in the conflict, and lands that were once known as the breadbasket of South Sudan are not producing as much food. On top of these attacks, the country's economy is in crisis — the South Sudanese pound has declined in value, and the cost of goods and services has skyrocketed. The inflation rate — 835 percent — is the highest in the world. In early 2017, a famine was declared in parts of South Sudan, leaving 100,000 people on the verge of starvation. While famine is no longer declared as of September 2017, an estimated 6 million people — more than half the population — are at risk and 1.7 million people require immediate assistance.
What's happening to people in South Sudan?
Since the conflict began, almost 1 in 3 people in South Sudan have been displaced. Some 3.7 million citizens have been forced to flee their homes: more than 2.1 million people have escaped to neighboring countries in search of safety, and more than 1.8 million are trapped inside the warring nation. South Sudan is now the third-most fled country in the world, behind Syria and Afghanistan. Many have fled to the borders of Ethiopia in the Gambella region. Our Anyuak community at Our Savior’s have family and friends, and a sister church in Gambella.
Why did the humanitarian situation deteriorate so quickly?
Sudan, and what was then the semi-independent Southern Sudan, endured a brutal civil war for more than 25 years, which resulted in South Sudan’s independence in 2011. But the conflict in December 2013 reopened deeply-rooted political and ethnic tensions that hadn't yet been reconciled — and those divisions have continued to fuel ongoing clashes.
After those decades of conflict, South Sudan was and still is one of the least-developed countries in the world, which has further complicated the situation. The larger cities in South Sudan had experienced some development, but the majority of the nation is rural. Even before the crisis, more than half of its citizens lived in absolute poverty, were dependent on subsistence agriculture and suffered from malnourishment.
In addition, the country has very little formal infrastructure — roads, buses, buildings — which makes it difficult to transport food and supplies. Many towns and villages become inaccessible during the annual rainy season due to closed airstrips, washed out roads or lack of roads altogether, sometimes limiting any delivery of humanitarian aid to the isolated areas that need it most.
Can people buy more food?
What little food is available has soared in price, and most displaced families have no money to buy any goods. In Juba, the retail price of sorghum, a staple grain, is 600 percent higher than it was in 2015.
Is South Sudan getting enough assistance?
The short answer: no.
The UN appealed for $1.64 billion to assist 7.6 million people in need in 2017. So far, some 70 percent of the budget is funded.
Many humanitarian organizations, including Lutheran World Relief, are partnering with the U.N., using both private contributions and funding from the international community, to address the urgent needs of innocent people in South Sudan.
The Lutheran Center in Juba
The Lutheran Center is a symbol of healing and hope. Lives will be changed, future generations will be blessed, and this young country will be strengthened. This grass roots work and accompaniment model of support is a tremendous work and we thank God for all that is taking place.
Pastor Wal Reat from the Southeastern Minnesota Synod
Wal Reat serves among South Sudanese refugees in several refugee camps in South Sudan and countries bordering South Sudan. He recently preached at our Joint African Worship Service.
I will share stories and photos from the Juba trip and from a site visit to Gambella and our partnership church there in late November. In the meantime, please be in prayer for our brothers and sisters around the world, for our faithfulness in providing outreach and support, and for the work of the ELCA Global Church.
Peace and Hope,
(*Country info. from Mercy Corp., the ELCA, and the Southeastern Minnesota Synod)