December 15, 2013. In South Africa, it was the burial of Nelson Mandela. In South Sudan, it was the beginning of another war. It will be remembered, as a dark and sad day in the history of Africa, and of the world.
A firefight in the army barracks in Juba became the spark that spread into widespread bloodshed and lawlessness. What began as a political difference between two prominent government leaders escalated tragically into a conflict between government forces and various rebel groups, with inter-ethnic violence and reports of mass graves (the Dinka and Nuer have been the main tribes targeted).
Initial estimates of 10 000 dead and 500 000 persons displaced, during the first 6 weeks of violence, are likely to be conservative. It remains to be seen whether a formal ceasefire agreement signed on January 24, 2014, will have the authority, or receive the respect, to contain the instability and violence. The political situation has severely limited the abilities of humanitarian organizations to respond to the dire human needs. (UN reports on February 1 estimate 860 000 displaced persons and 3.7 million South Sudanese with an acute need of food)
His House of Hope did not escape the impact of this conflict. The fighting began in Juba (Central Equatoria) and quickly spread to other regional capitals, such as Bor (Jonglei State), Bentiu (Unity State) and Malakal (Upper Nile State). Several of the hospital staff lost close relatives in the first few days of the fighting. The risk of Dinka/Nuer conflict spreading to other areas of the country, including Yei, was tangible. This led to the decision, late December 2013, to close the hospital for a four week period, allowing missionaries and national staff to ensure the safety of themselves and their families.
Sadly, the aspirations for political power of a small group of people have resulted in widespread tragedy for millions of innocent citizens. Pregnant women and children are among the most vulnerable in this nation, even during ‘peace-time’. The events of the past 6 weeks have placed them even more at risk.
Thankfully, the hospital compound has remained secure, missionaries were able to return to Yei during mid January, and His House of Hope reopened on January 27. The team of missionary and South Sudanese staff are excited to be able to serve, once again, amongst the people of Yei River County.
Can the people of South Sudan form a truly national identity? Can they retain the richness of ethnic diversity (from more than 60 linguistic/tribal groups) yet achieve a national unity allowing all people to experience peace and freedom?
The aspirations of many South Sudanese, as expressed in words and songs, as well as the personal testimonies of our friends and colleagues in Yei, give us a lot of hope. Ultimately, however, our conviction is, that only the gospel of Jesus, has the power to transform the human heart and shape peace and reconciliation in South Sudan.
So we wait. And we work. And we pray.
“For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in Jesus, and through him to reconcile himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.” Colossians 1:19-20
“South Sudanese” by Mer – “This is a call for unity and identity amongst South Sudanese. Our identity is South Sudan, we are one people, beautiful in all forms of our ethnic origins. Nothing should divide us… together let’s put an end to tribalism! May our hard earned independence be our binding force.” (here)
A statement on South Sudan from members of the Dinka and Nuer people living in diaspora. (here)