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Brother vs. brother

"Brother vs. brother" Continued...

Issue: "The Battle for Africa," Feb. 8, 2014

Eric Reeves—a Sudan expert and professor at Smith College—wrote that South Sudan received too little help in “establishing democratic institutions that would allow the SPLM to outgrow its guerilla warfare past.” He continued: “The U.S. couldn’t dictate governance, but could have done more to assist.”

ENDANGERED: Mothers hold their young boys as they receive treatment for dehydration, vomiting, and diarrhea in a refugee camp in Awerial.
Associated Press/Photo by Ben Curtis
ENDANGERED: Mothers hold their young boys as they receive treatment for dehydration, vomiting, and diarrhea in a refugee camp in Awerial.
During the months leading up to the current crisis, two key U.S. posts were vacant: the special envoy to Sudan and the chief of Africa policy for the State Department. Andrew Natsios, special envoy for Sudan under President George W. Bush, told Reuters news service: “When all of this was deteriorating, there was no one in charge.”

Jok Madut Jok—a former South Sudanese official who now works for the Sudd Institute in Juba—said longtime factions needed help learning how to govern together. Jok told The Wall Street Journal that outside countries helped South Sudan with foreign aid. The paper added: “What they missed is that people’s souls have to be fat in the same way.”

FOR SOUTH SUDAN church leaders, attending to the needs of bodies and souls has been a decades-long process. During the war in the 1980s and 1990s, churches were often the only institutions left in parts of South Sudan. Church leaders offered spiritual and material help that fostered substantial credibility with local populations.

Over the years, government officials tapped pastors and priests to help mediate tribal conflicts and press for peace agreements. John Chol Daau, the Episcopal priest and former Lost Boy, has served on a government peace commission led by Episcopal Archbishop Daniel Deng.

Church officials say they want to use biblical principles to address spiritual problems that lead to conflict, and to point out problems when needed.

In a joint statement last year by Deng and the Catholic archbishop Paulino Lukudu Loro, the pair wrote: “We are not politicians. The prophetic voice of the church reads the signs of the times in the light of gospel values and, like the prophets of the Old Testament, calls for a change of heart leading to a change of behavior.”

After the recent fighting, Dinka and Nuer church leaders from Catholic, Episcopal, Presbyterian, and other denominations issued a statement pleading with South Sudanese citizens not to allow a political conflict to turn into an ethnic war.

Daau says it’s critical to remind Christians from different tribes of their common identity: “We are one community. We are believers in Jesus Christ.”

Bishop Nhial says that’s a message he’s emphasizing among self-identified Christians who sometimes divide along tribal lines—especially those fighting in the current conflict. “They need to know what the Bible tells them,” he says. “Do they know they cannot be divided? Do they know they are one family of God?”

Meanwhile, though resources in South Sudanese churches often are limited, both Nhial and Daau say they are working with church leaders to deliver aid to refugee communities when possible. Other church leaders are already visiting refugee camps to preach, comfort, and pray with those in need.

Those numbers continue to swell, as thousands have fled the country and aid groups struggle to deliver aid to tens of thousands in overcrowded camps in the country. Satellite images have shown dead bodies and burned homes in key embattled towns.

The UN reported attacks on aid convoys had kept vital supplies from reaching vulnerable populations. Many aid groups evacuated their foreign staff to surrounding countries.

The Christian relief group Samaritan’s Purse continues its operations at the Yida refugee camp near the north-south border in South Sudan. The camp hosts nearly 70,000 people who have fled to South Sudan after enduring bombing campaigns in northern Sudan for more than three years.

Some aid workers worry officials in northern Sudan will take advantage of South Sudan’s current crisis to advance their own interests in nearby oil fields.

Ken Issacs of Samaritan’s Purse said the group had enough food on hand to feed Yida refugees through mid-February, but that precarious security conditions could hamper delivery of more aid.

Nhial says some citizens have fled to other parts of the country that have remained peaceful during the conflict, but that some families have separated as they fled. For the former Lost Boy, it’s a sad reality.

“Now there are more lost boys from this fighting,” says Nhial. “But I still have hope that one day there will be no more lost boys in South Sudan.”

Jamie Dean
Jamie Dean

Jamie lives and works in North Carolina, where she covers the national political beat and other topics as news editor for WORLD. Follow Jamie on Twitter @deanworldmag.

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