Cries of celebration filled the land when the new nation of South Sudan officially came into existence on July 9, 2011. Six years later, tears of joy have turned to sorrow as the country has been torn apart by fighting, suffering and now famine. After such a hopeful start, what went so horribly wrong.

There were accusations of ethnic-based violence and killings. Farmers abandoned their crops and moved to camps for internally displaced people or crossed a border into Uganda, Kenya, or another neighbouring state. Hunger became an urgent issue.

More than 98% of the population voted in an independence referendum to succeed from their former country – Sudan. The birth of the country ended Africa’s longest civil war. Sudan became the 54th country of Africa. Although landlocked, there was optimism that oil revenues would provide the financial foundation for the new country. President Salva Kiir Mayardit belongs to the Dinka ethnic group (representing about 15% of the population). The choice of Rieck Machar, from the Nuer ethnic group, as Deputy President attempted to provide a balance of power in the government. The Nuer make up approximately 10% of the population with over 60 other ethnic groups comprising the remaining 75%.

Perhaps there was too much optimism at the time the country was formed and entered the world stage. Fighting among armed groups was already taking place in nine of the ten states of South Sudan. The country was poor. Slightly smaller than the province of Alberta, the population in 2011 was close to 11 million people. Transportation was difficult. There are only 200 kilometers of paved road. The population was largely rural.

A New Round of Civil War

A political dispute in late 2013 led to new outbreaks of violence that engulfed the whole country. The main combatants were the national army and the Sudan People’s Liberation Army Movement. Over the next two years more than 2 million people would be displaced. Rebel forces captured several key cities and their surrounding regions. There were accusations of ethnic-based violence and killings. Farmers abandoned their crops and moved to camps for internally displaced people or crossed a border into Uganda, Kenya or another neighbouring state. Hunger became an urgent issue.

There were signs of hope in August 2015 when a peace treaty was signed. Rieck Machar returned from exile and was appointed Vice-President of a new government of national unity. However, the regional fighting did not abate and the President fired Machar in July 2016. The situation became even more intense when Lieutenant General Thomas Cirillio resigned from the armed forces and launched the National Salvation Front with the objective of overthrowing the government.

What is Happening Now on the Ground?

The United Nations Commission of Human Rights recently issued a report (covering the period of July 2016 to February 2017) that contains a horrifying list of atrocities:

• Ethnic cleansing approaching genocide has been committed by the national army, largely composed of Dinka combatants. The report alleges that the government’s army, police, and associated militias are responsible for the majority of human rights abuses in South Sudan.

• Armed groups, including the national army, burn villages, kill, rape, and abduct women and girls for the purposes of sexual slavery. 72% of women in four UN displacement centres testified that they had been raped at least once by national soldiers or police.

• 5.5 million people are severely food insecure. The government controls the distribution of food aid. Areas held by rebel forces are often denied food deliveries leading to accusations of a policy of forced starvation.

• An estimated 17,000 children have been forcefully recruited by rebel groups and fight as child soldiers.

Since this report, the government of South Sudan and the United Nations have declared a state of famine for two regions. The revised statistic for people in need of food assistance is now 7.5 million. The hunger emergency in South Sudan has tragic counterparts in Syria, Yemen, Somalia, and Northern Nigeria. Gareth Owen of Save the Children Fund asserts that we are facing a global crisis not seen before. 14 million children are at risk of death by hunger.

Congregations are overwhelmed by the need and suffering. Displaced people have set up camps on the church properties. Others come to churches pleading for food

What Can Be Done?

The response to mass hunger is difficult at any time. South Sudan has logistical issues such as roads that are impassable during certain seasons and airstrips that are limited. Changing climate conditions make farming difficult in the best of circumstances. To make matters worse, the inflation rate in South Sudan was 800% last year. Most people cannot afford to buy food. The capital city

of Juba is a dangerous place. Food warehouses have been looted. People have been forced from their homes. The countryside is wracked by violence. Villages burned down. Cattle killed. Crops destroyed or looted.

The danger of the conflict and the hostile nature of the national army further aggravate the humanitarian situation. The indicators pointing to a state-sponsored genocide are frightening for anyone who remembers what happened in Rwanda.

However, as people of hope we know that it is not hopeless. We can choose to stand in solidarity with the people of South Sudan, to cry out to God for justice and mercy, and to take concerted action.

  1. We can pray. Several Psalms contain the plea that God will bring down men of violence that oppress and destroy vulnerable people. They also contain petitions for mercy for the poor, the widows and the orphans. An engaged spirituality is part of the solution to violence.
  2. We can advocate. Ask the government of Canada to give priority to the five hunger areas of the world: Syria, Yemen, Northern Nigeria, Somalia, and South Sudan.
  3. We can contribute. Support CBM with emergency funds to provide food for hungry people in South Sudan and in refugee camps in bordering countries. The gospels invite us to share our table with the hungry.

Canadian Baptist Involvement in South Sudan

Over the past six years, CBM has partnered with a new South Sudan denomination known as Faith Evangelical Baptist Church (FEBAC). Founded
in 2007, FEBAC has 96 churches in different parts of the country and only 26 trained and ordained pastors. To help build the capacity of FEBAC to effectively serve in these trying times, CBM provides vital support in:

Leadership training: providing workshops on trauma healing, church/state relations, social justice and counselling; as well as practical resources such as satellite phones to help pastors and churches in remote regions have a means of communication.

Food security projects: helping farmers grow crops in dry season with training in irrigation agriculture, and supplies of water pumps, tubing, and seeds.

Water projects: building wells for safe, clean drinking water.

Peacebuilding: training community leaders, women leaders, youth leaders and other opinion leaders to become peace promoters among refugees living in camps such as Kakuma (in Kenya) where inter-ethnic conflict is high. “Before the 2016 peacebuilding seminar, Nuer could not go to the parts of the camp inhabited by the Dinka community and likewise the Dinkas could not dare visit parts of the camp inhabited by the Nuer,” reports FEBAC General Secretary, Saphano Riak Chol. “This has since changed after the peacebuilding seminar and this has encouraged us to maintain the momentum to cement peaceful co-existence.”

FEBAC has also started churches and development projects in Kakuma and CBM has offered support with sewing machines and grinding mills for maize to help refugees, especially widows, to earn family income.

Hunger and security continue to be big concerns in South Sudan. “War is still going on in some parts of the country. Many people are so scared that if they go outside the city and start farming something might happen to them, someone might come and shoot them down,” shares John Monyiok Maluth, FEBAC’s Coordinator for Christian Education, Capacity Building and Training. “God has given us the mandate to go and reach the people and he’s always there to protect us, but we need prayers for security. That when we go out, God will still protect us as we share the gospel like Jesus who touched people with other problems, other sicknesses, and he healed them. It actually brought people to know Jesus Christ as their personal Lord and Saviour. We have seen many people coming to Christ because of the services of the church.”

As the famine crisis spreads, FEBAC struggles to be a presence of hope. Congregations are overwhelmed by the need and suffering. Displaced people have set up camps on church properties. Others come to churches pleading for food. “Literally, people are dying; you find children, elderly, women, and everyone so malnourished due to lack of food,” shares Saphano. “We are making an appeal as a Church through CBM for an intervention with food. In Juba we have about 7,000 displaced people we want to help, and in Narus we have about 12,000 displaced people that we need to help. It’s really a depressing situation and something needs to be done about it.”

Over the past three years, CBM has been responding with over $400,000 of emergency food and supplies such as rice and beans, maize flour, cooking oil, plastic for tents, blankets, and mosquito nets. In addition, we have promised to raise over $50,000 to continue FEBAC’s food relief program.

Gordon King is CBM’s Resource Specialist. He is the author of several books, including Seed Falling on Good Soil: Rooting Our Lives in the Parables of Jesus.

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Gordon King

Serves as CBM’s Resource Specialist. He is the author
of several books, including Seed Falling on Good Soil:
Rooting Our Lives in the Parables of Jesus