With South Sudan on the brink of renewed civil war, a Southern Baptist-led relief organization and Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary remain unrelenting in their ministries there, amid what one aid worker called “a bigger humanitarian crisis than Syria.”
“There is no hope [for South Sudan] other than Jesus,” said Ann Rao, founder and president of Living Water Community Transformation, an organization that engages in women’s ministry, church planting, education of children and agribusiness training in the South Sudanese community of Akot. “I don’t even know what else to say. The whole situation is very overwhelming.”
South Sudan, established in 2011 when Christian regions of heavily-Muslim Sudan gained independence, has been embroiled in fighting between warring tribal groups since an attempted coup in 2013, Rao, a member of Idlewild Baptist Church in Tampa-area Lutz, Fla., told Baptist Press.
The latest round of violence broke out July 7 and escalated the next day when armed clashes erupted between troops loyal to South Sudanese President Salva Kiir and his rival, vice president Riek Machar, as the two met in the nation’s state house, according to media reports. The clashes left 273 dead, the BBC reported.
Machar remains in hiding, and a 10-week-old peace arrangement “hangs by a thread,” according to the BBC.
An NPR report cast partial blame for the conflict on the international community because it has not “used economic sanctions to force both leaders to control their fighters.”
At least 36,000 South Sudanese refugees have been displaced from their homes this month, bringing the total number of refugees since December 2013 to approximately 1.6 million, Reuters reported. An additional 743,000 people have fled the country, and 4.8 million are “severely short of food.”
“The lack of food is just horrible,” Rao said. “… Supposedly, it’s a bigger humanitarian crisis than Syria.”
In partnership with Baptist Global Response (BGR), a global relief organization, Living Water feeds hundreds of students each day at its two primary schools and has helped establish a 12-acre farm.
A lack of preparedness for national independence helps fuel the conflict, which has included “massacres” and “a lot of rapes,” Rao said. She lamented that though many South Sudanese profess to be Christians, including some top government leaders, the “hatred from all the killing and revenge killing” will continue to cause national strife.
Southeastern Seminary’s ministry to the South Sudanese includes theological education of pastors in partnership with the South Sudan Baptist Convention, with hope of a seminary being established one day in Juba, the capital city.
Many South Sudanese “pastors and congregations have sought safety in refugee camps in Uganda, Kenya and Ethiopia,” Southeastern associate vice president for global theological initiatives John Ewart told BP in written comments. “They are starting churches and conducting training and discipleship within those contexts. I continue to get reports of new converts and baptisms taking place in these camps. In addition, many pastors are traveling in and out of South Sudan to continue to minister there as well.”
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SOURCE: Baptist Press