My Heroes Live in South Sudan
My heroes live in South Sudan and I want to tell you about them.
Not many people sacrifice like they do—for their neighbors, country, and enemies. Some have even given their lives for their cause. However, most had the honor of seeing their dreams realized last weekend when the Republic of South Sudan claimed its independence. They are the chaplains of the Sudanese People’s Liberation Army.
My Connection to Sudan’s Suffering
I traveled to southern Sudan each year from 2001 to 2007 and I have seen these people’s suffering first hand. Every summer I trained chaplains and I was ordained by elders of a Sudanese church. My wife Lindsey and I also lead a non-profit, Mosaic, that initiates sustainable projects for peace and social justice in South Sudan and Uganda. We’ve been there, and seen these people’s tragic struggle.
No Greater Tragedy
Sudan has rarely known peace or stability. Civil war erupted before the nation gained independence from Britain in 1956. The south is tropical, underdeveloped, and populated by almost one hundred tribes or ethnic groups of African descent. By contrast, the north is drier, wealthier, and linked financially and culturally to the Muslim Middle East. These two groups—northern, oil-rich Arabs and southern, impoverished herdsman—have been at odds since the nineteenth century. In the words of former US Secretary of State, Colin Powell, there is “no greater tragedy on the face of the earth than the tragedy that is unfolding in the Sudan.”
For over two decades, the regime in northern Sudan (the Government of Sudan) has bombed, starved, and enslaved black southern Sudanese in an effort to subject them to Islamic rule. The Government of Sudan even funded the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) to terrorize the people in southern Sudan. These butchers shamelessly abduct children, force prostitution, rape, mutilate and force cannibalism. Over the past twenty-five years, more than two million southern Sudanese are dead and nearly five million southern Sudanese have been displaced by starvation and violence.
What has happened to our brothers and sister in Sudan is horrible and heartbreaking. They are still in great need from the rest of the world. But, the world is not worthy of them!
In response, southern Sudan organized a rebel movement and army—the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A). The SPLA defends against attacks from their government. Chaplains serve the SPLM as Christian clergy who promote human rights and reconciliation between God and humanity, the northern government and the southern army, soldiers and civilians.
Chaplains act as agents of peace. They serve weaponless on the frontlines to minister pastorally to the southern Sudanese soldiers and to encourage the southern soldiers to engage the northern soldiers appropriately. When northern soldiers were captured, the chaplains oversaw their care and ensured that they were treated humanely. Another concern of the chaplains is the welfare of civilians, especially southern Sudanese civilians who were oppressed by the government of Sudan and terrorized by militant extremist groups that have done cruel and disgusting things to them.
What has happened to our brothers and sister in Sudan is horrible and heartbreaking. They are still in great need from the rest of the world. But, the world is not worthy of them (Heb 11:38)! I have seen the human suffering: southern soldiers injured in the war, northern POWs, bomb craters in school yards, mutilated civilians, pastors with limbs missing because they were helping others take cover as bombs exploded, recurrent droughts, orphaned children, cramped refugee camps, mass starvation, slaving raids, and epidemics of diseases.
I have also seen the courage and perseverance of the southern Sudanese people, who have been oppressed by their government, abused by the rebel army organized to defend them, and terrorized by an extremist group in northern Uganda. I have witnessed the bravery, dedication, and servant-leadership exhibited by the chaplains of the SPLA. These chaplains, many of whom were soldiers, decided to go back to the frontlines of the conflict without their weapons to minister as clergy. Some chaplains have been killed already and all the chaplains know the dangers they are facing. In the despair and darkness of the brutal realities of Sudan, there is hope.
While part of the plan was to train these men to serve their country in a time of civil war, the other part of the plan was to train them if there ever was peace. Now that South Sudan is an independent nation, hopefully peace will soon follow. There are currently over 500 pastors who will either continue to serve as chaplains or begin to plant churches in their new country. And there are more being trained as you read this. Please pray for South Sudan.