By Roger Schrock
“Malέ?” the Nuer greeting of “peace” filled the air as I reconnected with Nuer people of the Mayom/Bentiu area of South Sudan after 34 years. What a joyous occasion to again see these friends and to be able to introduce them to Jay Wittmeyer on our recent trip to South Sudan. This meeting confirmed the importance of the presence of the Church of the Brethren personnel from the 1980s to the present as we worked on issues of development and peace.
During the first half of the 1980s the Brethren were asked by the Sudan Council of Churches to initiate a Primary Health Care Program for the Western Nuer of Upper Nile Province. The scope of this development work for the five Brethren persons involved was to provide basic health care for persons and cattle as well as the digging of water wells and the promotion of food production. It also resulted in the planting of a church in Mayom. The work was to serve 200,000 persons.
We learned that development cannot move forward in the time of war. That was true in the 1980s and it is still evident in South Sudan today as the possibility of development has again stopped because of the current factional fighting. Even though the conflict has stifled development, within the hearts and minds of the South Sudanese, hope for the future and the belief that God will provide is very strong.
The second phase of the Brethren work which happened in the 1990s was focused on Nuer Bible translation and helping the New Sudan Council of Churches (NSCC) work to unite and support the churches during the raging civil war. The number of Brethren involved in this phase was 10 persons. A major emphasis was on the People to People peace movement which helped end 50 years of civil war, and this led to the creation of the newest nation in Africa–the Republic of the South Sudan.
This trip allowed us to reconnect with persons of the NSCC and their cherished hope for peace that still eludes the new nation. These friends reflected that the peace did not hold because it did not go deep enough, and there is still a need for friends like the Brethren to accompany them in working to transform their society from the greed of war to a culture of peace.
We traveled to Torit, the state capital of Eastern Equatoria, to see the current Brethren staff person, Athanasus
Ungang, and the ongoing work. It was encouraging to see a flourishing English-speaking church in Torit, which Athanasus leads. The building of the Brethren Peace and Service Center in Torit will provide a base from which to carry out the future ministry of the Church of the Brethren in South Sudan. We traveled with Athanasus to meet the two evangelists that he is training in the village of Lohilla who are excited about starting a church fellowship. We met with the leaders of Lohilla to finalize plans for their first village elementary school.
Visiting the Imatong Bible School of the Africa Inland Church, our partner in South Sudan, helped us see the hopes and potential for the church but also the need to strengthen and build up the capacity of the South Sudanese. In our visit with the Bishop of the Africa Inland Church, Bishop Archangelo, we heard a clear call to assist in the Trauma Healing ministries that are very needed because of the many years of civil unrest and war.
It is clear to me that God is not yet done with the Brethren and the work in South Sudan. As the Sudanese say, “Only God knows” what all the future holds. But it is clear there are things for us to learn and do with the Sudanese. There is hope as we continue the work of Jesus–peacefully, simply, and together! Thus we look forward to an Experiential Learning/Work Group traveling to South Sudan in April 2015 to take the next step with the people of South Sudan.
— Roger Schrock is pastor of Cabool (Mo.) Church of the Brethren and is a member of the Mission Advisory Committee. He and his wife Carolyn served in Sudan throughout the 1980s and 1990s, in addition to nine years of service in Nigeria. He traveled to South Sudan with Global Mission and Service executive Jay Wittmeyer in November.