By Roger Schrock
South Sudan has experienced nearly continuous war since 1955. Although a peace accord was signed between North Sudan and South Sudan in 2005, the people of South Sudan have continued to suffer under ineffective South Sudanese government, lingering military engagement with North Sudan, and tribal conflicts.
The group of Brethren who traveled to South Sudan from April 22-May 2 was aware of the 35-year relationship between the Church of the Brethren and South Sudanese people and churches. This continuous involvement has fostered the development of significant relationships that remain today.
Brethren mission philosophy
Foundational values in Brethren mission and identity reflect a holistic gospel message and a biblically based servant style of responding to the needs of people. Holistic servant ministry seeks to meet spiritual and physical needs while empowering the people of South Sudan to rebuild their lives and homeland. Partnering with other indigenous organizations and churches helps insure the sustainability of Brethren mission efforts. The work/study group viewed Brethren mission in South Sudan through the lens of holistic servant ministry.
Purpose of the trip
The group wanted to experience the current living conditions and challenges of South Sudanese people and learn about the ongoing Brethren presence in the area. Athanasus Ungang, Church of the Brethren staff in Torit since 2011, was our constant companion and guide. Discussions with him included the challenges and blessings in his work as well as his future vision for Brethren mission in South Sudan. Conversations were held with pastors of the African Inland Church (AIC); Jerome Gama Surur, deputy governor of Eastern Equatoria State in Torit; and Bishop Arkanjelo Wani of AIC in Juba. Dialogue with leaders at many levels proved to be very helpful and insightful as background and support for boosting Brethren engagement.
Our original intent was to visit several villages outside of Torit. Due to heavy rains, only one trip to Lohilla was completed. The extra time in Torit allowed for deeper discussions concerning the level of Brethren commitment in South Sudan.
— Athanasus Ungang has a passion for helping the people of South Sudan. We were impressed with his sincerity, humility, accountability, and dedication. The village of Lohilla is learning to trust him and believes him to be a man of God. His relational nature embodies the vision of the Church of the Brethren.
— The Church of the Brethren owns approximately 1.5 acres of fenced land outside Torit. This Brethren Peace Center property includes two staff homes, latrines, a safe well, and a storage unit. The current land and buildings are registered under Brethren Global Service. The purchase of additional land (exact cost unspecified) for the Brethren Peace Center is under way and will bring the total acreage owned by the Church of the Brethren to 6.3 acres. Fencing for the additional land will cost approximately $25,000.
— There are deep friendships and working relationships between Athanasus Ungang and two AIC pastors, Tito and Romano. Both pastors head indigenous NGOs. These pastors say the Church of the Brethren needs to speed up the work in South Sudan, with visible results.
— The partnership between the village of Lohilla and the Church of the Brethren to construct school and church buildings is an experiment in sustainable mission. How will arrangements for teachers be made? Will the local government help provide some teachers? How will they be paid? How will school uniforms be bought? School buildings has been identified as a major need, and six other villages have never had a school, so the partnership with Lohilla compliments a broader agenda. The people of Lohilla believe everything comes from God. Our Brethren group’s presence was perceived as a blessing from God, and in return, God is blessing us. Amen!
— Local government in Torit has been unwilling to work with local leaders, including Brethren Peace Center staff, to procure and store medicines for the hospital and area clinics. The medical facilities there have no medicine.
— Athanasus Ungang envisions one ministry of the Brethren Peace Center as a resource for trauma awareness/healing and trauma training. Healing of emotional, mental, and spiritual wounds are crucial for people of a war-torn nation. Bishop Arkanjelo Wani identified trauma healing as the major priority for the people of South Sudan.
At the end of the war in 2005, millions of dollars in aid flowed into South Sudan. With this knowledge, many church denominations and NGOs did not return to South Sudan. The Sudanese government, however, has used the money for national security rather than efforts to promote social and economic development. As a result, the South Sudanese continue to suffer from nonexistent infrastructure, economic hardship, and emotional and mental trauma.
Our group feels the time is right for the Church of the Brethren to step up our commitment and involvement in South Sudan. The land needed for trauma training and housing is being procured. School buildings have been identified as a credible and important need. It appears that we may be able to find reliable partners for these ministries.
Our group experienced overwhelming appreciation for our mere presence. We didn’t have to say or do anything. The loving people of South Sudan understood we cared enough to travel and be with them. We will never forget continuing the work of Jesus, peacefully, simply, together in South Sudan.
— In addition to Roger Schrock, the Church of the Brethren group that visited South Sudan included Ilexene Alphonse, George Barnhart, Enten Eller, John Jones, Becky Rhodes, and Carolyn Schrock. For more about the church’s mission in South Sudan go to www.brethren.org/partners/sudan .