November 2, 2010
Sudan is just two months away from a referendum that could propel the country back into civil war.
A fragile peace, signed into being five years ago under the Comprehensive Peace Agreement, is on the brink of unravelling, with preparations for the vote on January 9 still behind schedule and foreign governments slow to fulfil their promises of assistance.
Yet the world – even Christians – seem to have little realisation of the enormous potential for renewed violence and bloodshed, not to mention a major humanitarian crisis.
If the South votes to secede, the North has indicated that it will not only become an Islamic state; it will not help Christians to leave the country safely.
Mary Kleine Yehling is executive director of the Tyndale House Foundation and a member of St Barnabas Church in Glen Ellyn, Illinois, in the US. Her church began a journey with Sudan several years ago when it became sister parishes with St Barnaba church in the county of Maban, around two hours south of Renk in Southern Sudan.
Much of St Barnaba and its school were destroyed in the civil war, but St Barnabas helped with their reconstruction and also provided practical assistance to ease the daily lives of the congregation, such as food, seeds and tools.
Mary is one of several members of St Barnabas to have visited the congregation in Maban. She says the people in the region feel like “second-class citizens” under the government in the North.
“They have no say over the use of the natural resources and receive none of the benefits they should from them,” she said.
“Although the government in the South may not necessarily be in the position to do the best job of governing them, they would rather have their own government governing them than someone else.
“It’s understandable. If I lived in a place where I didn’t feel I had any say in my governments then of course I would want there to be change.”
Practical assistance is greatly needed in a country that still lacks much of the basic infrastructure that developed countries take for granted. But what Mary believes the people of Sudan want more than anything else is the assurance that the rest of the world cares about them.
Churches in Sudan have shouldered a large part of the burden in readying people for the referendum and pushing it high on the agenda of the international community, but the tangible support of the global body of Christ would be a great comfort to them in this uncertain time.
“I have asked people if they are praying for Sudan and they say ‘What am I praying for?’. They may know a referendum is taking place but they don’t really understand the full extent of what is happening and it’s not on our news,” says Mary.
There are several things that Christians outside Sudan can do. They can get informed about the situation and contact their own governments to ask that they do everything they can to ensure that the referendum is peaceful, fair and its outcome accepted.
They can pray for a successful outcome and they can financially support the aid agencies that will respond to the needs of the expected influx of refugees from the North as well as the long-term reconstruction of the South.
In the longer-term, Mary believes that entering into a formal twinning arrangement would be a wonderful way to show the Sudanese people that they are remembered by the worldwide body of Christ.
She says: “I know story after story of what people went through during the war and having met so many people, having participated in the worship with them, and met the young people, and seen their school, I just can’t bear the thought of them going to war again.
“They are looking for any help and I think they feel like the world doesn’t care.
“My prayer for Sudan is that in the end the grace of God would be so poured out in Sudan that the referendum would be a beacon to the world of what God can do.”