Sudan (MNN) — As clashes have heated up over the border between South Sudan and its ex-wife Sudan, the number of refugees from the disputed region has daily increased.
AlertNet reports that last week, the U.N. Refugee Agency, UNHCR, registered 2,287 new arrivals in two refugee sites in South Sudan, bringing the total of registered refugees there to more than 80,000.
Gill Reitsma with Africa Inland Mission confirms that the influx of refugees in recent days has been large. She says Sudan's president Omar al-Bashir has been increasing military forces to the area, going as far as to bomb refugee-ridden regions.
"He has definitely stated that he wants to cleanse this area. So there's been a huge buildup of military," says Reitsma. "The Nuba people have largely fled. Half of them have either been killed or displaced, or have gone into a refugee camp over the border or in Bentiu."
The Nuba make up the majority of those living in the disputed border area. For their sake, says Reitsma, "I'm just praying that the rains come early–they come in April–and that will stop any military offensive."
Fewer military offenses will be better for AIM Air teams, too. Pilots are distributing relief to refugees in Bentiu, but it's precarious work.
"We need to pray for the AIM Air and MAF [Mission Aviation Fellowship] pilots who are flying often in dangerous circumstances, taking food in to the refugees and keeping them alive," notes Reitsma.
Beyond safety issues, other challenges also abound for AIM workers in both Sudan and South Sudan. AIM has ministry in both nations, and deals in both with the trauma war has caused. The response to the Gospel is varied.
"There is an openness," explains Reitsma. "There's also, sadly–because they have been so poor–a sort of almost feeling of apathy, too, that life takes so much time to live, that we just don't have time to listen anymore."
Reitsma says even those who cling to the Gospel have trouble trusting the church. "You get a tremendous suspicion that is there because of the results of war. In war, you don't trust anybody. And that comes into the church, too."
With God's help, though, AIM is breaking down barriers. The ministry is gearing up for two Preachers' Workshops–one in Khartoum, one in Juba–in May, to refresh and motivate pastors as they spread God's Word.
Additionally, AIM is using digital audio players to load sermons, Bible stories, health talks and literacy lessons to care for people there. They also have TIMO groups living among tribes to learn about various cultures, and thus better respond to them spiritually.
These are just a few of the many programs AIM is using to reach out to the suffering Sudanese, Southern Sudanese, and border people in the region. There is much work still be done, and more workers are needed for the harvest.