South Sudan (ODM/MNN) — So much for the ceasefire in South Sudan.
Fighting broke out in South Sudan’s Upper Nile state, officials say. These are the first major clashes since the government and rebels signed a ceasefire agreement last month. Both sides have accused each other of starting the violence in Malakal, the capital of Upper Nile state.
South Sudan has been in turmoil since Dec. 15, when a dispute within the army sparked fierce fighting in the capital city, Juba.
Fighting spread quickly across the country and soon took on an ethnic dimension after President Salva Kiir of the Dinka tribe alleged that his former vice-president, Riek Machar of the Nuer tribe, was planning a coup. The Dinka tribe is the largest in South Sudan; the Nuer is the second largest and boasts a deadly tribal militia.
The United Nations estimates that nearly two thirds of the country’s population–up to 7 million people–were at risk of some level of food insecurity. About half are facing emergency or acute levels. About 900,000 people have fled their homes since December.
Since the conflict erupted, several churches have been attacked and looted, and pastors harassed. The most affected areas are the north-eastern states of Jonglei, Unity, and Upper Nile. Bor, the headquarters of Jonglei State, was totally destroyed, with houses, food stores, shops, banks, and churches burnt down and looted, according to the Episcopal Church of Sudan.
David Curry, president and CEO of Open Doors USA, explains: “Because of the danger, because of the upheaval, we’ve had to really watch our operations. It’s been difficult for people to get there, and it’s really slowed it down.”
Church leaders have called for peace and reconciliation and have emphasized the roots of the crisis as political. Curry says, “We try to make sure that the communities that represent Jesus, schools/churches, are centerpieces in their communities for healing and for help.”
The ministry has a school they support in the region. Curry admits there have been a lot of challenges to keeping Emmanuel Christian College going during the fighting. “We always have to stay flexible in the midst of these things. We don’t want to stop doing what we’re doing just because there’s instability. The reality is: wherever Open Doors is working is where Christians are persecuted. So there are no ‘perfect’ situations.”
For a time, the fighting completely disrupted the school. However, a staff member at Emmanuel Christian College noted, “Initially, we planned to open the college on Jan. 20. However, due to the insecurity, we postponed the opening to Feb. 3. On that day the college opened for all the programs, although some students did not turn up because their regions are badly affected by the war. Currently, there are 120 students in the college and 204 in the primary and secondary school section. Classes in all sections are running normally.
“The Commissioner of Yei County visited the college [recently]. He deliberately came to brief the students and give them assurance that the Yei County is peaceful. Our foreign tutors are all present in the college and the school, doing their normal duties.”
However, there has been mixed news from the regional training centers. In Bor, where fighting has caused major damage, the Open Doors training center was looted, but otherwise left standing. At Aweil everything is going well, and training will start in March. Curry says, “We now have a strategy to move to another location and to keep services going as well.”
Keeping the training on track is part of their long-term strategic effort, too. Curry goes on to add, “If we could see good things happen in South Sudan, it could spread to other countries. To the north, you have Egypt. To the south, you have North Africa.”
“We thank God for His protection and care. Keep on praying for the discussions in Addis to bear fruit so that all the regions in South Sudan will enjoy peace,” concluded the Open Doors staff member. Curry agrees, saying, “When you have these sorts of upheavals, people know they can come to a church for love and for care, and for basic staples, and in this case, training pastors, and building churches in the communities that will be hope and light.”