South Sudan (MNN) — The United Nations is critical of both sides of the civil war in the world’s newest country, South Sudan.
Jeff Stam, Set Free Ministries International Director says, “I just received last week reports from the United Nations Refugee Agency. They’re reporting that there’s renewed fighting, skirmishes going on in the southern part of South Sudan that the refugees are continuing to pour into northern Uganda.”
Since the beginning of this year, 6,000 refugees have crossed into Uganda, trying to escape the fighting. In December 2013, an outbreak of violence in the capital of Juba quickly engulfed the entire northern part of the country in conflict, impacting large swaths of the population.
What started as a political fight quickly metastasized into a war along ethnic lines, mainly between the Dinka and Nuer communities. Now, with the hopes of a free and peaceful South Sudan dashed after 2009’s hope, there are growing concerns that South Sudan could tip into a failed state.
With no fully-functioning government in place, and the displaced numbering nearly 1.7 million, food insecurity is the next man-made crisis, threatening a third of the population. Education falls by the wayside with bigger fish to fry.
Set Free Ministries was originally involved in peace and reconciliation process in South Sudan among church leaders. Stam observes, “The schools have not re-opened because the villagers have not returned. Perhaps 25% of the villagers have come back.” However, “It was brought to our attention that there was a primary and secondary school in the small village of Werkok that had been vacant for almost three years.”
If it’s peaceful enough to open a school, people will come back. And from there, says Stam, “We approached the government and offered the possibility of opening those schools if they would give us the land and the buildings. We would try to open them in an attempt to draw people back to the villages.” But that’s the hang-up, too. It has to be safe enough to come home. The big question: Is it sate? The answer depends on where you look.
The uncertainty could have been the end of the conversation. Stam says then, they came across a little boy in primary grade 4 inside one of the school’s abandoned offices. He’d found a small opening in one of the grates that led inside. The child had squeezed through the opening and was found sorting through piles. “There were a lot of old textbooks, some of them were in very poor condition. But he was looking through those textbooks trying to find something that he could use to try to continue his education on his own.” Since the government was willing to give the land and the school buildings to Set Free Ministries, their next step was clear.
Stam says tackling a school meant dealing with some big issues. First, inter-tribal conflict is always an underlying tension. Because it is inbred from the time people are children up until their adult years, “Our goal for the high school was to very purposefully make it inter-tribal, attracting students from the various leading tribes to try to promote peace and reconciliation through the educational process.” They are aware “that this social experiment could blow up in our faces, if something happens at the school.”
It will be especially challenging since “[the government] just made very significant changes in the whole structure of the country. There used to be 10 states; now, they’ve divided up into 28 states, and the boundaries are more along tribal geography rather than the political geography.”
The main issues: bitterness and forgiveness. Aside from a quality education, Stam explains Set Free’s spiritual approach. ”We use a process that I like to refer to as a ‘spiritual inventory’ looking at different areas where Satan can possibly gain ground or possibly a foothold in our lives.” Utilizing the same principles that they use in addressing spiritual warfare in discipling the students, they’re equipping a generation to forge a different identity, “so that they don’t have a crisis as adults that they have to have somebody else address, simply because they learned how to deal with these things at an earlier age.”
They’d like to see the high school re-open at the beginning of the 2017 school year, late January. The primary school should open as soon as possible, because it’s a direct benefit to the village, adds Stam. “The first step we have now is to bring the buildings back up to a usable condition. We’re working with a contractor; we’re praying for somebody that can be our liaison in South Sudan.”
Then, they’re looking for the kind of Christian instructors who place education on the same level of importance as discipleship. “We need to find some qualified teachers to be able to start working as soon as possible in the primary school. We’re look at Sudanese teachers, but we’re also open to the idea of expat teachers.”
Stam asks you to join him in prayer for wisdom on how to construct the right kind of curriculum to make this idea fly. The staff will need strength to hold discipline in equal parts love and strength. The ministry needs the right people who want to be in on the ground level of a unique approach to generational reconciliation for a country. Big ideas need room to be Set Free. Click here to get started.