South Sudan (MNN) — South Sudan has become an ever-intensifying pressure cooker of bloodshed and violence. In a report released Wednesday, UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon cautioned there is a “very real risk of mass atrocities” in South Sudan.
The warnings come in light of a severe rise in ethnic provocations and hate speech in the already-volatile nation.
While the nearly 14,000 UN peacekeepers in South Sudan will carry out “all necessary means” to protect citizens, the report stated, “It must be clearly understood that United Nations peacekeeping operations do not have the appropriate manpower or capabilities to stop mass atrocities.”
Violence From All Sides
But who exactly is carrying out these extreme attacks and mass killings? Unfortunately, it’s difficult to boil down to just ‘this group versus that group’. The BBC describes land disputes, clashes between the northern government forces and the pro-SPLA (Sudan People’s Liberation Army), and rivaling ethnic groups peppering the mix.
We spoke with Tom Zurowski, a field officer with Voice of the Martyrs, Canada in South Sudan and neighboring countries. “Women are being raped, children are being stolen, people are being killed, villages are being burned out, and it’s not from one group. It’s from many groups.”
Zurowski continues, “I’ve been there since 1999 working and have been there 57 times. I can tell you things are worse today than they’ve ever been only for this reason. During the war, if you want to call it ‘the big war’ where two million people were killed, it was a horrible time back in the 90s and early 2000s. But everyone knew where the frontline was. Today, it’s different. Today, every front door is the frontline. So no one knows what’s coming their way each and every day.”
Part of Zurowski’s work is in Kogi, a village nestled in the bush of South Sudan. Less than a month ago, he heard of an attack nearby.
“The three villages that surround Kogi were all burned to the ground. So everyone’s possessions are gone. There’s over 1,500 people right now sleeping under plastic tarps provided by the U.N.; that’s their only housing they have.
“On a personal note, there was a man I knew who I’d met several times who’s handicapped. They burned him alive in his own bed. He was not able to get out of bed, so they burned his house down. They knew he was in there, and they burned him to death. His son, who is a father of six and a husband, tried to get back to help his father and they shot and killed him.”
Zurowski shares, “This is right where we’re working, and the situation is dire. It is so difficult, and the main thing is there is no food. They’re running out of food. The UNHCR (High Commission for Refugees) in South Sudan has distributed like a powder porridge that’s mixed with water and then it’s heated. It’s very high in nutrition, but they’re running out of it.”
Ministry Affected, But Not Stopped
The fighting and violence have made ministry in South Sudan extremely difficult. Several major NGOs have left the country.
“When I was there last time, our intention was to provide them with a water well right there at the internally displaced people’s camp. But the people who drill the wells said the insecurity is way too much and they would not even come out and provide a well for them.”
While the team couldn’t dig the well, they were able to distribute God’s Word to the villagers and believers there.
“We provided them with solar-powered Bibles. Most of the people we work with are illiterate, they cannot read a Bible, but they sure can listen to the Word of God. Before we passed those out, I shared with them about forgiveness…. Again, these are friends of mine, and I know when we go through tough times, we need somebody to remind us of what the Word of God says, what the heart of Jesus is for the situations we’re in.”
Prayers for Resilience
He says right now, the villagers – and even the Christians – are emotionally and spiritually drained from all the fighting. In addition to the encouragement of God’s Word, they would love to know you are praying.
“Whenever I ask, ‘What is it that you most need from the people in the United States or in Canada? What is the thing you most need?’ And they always say, ‘Would you please pray for us? We need prayer. We know that only God can get us out of this.’”
Zurowski asks, “Please pray for genuine, authentic peace in South Sudan. The people are in desperate need of a move of God to bring peace, because only He can bring it. Only God can give them the peace they need.”
If you’d like to support Voice of the Martyrs, Canada as they minister in South Sudan and other volatile areas, click here!
“Here’s the one thing I would say about giving to ministries specifically,” Zurowski adds. “Give to ministries that you know of their character, you know what they’re doing. They’ve been consistent for years and years and years. I think of Voice of the Martyrs, Canada working in South Sudan. They have never quit, even when the persecution stopped when the people in the South became independent, The Voice of the Martyrs, Canada never stopped giving to the people of South Sudan because they knew they had a long way to go before things were going to be okay with them.”
Zurowski and several others will be speaking on the persecuted Church at Voice of the Martyrs, Canada’s Momentum Conference. The event is this Saturday in Oakville, Canada.
He explains, “It’s not just [to] go and spend your Saturday and spend some time with other Christians. No, these conferences are so important. One thing I’ve often said is the greatest gift God has ever given to my family is relationship with the persecuted Church. The suffering persecuted Church around the world teaches us what it means to truly be disciples of Jesus Christ. It teaches us about the cost of following Jesus.
“So any kind of conference like the Momentum Conference this weekend for Voice of the Martyrs, Canada, I would encourage as many people as possible to go to these conferences and become friends with your persecuted and suffering brothers and sisters around the world. Let their lives speak to you and bring about a change in you that God wants to do to make you a greater disciple of Jesus Christ.”