South Sudan Crisis
South Sudan was exposed as bellicose and brittle from Dec. 15, 2013, when Dinka soldiers in the national army (SPLA) tried to disarm Nuer soldiers, and went on to kill Nuer civilians in Juba. Artillery was fired inside the national capital of Juba, the only city with paved roads in the country. Former Vice president Riek Machir, the strongest Nuer leader, went to the bush to fight against the government, whose president, Salva Kiir, is Dinka. State capitals of Bor and Bientu were eventually leveled. Nuers retaliated against Dinka in Bor and heavy fighting continued for days between government troops and 15,000 rebel troops until the government, with Ugandan help, retook control.
As Thomas Sowell notes, competition between ethnic groups and tribes is historically normal1. This may turn violent—some tribes are more warlike than others (Gen. 16:12; 25:17-18). Tribalism is a virulent form of ethnocentrism, because of more obvious bloodlines and unique culture. The favoritism this engenders is an often overlooked defect of African Christianity. Africa has 116 tribes with over 10 million members2. It’s difficult to unify South Sudan’s 87 people groups, in roughly the land mass of Texas. The Dinka are the largest of these tribal groups, with about 3.7 million members, and Nuer number 1.5 million3. The Nuer actually derive from the Dinka. Tribal membership is stronger than considering one’s self S. Sudanese, normal for a new nation.
What hasn’t been in the news is that the Dinka have a very high percentage of professing Christians. The Central Dinka (40,000) are 92% animist, but the other six Dinka tribes are between 75-92% Christian. Dinkas were reached with the Gospel nearly 100 years ago. Nuer, who centuries earlier lived in more remote areas, apparently were not as accessible4. It took the second civil war with the Arab Khartoum government to create such a climate of desperation that Dinka turned in large numbers to Christ5. In fact, the fashioning of crosses in various materials, worn and carried, became a defining symbol of Dinka Christians6. The two major Nuer tribes are between 70-75% animist--a huge divide. Nuer rebels looted Catholic and Presbyterian churches, and a Christian orphanage and hospital in Malakal, northeastern S. Sudan7.
For both tribes, cattle have been the primary form of wealth8. For generations, Dinka and Nuer (among others) have raided the other, stealing cattle and abducting young women and children, but not burning homes or killing people. Then with the advent of raids by the Arab-backed Baggara groups, a national army, AK-47s and probably about 50 years of brutal civil war, taboos were broken, and women and children became targets of killing and houses burned, inciting deadlier revenge cycles9. In November 1991, Machir’s Nuer massacred as many as 2,000 Dinka in the Bor area10.
What are the consequences of this rebellion? S. Sudan was already perceived as one of the most corrupt nations—174th worst out of the 177 nations rated11. In June 2013, Kiir asked over 75 former government officials to return 4 billion US dollars in looted money12. I saw a sign touting funds given to improve the Juba—Yei road. That rickety sign was the only enduring evidence of the project. At places I feared that our Land Cruiser would tip over. We passed a van with windshield lettering, “God Help Me”. S. Sudan has probably been set back years. Aid is now for the emergency, rather than development. The honeymoon with the international community is over. S. Sudan will be held to higher accountability and will have a proposed 5,500 UN troop increase. The case for a new moral and spiritual foundation has been made since Dec. 15, in the blood of about 10,000 people and the displacement of at least 646,00013.
The limits of financial aid have been clear. Africa has received one trillion dollars in aid in the last 50 years--300 billion of it since 1970. During this time there has been slower economic growth and higher poverty rates14. What is needed is a biblical worldview encompassing how wealth is created and used, how to live before God, the rule of law, responsibilities of citizen and official, and biblical morality overall. It provides a platform for foreign investment, as laws protective of property and favorable to honest business are enacted and enforced, shifting away from aid. It addresses reconciliation with enemies, and care of women, children, the elderly, refugees, and love for different tribespeople.
A society can be transformed through decades of evangelism, church planting and discipleship that permeate a culture and change ungodly elements. The “internal culture” of a people—the work ethic, beliefs, history and social structure, are what determine economic advancement, as Thomas Sowell has demonstrated historically15. More important, it brings glory to God as the Good News brings more abundant life to the entire society. The costly cross of Jesus provides a payment made for the sins of the world, in every form. Our personal debt to God is greater than what others owe us. There is no more universal or adequate ground for reconciliation than the ground at the foot of the cross, if that payment is accepted. So the church must lead the way in reconciliation. I received a credible report that some church leaders are not ready, and the government may not be including the church in current peace negotiations16.
RMNI attempts to create redemptive partnerships in S. Sudan. Communication with Sudanese partners is year-round. We’re assisting the International School Project of CRU in reaching officials in Eastern Equatoria State to implement a 5-year worldview transformation program among S. Sudanese teachers, who influence a generation of children. Through Lookout Mountain Presbyterian Ch. we’re sending $3,000 to youth in Torit for Bibles, as they evangelize. Through Lookout church, four men are currently being trained at Westminster Theological College and Seminary to form the faculty of a future Bible school in Juba. Through a three-way partnership among 3rd Mil, The Presbyterian Church of S. Sudan and Lookout Ch., between 15-20 Christian workers have earned a certificate for a one-year Certificate of Christian Ministry program. With each team, there is possibility for new partnerships. We’ve worked among S. Sudanese in the Kiryondongo Refugee Settlement in Uganda in 1999 and 2000 and have taken 7 teams into S. Sudan, beginning in 2006.
Consider joining us July 12-26, 2014, and please pray. Torit escaped violence. Our short-term teams are mobile, do not require a costly mission base in-country, and can be very responsive to the priorities of local churches, as long-term relationships are developed. This is not a time for fear or retreat, but time to move into the needs with the potential of God’s all-sufficient resources. Jesus is the only basis for reconciliation with the Father, and the best foundation for reconciliation with enemies.
1 Thomas Sowell, Race and Culture, 1994, p. 226.
3 World Christian Database, South Sudan metrics, 2010
4 David Fiensy, “Using the Nuer Culture of Africa in Understanding the Old Testament: An evaluation”, JSOT, Vol. 38, p. 79
5 Marc R. Nikkel, “The Cross of Bor Dinka Christians: a working Christology in face of displacement and death”, Studies in World Christianity, 1:2, 1995, p. 161
6 Nikkel, p. 161 ff.
8 Among the more southern Lopid tribe with which we have worked, a bride-price may be 20 or more head of cattle.
9 Sharon Hutchinson, “Nuer Ethnicity Militarized,” Anthropology Today, June 2000, p. 2ff
14 Dambisa Moyo, Dead Aid, 2009, p. 28,35.
15 Sowell, p. 228-9;
In This Issue:
- South Sudan Crisis
- RMNI Update
- Prayer Power
- 2014 Trips
July 12–26, 2014
Our eighth trip—we're able to design ministry opportunities in Torit around your gifting. Evangelists, teachers, builders and medical personnel are needed. The fee is $2300, plus airfare to Africa, visas, immunizations and outfitting. Please contact us at 423-822-1091 for updated information.
August 16–19, 2014
Our fourth partnership with this well-established and loving Indian ministry, we need teachers of youth, men and women for several venues. Medical personnel are also able to work in this environment. The fee is $2,300, plus airfare to India, visa, immunizations and outfitting. Apply now.
Prayer & Praise
- 5 Board members (of 8) need to be replaced in 2014, as they come off 3-year terms. We need the best candidates.
- Pray for wisdom for Westside church leadership and for radical salvations. Two local leaders moved away, and we need to develop new ones.
- That we will pray more effectively.
- For excellent team members for S. Sudan and India.
- We need wisdom, leading from God, personnel, and open doors.
- Pray for peace in S. Sudan and deep reconciliation among enemies. Pray that RMNI will be able to pursue a common vision with several S. Sudanese ministry partners.
- Pray that several ministry partners from the USA working with us in S. Sudan will be able to accomplish what God wants to do through them.
- Pray for the preparation of four S. Sudanese church leaders taking degrees at Westminster college and seminary in Uganda. They will provide the basis for a new Bible college in S. Sudan.
- The core research team of four others and I need wisdom to be able to locate as many AfAm missionaries as possible. Then we need wisdom to publish our findings in various ways.
- Westside: Consuela is growing, and Kristie is still discipling her. Bobby asked for help to get a specific job, and Harry is trying to be rehired at the same company.
- I need good time management, particularly as involvement with our church’s missions committee increases over spring and summer.
- Judy enjoys teaching 4 mornings a week at a classical school.
Jim Sutherland, PhD, Director
PO Box 2537
Chattanooga, TN 37409-0537
Mobilizing the African American Church for Global Mission