Thursday, June 02, 2011

Southern Discomfort

Sudan. The name brings strong feelings to many people. For fellow Christians in North America, images and stories of persecution and hardship for fellow Christians come to mind. Sudan has ranked among the highest countries for persecution according to several lists. For those who live in Europe or the Middle East, the memories of Sudan's struggle revolve around oil, resources, and moving the southerners out of the way.

Many missionaries received a wonderful surprise this January when a historic vote did not turn into bloodshed or signal a resumption of civil war. For AIM AIR, it meant a busier schedule as we support renewed and additional thrusts into what will soon be the Republic of South Sudan.

But, the honeymoon may be soon over.

When sharing with many people over the last four months about why we do what we do, I typically mentioned Sudan's bad roads during the rainy season, and Kenya's bone jarring and robber strewn roads in the north. However, highway robbery has hit south Sudan in a big way recently. One tribe in particular reigns with terror over a section of highway from Lokichoggio to Torit. At least two mission agencies do not allow their workers to drive that route now.

A friend tells me there is increased crime in the cities, like Torit and Juba. Most of the criminals, in a bizarre twist, are educated, most likely educated abroad as refugees, and have returned to Sudan. Perhaps their taste of western culture leaves an empty taste for materials and possessions now that they are back home, and they choose crime to obtain them.

He told me about a mechanic who used to work in Loki, and now opened up a shop in Eastern Equatoria. While driving, he picked up another Sudanese man. As they drove, the passenger brags to the mechanic that he killed a woman. Not only that, he has a tongue in his back pocket as a trophy. When he pulled it out, the driver stopped the car and beat him within an inch of his life. He hauled him off to the police.Through several days of turture, the murderer told them that government officials in Khartoum had sent 120 people down to the south with instructions to kill randomly any southerners. Unfortunately, most of the victims end up being women.

Finally, corruption continues to flourish, and finances remain mismanaged, misappropriated, and mysterious. Most government workers are paid weeks late. One government worker clocks in, then rides his motorcycle taxi around all day collecting fares. He returns to the office and clocks out. Eventually he will be paid, but today he needs the fares to make ends meet.

Other people not even living in Sudan are on the government payroll. Cousins, nephews, and uncles of policemen, government officials, etc. come to visit from abroad, and ask to be paid a salary. The payroll grows to include their names, and they return home to the US, Australia, or wherever.

My friend jokes, "South Sudan doesn't have social security. You don't need it. They'll pay you for not even working."

Our fellow missionaries and pastors face unusual and tough challenges. The days of direct oppression and opposition from the north may be over, but new and strange hurdles emerge. Please keep all of us who work for the Good News in this soon to be new country. We need creativity to work around these challenges, wisdom, a sense of humor, and constant reminder that God knows and has a plan.

Also, the border areas between north and south are flaring up. Certain towns have been bombed, and tension continues to escalate. This month AIM AIR's flights, in partnership with other Christian organizations, included surveying internally displaced people along soon to be border, and delivering relief supplies. Please keep those areas in your prayers, too!




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