A Witness to Grace and Courage in South Sudan

Just days before we boarded a plane for South Sudan, another fight broke out along the boarder between Sudan and South Sudan.  Three days and five flights later we arrived in Malakal, a boarder town that just a few months ago witnessed two days of street fighting between rebel infiltrators from the north and South Sudanese militia. It was just one more of countless such battles that have taken place during the decades long civil war that ended with independence for South Sudan in July of 2011. The war, which claimed more that 2 million lives, has officially ended, but the fighting has not. In fact Sudanese President Bashir has recently declared that he intends to retake South Sudan and incorporate it back into Sudan. I have no doubt that the South Sudanese will resist that prospect with all they have. The latest round of fighting was set off when Sudanese planes bombed a town in South Sudan. The south retaliated and actually captured Heglig, a town in Sudan’s oil fields. Since then the sabers have been rattling overtime. Security in Malakal is a constant concern as I learned when I opened the door of the SUV we were to ride in and found that I was literally riding shotgun. An AK-47 was placed between my seat that the middle arm rest. A bullet hole was in the windshield in front of me at forehead level.

Riding shotgun, well actually riding "AK-47"

The root of the problem in Sudan and South Sudan is that Bashir has declared that Islamic Sharia law is to be imposed on all Sudan. He originally was content to let the Christian south secede so that he had little or no interference with his plan. It seems he hoped to also drive out Christians from Sudan and force them to move to South Sudan. Yet, hundreds of thousands of Christians remained in the north and continued to live out their Christian faith and witness. Despite threats, loss of jobs, destruction of homes, and numerous other hardships, they remain. Not only do they remain, but their service and love of their Muslim neighbors has resulted in continual conversions from Islam to Jesus. So Bashir’s latest statement is that the conflict will end either in Jubba, the capitol of South Sudan or in Khartoum, the capitol of Sudan. His meaning is clear. One country or the other will have to conquer and impose it’s will militarily.


For three days in Malakal, Pastor Gus Davies, John Tardonia, Alan Carpenter, and I had the blessed honor of working with some of the most courageous and gracious people I have ever met. I have been to numerous countries over the last several years and encountered people in all sorts of situations. Never have a met a group of people who have endured so much, for so long, with such grace, courage, and even joy. The pastors and leaders that we are working with in Sudan and South Sudan have known nothing but war for their entire lives. They all know people, including family members, who are among the 2 million dead. Yet, they see nothing but opportunities to love their neighbors and their enemies. Often those two groups, neighbor and enemy, are one and the same. It seems that they view this fact as being convenient. Instead of needing to love a neighbor and an enemy, they get to love both in one person, half the effort.

Not only is the war part of daily life, but so is poverty, sickness, and deprivations that we in the west would find shocking. Consider two numbers. First, 95% of South Sudanese will never finish primary school, or what we in American call elementary school. Second, 50 out of every 1,000 women giving birth will die doing so. One person told us, “If you are sick and go to the hospital you will die. If you are healthy and go to the hospital, you will get sick and then you will die”. Yet as these wonderful people speak of the hardships in their lives they do so with a smile as they talk about all the doors such hardship opens for sharing the Gospel and loving the needy. They don’t seem to knotice that they are among the needy.

One of many South Sudanese pastors who inspired me with his joy.

At Northland Church we talk about the Church Distributed. By that we mean, every follower of Christ takes the church with them, everywhere, everyday, and that a gathering of two or three people in Jesus name is the church gathered. You don’t need buildings to love and serve people for Jesus and you can start churches anywhere, in a home, a business, under a tree. In Malakal we completed the second level of Distributed Church training for 74 pastors and leaders. In the 5 months since they attended Level 1, nearly 1,000 people have come to faith in Christ because of their efforts, and churches are being started in homes and numerous other locations. Among the trainees were fourteen from Sudan. At the end of the training we gathering them together to pray for them as they were returning north to an uncertain future. There was no fear, anxiety, or consternation in any of them, only the anticipatory joy of heading back into the lions den in order to conquer the lion with the love of Christ. One of them told me of being threatened with his life on numerous occasions. With a laugh he told me that his response is always the same, “I say to them, if you kill me I just get to go and be with Jesus in heaven that much more quickly”. I know that he says it with all sincerity and with a joyous smile on his face. The response is always the same. They either walk away or get this puzzled look on their face which opens the door to talking about the Jesus he loves so deeply.

During the time in Malakal we also met with the head of the Roman Catholic Diocese, the Anglian Bishop, the Moderator of the Presbyterian Church of Sudan and the Minister of Health for Upper Nile State. Each of them demonstrated the same courage, faith, and joy that had become so common in our time there. All four are desperate for us to work with them in changing the culture of South Sudan. From training their pastors, of the 475 Presbyterian pastors less that 40% are trained, to providing medical care and clean water, the doors are wide open for ministry that will glorify God and change lives.

Since returning to Florida several people have asked if we were frightened to be there. The fighting going on was about 100 miles from Malakal. Pastor Gus and I have spoken often on this subject and the conclusion is always the same. When you know that God wants you to be someplace, then the safest place you can be is in that place. The most dangerous place you can be is someplace, anyplace, else. That doesn’t mean there is no danger. Things could go badly, quickly. But that is where one must trust that the Lord of the Universe, who called you to that place, has a better perspective than you do. Additionally, the South Sudanese are not nameless, anonymous people. The pastors we trained are our brothers and sisters in Christ. They are family. Our being there, if only for a few days, was a huge encouragement to them. They were reminded that they were not alone, that Christians from as far away as Florida were standing with them in the furtherance of the Gospel and the changing of the world. How could we possibly stay home in our comfort, knowing that family needs us? Putting up with a few days of no running water, 100+ temperatures with no A/C, and bed bugs that made my hands look like I stuck them in a fire ant mound, was not even worth fretting over if it meant being able to witness the grace and courage of these amazing saints.

Pastors having a tea break in Malakal, S. Sudan

Pray for them. Pray for Sudan and South Sudan. Pray that these pastors and leaders are able to change the culture and change their world. Pray that God will in deed supply all they need through the riches available in Christ Jesus our Lord. When you hear a news report or read a magazine article that mentions Sudan and South Sudan, don’t just gloss over it because it it over there, somewhere. Instead let that be the reminder that you too are connected with people there. Stop your reading if only for a moment and ask God to continue to bless them with grace and courage. While you are at it, ask Him to increase those things in your life too.

10 thoughts on “A Witness to Grace and Courage in South Sudan

  1. Our family was called deep into Mexico to minister to a missionary family last year just about the time the massive number of bodies killed by the drug cartel were being unearthed. Right before we left, we learned that we were staying just a couple blocks away from the largest graveyard. Where the stench from the corpses hung in the air. We were warned by many it was too dangerous to travel there. However, we were convinced, as were you, to be anywhere ELSE would be unsafe.

    Only when we’re in the center of God’s plan are we safe. Even if in the middle of gunfire. I’d rather be no where else.

  2. Dan Lacich

    Cristal, you really do refuse to tiptoe. 🙂 I love it! Thanks for sharing about your trip to Mexico.

  3. So the problem in Sudan, according to what I read here, is that people are killing each other, persecuting each other, and burning down each other’s home over which particular mythology, Christianity and Islam, both offshoots of Judaism, itself a huge mythology, is more true.

    How does one tell?

    You believe Christianity, Bashir believes Islam. No Biblical references, please. A Muslim would supply Koran quotes to prove his side, which would be just as useless.

    When do you suppose this will end?

  4. Thank you so much for yet another very inspiring blog post. In response to The Other Wierdo’s comment, this will end when the world ends. God never promised the Christians or the Jews that there would be heaven on earth, OR that we would ever have “full sway” over the world. The only time when there will be just us who believe in Christ Jesus as our Lord and Saviour, and our God, and that will be in Heaven.

  5. Pingback: Some “Pastoral” movements for my day | A View From The Middle (Class)

  6. Dan Lacich

    The Other Weirdo,
    The history of the conflict in Sudan and South Sudan goes back centuries to when Arab Muslims began to enslave the southern Africans. It became more intense in recent decades once Bashir took over the north and began to impose sharia law. Talk to those in the south, Christian and non-Christian and you will hear people saying they just want the north to leave them alone. Talk to people in the north and they will tell you that Bashir wants to reconquer the south. When will it end? When Bashir is gone or decides to abide by the UN resolution that he claimed to support a year ago.

    As to the mythology of it all I can only speak to the historicity of the existence of Jesus and the subsequent growth of Christianity from that historical event. I am curious what parts of Christianity you consider mythical since the historical existence of Jesus and the basic outline of what we know of his life is agreed to by even the most skeptical of secular historians. The only people who say that Jesus didn’t exist are non-scholars who repeat that as a mantra in spite of historical method.

  7. That was a better answer than the drooling over the apocalypse one I got earlier.

    I don’t say that Jesus didn’t exist. You’re right, I’m no historian. He may well have,though contemporary non-biblical accounts seem limited to oblique references to Christians. A few do point directly to Jesus, but they seem to approach the subject as something had been said about him living there, as hearsay.Were any of his miracles recorded?

    But even if he did exist at that time and place, so what? Does the fact a religion sprung up around him prove what the same religion says about him? The Church of Scientology arose less than 60 years ago, created by a man whose historicity is beyond reproach, and has now spread across the world. Does that make it true?

    Islam arose out of a historical event. Does that make it true?

    North Koreans worship their dead leaders as gods. They’re obviously historical people. Does that make them gods, or what is claimed about them real?

    Mythology may well be based on real people, places and events, but does that make it any more real?

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