By the waters of Babylon
there we sat down and wept
when we remembered Zion.
On the willows there
we hung up our lyres . .
How shall we wing the LORD's song
in a foreign land?
This Psalm came to mind this morning as we life up the people of Mundri, South Sudan, in prayer.
For those who are following the story, four years ago the country gained independence from the Northern Khartoum government with celebration, hope, energy, expectation that after decades of war the people would at last know peace. Our team was there, and redoubled efforts in training primary school teachers, theology students, agriculturalists, health workers. Mundri is a cross-roads trading town, settled by industrious independent people who maintain gardens, care for their kids, offer hospitality, and worship God. We work with the Episcopal Church of Sudan, the primary denomination in the area, sharing office space and a living compound with Bishop Bismarck's family.
Fast forward to six months ago when the fragile, oft-disturbed peace deteriorated precipitously. Our team came out for our Africa Field Retreat and has not been able to return, except for a brief trip to bring aid and encourage friends. People have intermittently fled from their homes then tentatively moved back. The economy is crashing, tribalistic fears of annihilation or loss of territory lead to violence, and every time the elders scramble to try and bring people to the table for dialogue the process seems to be hijacked by the rash actions of local militias and the military both.
But even that uneasy balance has now plummeted into all-out internal disaster. In the last week, all of the news has gone from bad to worse. The local militia called the "arrow boys" and the SPLA state-sponsored-official-army have attacked not only each other, but also targeted civilians. The town emptied into the vast territory of deserted scrub-land, walking, hobbling, sheltering under trees, searching for food and drinkable water. This is rainy season, which means malaria explodes, particularly when people are sleeping outside, and are weak. For the first few days people clustered within walking distance, contacting each other by cell phone, waiting for peace. Then helicopters appeared opening fire, and tanks shot missiles into buildings. Some civilians have now made their way to other towns, as far away as Yei. One friend of the church delivered a baby under a tree on the second or third night. Another was killed by the arrow boys as she was suspected of being an informer to the SPLA. Our team got news of the church buildings being destroyed and looted, and everything being stolen from their homes.
Larissa (formerly a Serger in Mundri) sent out this photo from happier times, of Mama V and her family in happier days past, which particularly grabbed my heart because we have met her more than once on our own visits to Mundri. They are one of the few groups we know made it to Yei.
A few days ago, another former Serger Scott sent this message out from one of his friends, before all the phone batteries died: "He said two things: 1. Greet everyone. 2. Please tell everyone to keep on praying for us, the situation is very bad. Don't forget us. We can not forget you."
So yesterday as I prayed for these friends, I thought about the small taste of running-for-your-life-from-war we had many years ago. I was pregnant (not that I knew it yet), carrying 9-month-old Julia, while Scott had 2-year-old Caleb, and 4-year-old Luke alternated running on his own and being helped by a pre-med student who was a few days into a summer internship is now an academic physician working in Tanzania. So here are some prayers from my heart, remembering those times and grieving for our Sudanese family:
1. To meet kindness along the way. Being given space over a cooking fire, and porridge, was huge.
2. To get reliable information. Rumors abound, no one knows what direction is safe. People on the run need information to make decisions.
3. To gain enough attention for life-sustaining aid. We focused on that once we escaped long ago. Our team has already raised some funds, and is in discussion for the best way to be a stop-gap quick-response link in the slower moving chain of international relief response. This link takes you to the page for that fund.
4. For the rest and nutrition they need to ward off disease. Dysentery really wiped us out on the run. The people of Mundri will be very very vulnerable to malaria, measles, cholera, etc.
5. For justice to return. In our case, the army restored peace by chasing the rebels back over the border. In Mundri, this is much more complex. The lines between good and evil are not clearly associated with one group or the other. So much fear. Opportunities for looting mean more and more loss. Suspicion. Gary Haugen writes in The Locust Effect that violence plagues the poor in cycles that make development almost impossible. This book is one of the most influential ones I have read in the last year (thanks to LB). Long term solutions in South Sudan seem very far away, and too many children will not live to see that day.
6. For the displaced to find comfort in the reminder of Emmanuel, God with us. Jesus ran for his life as a baby. The people of God have been plagued by war, by looting, by displacement. We have a high priest who has known our suffering. Evil has been defeated but God mercifully allows for a subtle slow eradication, that many might choose life. Pray for the people of Mundri to cry out honestly about their needs, and to meet the comfort of Jesus in their suffering.