A few weeks ago I returned from my 3rd trip to Uganda to work with our partners from South Sudan. With each successive trip it becomes more difficult for me to mentally cope with the struggles I hear about from our friends. They are stuck in the middle of a civil war that is rife with corruption and greed on both sides and at this point have little hope for the future of their young nation.
Just a brief history on South Sudan before I march forward because the context will help to paint a picture of what’s happening. In July of 2011, South Sudan became the newest country on the planet and was separated from the nation of Sudan. In an attempt to unify the country it was decided to have a president from one major tribal group in the country and a vice president from the other. In theory this was a great idea, in practice it did not work well. Fast forward to December 2013. President Salva Kiir accuses vice president Riek Machar of plotting a coup and removes him from office. Because he was already accused and likely would be in worse shape for defending himself, he went ahead and gathered his troops and began to fight.
Since the beginning of this conflict there have been over 300,000 people killed and over 1,000,000 have been displaced from their homes. Although multiple ceasefires have been agreed to, they are broken shortly after with both sides beginning to point fingers at the other. Most recently a new string of violence in July sent thousands fleeing into neighboring nations to try and find safety in the refugee camps. In Adjumani, the camp where half of our partners are currently living, there are 40,000 people. These people are lucky to get one meal per day, most don’t have sufficient shelter, there is no land to grow their own food, and there are limited health facilities. Having one health facility for around 4,000 people wouldn’t be a terrible ratio in a healthy nation, but nearly all of these people are sick or injured.
So with that background, imagine our partners showing up after riding an overnight bus for 8 hours. They are tired, sore, sad, broken, and looking for hope. The purpose of our training is to help them to identify locally available resources to meet community-identified problems and work out solutions to improve the life and health of their communities. For 3 years we have been focusing on what this looks like in their community and they no longer have that. Those still in Nimule are living in tremendous insecurity. Others who are living in the refugee camps are doing all they can to keep themselves and their families alive from day to day.
This is where my internal battle comes face to face with the internal battle that is happening in South Sudan. What is our role? How can we actually help such a broken nation? Our default as Americans is to send money because that’s all we know. While that can and does help at times, this has been one of the leading causes of conflict in Africa over the past 50 years. Billions of dollars are sent every year to various nations in Africa and very little of that money makes its way to the people who need it most. Instead it is controlled by corrupt government officials who spend it on themselves.
During my last trip to Uganda we took a walk with some of our partners down to the market by the guesthouse we were staying in. As we were walking they pointed to a string of brand new town homes that were being built on a hillside in Kampala and asked if we knew what those were. Of course we had no idea and asked them to explain. “That’s relief money from the West being used to build houses for South Sudanese government leaders to move into when the country collapses.” My heart nearly dropped out of my chest and my stomach turned in knots. Some of these men and women were running an orphanage with 48 kids who were not assured of getting food every day, and money that was sent to help them, was being used by government leaders planning on the collapse of the country they’re responsible to run.
So where does this leave me? In all honesty, still struggling. I shared at church the other week about how hard this has been because I want to be real with our congregation. People have followed up and asked how I’ve been processing the experience. My answer has been: lots of prayer, following up with our leaders, and working on ways to get money into the hands of those who will use it responsibly.
Thank you to those who have been praying and continue to pray for our leaders there. Thank you for those that have reached out to me. Know that this is a long road ahead for all those involved but we are committed as a church to stand alongside our friends as they endure this difficult season.