The mission field is a tumultuous place. Or so we’ve heard. For nine months we thought we were going to experience a culture different than our own in Renk, South Sudan. We prepared to teach Greek and New Testament to a group of 25 seminarians and 15 clergy from the surrounding area at Renk Theological College, a regional seminary located in the northernmost part of South Sudan. As we gathered for our final logistical meeting in December, it quickly became apparent that it would no longer be safe to travel to the country.
Following an attempted coup on December 16th in Juba, the country’s capital, the U.S. State Department issued a travel advisory warning Americans against travel to South Sudan. The specific events and details surrounding the coup are quite hazy with each party having their own version of the story, but it essentially boils down to a power struggle in the newly formed country’s government. This conflict is a fight within a nation, a civil war. A more in depth description of the events leading to the current conflict can be found here.
Unfortunately this is not the first time that the Sudanese people have experienced fighting within their country. Prior to South Sudan’s independence in 2011, the people of the then united country of Sudan were devastated by over twenty years of civil war between the North and South. A full history of this struggle can be read here.
Even though none of us have ever lived amongst such tensions, our faith, our baptism and the lordship of Christ means that we belong to a worldwide church. This is a church that continues to testify to the grace of the Gospel even in places like South Sudan. While we are deeply saddened that we were not able to visit South Sudan in January, generations of Sudanese people have experienced years of fighting, suffering and uncertainty. Despite a recent ceasefire agreement, violence, suffering, and uncertainty remain.
During our first year of seminary, we were blessed to have the Rev. Jacob Majok as a fellow classmate. Jacob, the Principal at Renk Theological College, extended the original invitation to us to come and teach the students at his school. We were also able to meet with Bishop Joseph Garang Atem, current bishop of the Diocese of Renk, in preparation for our trip. At the AFRECS Conference in Chicago, we were able to hear from an additional three diocesan bishops and many friends of the Sudan. From such testimony and from such fellowship comes the challenge to deeper participation in the mission of God. We write this commentary to ask for your continued prayers and commitment to our brothers and sisters in South Sudan.
Benjamin Maddison, MDiv student from the Diocese of New Jersey
Mark Riley, MDiv student from the Diocese of Southern Virginia
David Tremaine, MDiv student from the Diocese of Florida
Chandler Whitman, MDiv student from the Diocese of West Tennessee