South Sudan’s Oaks of Righteousness

Tree South Sudan

‘We see it like a big tree with a lot of branches and leaves but the roots are shallow. Any big wind can push it down.’

This is how Archbishop Badi, the Primate of the province of South Sudan, describes the Church in his country. Broad but unstable. Precarious. But Isaiah 42 promises Christ’s justice and compassion, assurance for even the most fragile of believers:

Behold my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights; I have put my Spirit upon him; he will bring forth justice to the nations. He will not cry aloud or lift up his voice, or make it heard in the street; a bruised reed he will not break, and a faintly burning wick he will not quench; he will faithfully bring forth justice.

And justice is greatly needed in South Sudan. Two years have passed since the nation’s leaders signed an agreement to end the devastating civil war which killed 3.3% of the population. Although there is peace on paper, fighting persists. The UN recorded 415 instances of intercommunal violence in January-May 2020, more than three times the number recorded in the same months of 2018, when the war was still ongoing.

Tank by the side of the road

Sadly, Christians have not been spared from appalling violence. In August, gunmen stormed St Luke’s Cathedral in Jonglei State and tragically murdered 33 people, including the Dean Daniel Garang Ayuen. The entire village was set on fire and six children were abducted and later killed.

Beyond violence, further threats are high in number. More than half of the population do not have enough to eat on a daily basis – waves of locusts decimating crops adds to this food insecurity. Floods in vulnerable areas like Wanglei and Gondokoro are ruining livelihoods, displacing thousands from their homes and offering a breeding ground to deadly water-related diseases and malaria. While COVID-19 has not run riot, the lockdown accompanying it will have destructive consequences for what is already the weakest economy in the world.

In response to these challenges Archbishop Badi’s vision is for gospel growth, for the Holy Spirit to work in professing believers’ hearts:

…in order to strengthen [the Church], we prioritise evangelism and discipleship training…We estimate to be 80% Christians but what is happening? There are revenge killings and all the evils are done by Christians…They come to our churches but the root of Christianity is not there in them.

There are some seeds of hope in South Sudan. Education institutions, including the Jonglei Health Sciences Institute, are now permitted to reopen following the coronavirus lockdown. There is some belief that free and fair elections could take place in the next few years for the first time since the country was founded in 2011, with the right support mechanisms in place.

But the greatest seed of hope is Christ – to heal divisions, to meet the needs of His people, to give the free gift of salvation. The Son of God brings the good news to the poor, heals the broken-hearted, proclaims liberty to the captives, brings judgment upon evil and comforts those who mourn. Those who receive Jesus are ‘oaks of righteousness’ (Isaiah 61:3). In Jesus, Archbishop Badi’s tree with many branches can find deep-rooted nourishment.

And God delights in using His people to care for His people. With the help of our supporters, AID works to build a foundation for gospel hope and peace to take root in South Sudan. Our project partners, many of whom are from the communities in which they work like the Trumpeters (pictured), combine sustainable poverty alleviation efforts with spiritual transformation to achieve these aims. That is the vision of AID. Not just to run discrete development programmes and strengthen the Church but rather initiatives which enable people, the ‘oaks of righteousness’, to bear fruit and grow in Christ their root.

There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit. And the Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him, the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord.

Isaiah 11:1-2