by Summer Kelley
It's easy not to stop and think about the statistics we hear. We face a constant barrage of horrific reports of inhumane situations day in and day out. There isn't even time to reflect on all of them. And if we do, we might just get overwhelmed.
There is just so much need.
The needs of the world are so great, I can't meet them by myself. My small group or Sunday school class can't meet them all. My church can't meet them. My country can't meet them.
Thankfully, thankfully, it isn't my job to save the world. And it isn't yours, either.
Jesus is big enough, strong enough, great enough for all the hurt in the world. He really is.
Reflect on that for a minute.
So while we rest in that comfort, lets briefly walk in some shoes that are very different from our own.
Before South Sudan got its independence from Sudan in 2011, it endured decades of attacks and bombings from the North. ITMI's Timothy Keller and others made regular visits to this area during those years.
They bolstered the efforts of the local churches with deliveries of discipleship materials and whatever else was needed. They preached and taught, encouraging the local church. It was through this partnership that Steve encountered ITMI partner, Vicky Waraka.
ITMI's Tim Keller, Lazarus, Vicky Waraka, Steve Evers, Justin and Jahim Buli in South Sudan.
There was great hope and celebration when South Sudan became its own country. But once the honeymoon period wore off, disaster struck once again.
In 2013, tensions were running high. Roads were being blocked, and citizens could sense the all-too-familiar build up to an outbreak of violence. In our August 2013 ITMI Monthly, we reported that according to Jahim,
"..in July the South Sudanese President removed the Vice President from his position and then continued to dismantle or dissolve the whole government as Jahim put it. This action alone would be enough tinder to cause unrest, but because of the centuries-old tribal conflict between the Dinka and Nuer tribes the condition in Juba, South Sudan is at a breaking point."
In December 2013, violence did indeed break out.
While hiding on the floor of his home to avoid being clipped by one of the flying bullets, Jahim called ITMI Director Steve Evers to report, "Two hours ago [Monday, December 16th] a military truck with soldiers came to my neighbor's house, pulled him out and shot him dead. He is still laying out there and no one can go out to get the body [because all were afraid to show their faces in public]."
Jahim and his family made it to safety in Uganda, where they stayed with ITMI's Muhindo Kawede for awhile. Eventually, the Buli family returned to South Sudan.
They were - and are - committed to bringing the hope of Jesus to their people. They couldn't bear evacuating at just the time when people needed hope the most.
Because they stayed, people have come to Jesus - even people in high places, refugees have been offered hope, and local pastors have been equipped to lead their people in demonstrating the gospel in this incredibly tense situation, and an entire church has come to faith and been planted!
ITMI partners, Jahim and Gisma Buli.
He led so many to Christ, Jahim had to plant a church where they could be discipled!
Fast forward to 2016, and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) is calling the events that unfolded in South Sudan "one of the worlds largest humanitarian emergencies with 2.3 million people forced to flee their homes, 650,000 of these across borders as refugees and 1.65 million displaced inside the country." (UNHCR News, 2016)
A Child Crisis
With horror stories of child-soldiers and "lost boys of Sudan" being forced to commit atrocities echoing in our memories, we once again report that the children are paying for the sins of the adults, and once again being place in situations where history is likely to continue to repeat itself.
"The war is taking an unimaginable toll on children."
“This war is taking an unimaginable toll on children,” said Perry Mansfield, National Director, World Vision South Sudan. “That any child should be killed, abused or have to use a gun is a tragedy that happens in South Sudan every day. If we are serious about stopping the violence in South Sudan, not only do we have to protect children, but we must invest in their future,” said Mansfield. (Save the Children, 2015)
In May 2015, UNICEF estimated 13,000 children were associated with armed forces and groups - up 40% from just one year earlier. Save the Children reports that an estimated 4.3 million are facing malnutrition in South Sudan, which always has devastating impacts for children under 5. (Save the Children, 2015)
This 4-minute video from the UNHCR tells the story well.
Who Can Help?
Friends, the situation in South Sudan is bad. Unthinkably so.
And we can't fix it. We may not even be able to change the world entirely - for even one refugee. Neither can Jahim. Or even all the believers in South Sudan.
But God can. And we can be with Him on that mission.
The "small" act of gifting clothing and a meal for Christmas made a mountain of difference for many under-valued, devastated children in a refugee camp near Juba. To them, it wasn't small at all.
The camp is populated by about 9400 people, but the world food organization only provides enough food for 3,000 each day. So to them, gifts of food and clothing meant. the. world.
It made such an impact that when Steve Evers visited the camp, people spontaneously gathered hoping he would speak to them!
The Message Steve Delivered
So, inside a plastic tent, in such heat that Arizona-native Steve felt it might be approaching temperatures unhealthy for the human body to endure, Steve asked God for a message to give them.
Imagine caring for a baby in refugee camp conditions!
The camp's population is around 9400, but it only gets enough to feed 3000 each day.
This is what God gave him. "The government isn't going to take care of you. Your tribe isn't going to take care of you. Americans can't take care of you. But if you will seek Him first - not religion, not denomination, not church - but Him, God will somehow take care of you. Even in bizarre ways."
Many accepted Steve's message and prayed with him, committing seek Jesus first. For some, it may have been the beginning of their journey with Him. For others, it may not have been the first time they prayed.
But for all, they were directed to a worthy doorstep to which they can always bring their hope.
Afterward, many walked around the camp with them. It can be so tempting when faced with such need to say, "I'll do my best to provide such and such..." But in their desperation, they hear, "I will give you this."
Instead, Steve urged them to pray for him. For ITMI.
He told them, "My organization isn't a relief organization. God cares about you, so He tells people in America to give so Jahim can bring food or meet needs, and then we pass it along. But pray that God brings someone across our path in the food ministry and we can let them know about you and maybe God will work in their hearts on your behalf."
We can't make promises about what God will do or how He will provide. But we can be faithful. We can demonstrate kindness and how much these refugees are valued in small ways as He leads us. We can pray.
And we can give small amounts in faith that God will turn our two fish in to enough to feed five thousand. Or 9400.
"‘Prioritize Education or Jeopardize the Future of South Sudan’ - World Vision and Save the Children Warn Donors." Save the Children. Web. 15 Jun. 2015. <http://www.savethechildren.org/site/apps/nlnet/content2.aspx?c=8rKLIXMGIpI4E>.
Yaxley Charlie. "New Militia Violence Drives More South Sudanese to Uganda." UNHCR News. United Nations High Commission for Refugees. Web. 20 Jan. 2016. <http://www.unhcr.org/569f80d06.html>.