As many as 2.5 million died—many from starvation and drought—during two long periods of civil war, from 1955 to 1972 and from 1983 to 2005. Civilians were often caught in the crossfire between the army, controlled by the Arab, Islamic government in Khartoum, and the rebel Sudan People’s Liberation Army.
Food was scarce. Most of it was shipped from Khartoum in the north, sometimes by air but also at times by ship—which took so long that it was rotting by the time it reached the people in the south. The northern military often targeted churches—hundreds of them were bombed.
During those desperate years, Franklin Graham began ministering to Sudan. Since 1997, Samaritan’s Purse has provided food, shelter, clean water, agricultural assistance, education, medical aid and vocational training programs. Three times, Franklin met with Sudanese President Omar Al-Bashir, encouraging him to stop the fighting and to grant equal rights to minorities, including Christians.
A 2005 peace accord brought an end to the worst of the fighting, and during one meeting, Franklin informed Bashir that he was going to rebuild every church that Bashir’s army had destroyed—and he challenged Bashir to contribute to the rebuilding effort (Bashir did not). To date, Samaritan’s Purse has rebuilt nearly 500 churches.
Under the terms of the 2005 peace agreement, the South voted overwhelmingly to secede and become its own nation, and on July 9, 2011, the Republic of South Sudan was born.
Franklin Graham was in the new capital of Juba that day, celebrating with those he had ministered to and alongside for so long.
But the world’s newest nation is also among the neediest: Meager infrastructure (fewer than 40 miles of paved roads in a country almost the size of Texas), continued poverty and food scarcity, inflation, reliance on imports from Sudan, and conflicts among the nation’s many tribal groups.
Christian leaders recognize that even more basic than these economic and social issues is the need for people to be transformed through Jesus Christ. With that in mind, the nation’s churches have invited Franklin to hold a Festival in Juba. “Hope for a New Nation: A Festival With Franklin Graham” will be held Oct. 26-27 at the John Garang Memorial Park.
“Franklin has been a voice to the voiceless for many years,” said Bishop James Lagos Alexander, national coordinator for the Festival. “He has been crying with us, and he feels our pain and our sorrows. And not only that, he travels into the dangerous places where our people suffer. So the churches and leaders say, ‘This is the right man to partner with. And he’s not only a partner; he’s a brother and a friend to the South Sudanese.'”
In preparation for the Festival, more than 130 pastors, church leaders and their spouses gathered Aug. 8-11 in Entebbe, Uganda, for a time of worship, fellowship, challenge and instruction.
On the first evening of the Congress, Bishop Michael Taban Tau, chairman of the Sudan Council of Churches, recalled the many years of struggle these Christian leaders have lived through. “A lot has been drained from us,” he said. “And I think God wants to fill us now.”
The Congress included sessions on Operation Andrew, which gives believers a practical method for witnessing and inviting friends to the Festival; the Christian Life and Witness Course, which prepares Christians to tell others about their faith, to counsel inquirers during the Festival and to help follow up new believers; and on practical steps for discipling new Christians.
The beleaguered leaders had time to rest, and they joined their voices in praise and worship. And during extended prayer times, they cried out to the Lord for strength and for Him to move mightily in their nation.
Rafael Kenyi, a bishop in the Sudan Pentecostal Church, lived in the South throughout the war years, and he has seen changes in the nation’s spiritual climate since the war ended. “During wartime,” he said, “our believers in Juba were closer to God. They were praying and fasting; everybody was trusting God. But when peace was realized, people relaxed.”
Others agreed, saying that church attendance has declined, a spirit of materialism has developed, and churches that preach a false gospel are proliferating.
Nevertheless, Christian leaders are hopeful. At the Congress’ closing communion service, —said to his fellow ministers: “As I stand here and look at your faces, I see the hope and the future of South Sudan. The future and the hope of South Sudan does not lie in politics or politicians. Politicians are important, but their role is temporary. Your role is permanent. … Brothers and sisters, let us stand fast. Let us not compromise the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Let us stand firm for the Lord. And the Lord Himself will be with us and will give us the victory.”
Pray for the “Hope for a New Nation” Festival
• Pray that believers will come together in unity to proclaim the Gospel in this new nation.
• Pray that many will respond to Franklin Graham’s preaching Oct. 26-27.
• Pray that the churches will effectively follow up new believers following the Festival
• Pray for the healing of the traumatized population. Some lived through decades of war in what is now the Republic of South Sudan. Others spent the war years as marginalized people in the North and have moved to South Sudan since it gained independence in July 2011.
• Pray for the several million people who are experiencing malnutrition, disease and starvation, including thousands living in refugee camps after fleeing continued fighting in the Sudanese border states of Blue Nile and South Kordofan.
• Pray that in the government, which has been accused of corruption, many leaders will come to saving faith in Jesus Christ.
• Pray that tribal conflicts will give way to peace and cooperation.
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