I am normally reluctant to link to articles that need a subscription, but I’ll make an exception here. The current Weekly Standard has a lengthy piece by Armin Rosen titled “Birth of a Nation: With American Evangelicals on the Ground in South Sudan.” By way of background, Sudan was for many years divided between its Arab and Muslim north, based in Khartoum, and a (black) animist and Christian south. Rebellions and civil wars produced twenty years of carnage, with a death toll of perhaps two million. Racial and religious hatreds coincided, as northern Muslim forces particularly targeted Christian churches and leaders for persecution and murder. Peace of a sort came in 2005, and in 2011 the South was allowed to establish independence. South Sudan is thus one of the world’s youngest countries, with its capital at Juba, and a fast-growing population that currently stands around eleven million. Estimates of the Christian share of that number range anywhere from a quarter to two-thirds.
The article gives a detailed and highly favorable account of the work of Franklin Graham’s organization Samaritan’s Purse, which is doing heroic work in the region. “In South Sudan, Samaritan’s Purse has a dozen bases and sub-bases, scores of heavy vehicles, two light cargo aircraft, and a small army of staff. They’ve opened hospitals, drilled boreholes, fed refugees, and trained rural South Sudanese in farming and water management.” The group is also deeply involved in education and promoting literacy.
Rosen is properly cautious about the outcome of these efforts, as recent border conflicts threaten to reignite the ghastly war. As he notes, the country could go either way, becoming stable and prosperous, or devolving into a failed state: “The organization can dig wells and rebuild churches, but it cannot solve the oil issue or stop the war in South Kordofan.”
The article is well worth reading, but I do have a couple of caveats. Weekly Standard of course is a strongly neocon voice, and makes the predictable nods to US and Israeli support of the southern rebellion. And while it’s true to say that the old Sudanese regime protected Osama bin Laden, we should in fairness recall that they also tried surreptitiously to hand him over to the US as a good will gesture: the Clinton administration showed no interest in taking up the offer. On the other side, the guerrilla forces fighting for southern independence were by no means all angels.
Also, if you do read the article, do note that Rosen is concentrating almost entirely on the evangelical element in the story, and particularly with a US focus. You would not guess that the overwhelming majority of South Sudan’s Christians are either Catholic or Anglican, whose faith is deeply rooted in local cultures.
All credit, though, to Armin Rosen for a classic case-study of an evangelical NGO in action.
PS – at present, it seems that the article is available to non-subscribers via this link.