Forecast for South Sudan: Hope

Victor Chol didn’t vote in the special election that has set the southern part of Sudan on the road to independence. But he spent a lot of time educating Sudanese on how to use the ballot so their votes would be properly registered.

For Chol, one of the 4,000 or so “Lost Boys and Girls” of Sudan who found a new life in the United States, it was a way to give back.

He is one of the many church people who are betting that the new nation of South Sudan can make a go of it, despite the formidable challenges ahead.

Some question whether the new country’s political base can hold together.A Feb. 12 Time Magazine article pointed out the disputes that exist within South Sudan. “During the previous civil war, more southerners died at each other’s hands than were killed by their northern enemies, who funded and armed southern tribal rivals,” writes Alan Boswell.

But the intricacies of the conflict have not deterred religious leaders across the continent who were instrumental in bringing about the 2005 peace agreement that ended decades of civil war between north and south Sudan and set up the referendum for independence.

Then – through such groups as the Sudan Ecumenical Forum, All Africa Conference of Churches and Sudan Council of Churches – they made sure the vote came off and sent 350 monitors to observe the process. The Rev. Sam Kobia, a Methodist from Kenya, was involved as a special ecumenical envoy.

“If the church had not accompanied the Sudanese, the (peace agreement) would not have been possible and the referendum would not have happened,” Bishop Robert Aboagye-Mensah, a Methodist from Ghana and vice president of the All Africa Conference of Churches told the World Council of Churches Central Committee on Friday. “Now, as this new nation is built, the message of the Sudanese to the church is ‘Please don’t abandon us!'”

That seems unlikely to happen. African Christians have demonstrated a commitment to nurturing their Sudanese brothers and sisters and United Methodists elsewhere are making their own promises, including members of the U.S. Holston Conference, where Chol is now based.

The 32-year-old Tennessee graduate, who still has three brothers and two sisters in Sudan, is showing others what can be done to help, particularly in the area of education. His motivation is simple. “It has always been about trying to share what’s been given to me by my fellow Americans,” he told me when I interviewed him recently.

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