Critical to the success of the new South Sudan, according to Archbishop Daniel Deng, are three things: agriculture, education, and health-care. Without these the people will not flourish or develop, and if the people don’t, the country won’t.
And so, in the last 24 hours, we have seen great signs of hope in these three areas, and they come, not surprisingly, from Christians trying to love their neighbors.
South Sudan is overwhelmingly Christian, and the speed with which Christians are developing the western areas of the country is remarkable. We saw this in Nzara and Miridi in the state of Western Equatoria. These areas, developed first by western missionaries in the late 1800s and early 1900s, have been devastated after decades of of the wars waged on them by the Arab north and more recently by the Lord’s Resistance Army. Few buildings are older than 20 years.
So imagine: limitless miles of thick jungle that would bend a machete, no infrastructure, no schools, no clinics, no computers, no electricity, few passable roads, profound trauma and still some violence, you have literally nothing, and yet you have a great God and much faith. This is the scenario the Anglican Bishop Justin Badi inherited in Miridi 11 years ago, and that the Anglican Bishop Samuel Peni inherited in Nzara just three years ago.
Nzara was a new diocese when Samuel came in 2009. There was nothing but a missionary church built in 1922 and a lot of church land. Now, and we saw it, there is a maternity and child health clinic with a lab and testing for HIV used for the whole community, a computer center, several large schools for young children through high school, diocesan offices, several vehicles, a guest house and house for the bishop, fields of rice, enough agricultural development for the people in the churches, and wireless internet via satellite.* It is like a slice of African heaven. Samuel’s next project is to develop their 4 mile by 4 mile square of bush into productive farmland, both to feed the community and to generate income through sales to Juba and other cities. He came three years ago. Three years.
Just over 100 miles away (35 minutes by plane, 13 hours by road), Bishop Justin Badi took over his diocese of Miridi in the middle of the civil war eleven years ago. He spent his first season as bishop walking through the diocese that is 150 miles long by 30 miles wide, ministering to his new flock. Yes, walking.
With the peace agreement between the North and the South in 2005 came enough stability to begin building things that would build the country. Bishop Justin started with education. Just a few years later, the schools, from kindergarten to college level education, are the best in the region, with hundreds and hundreds of students. We saw the schools, packed with students at every level. We saw the maternity center and children’s clinic and health clinic for the community in Miridi. We saw the fields, full of growing food, which each institution has and maintains and is responsible to use for the food for those in their institution. We saw the diocesan offices and computer lab and the great guest houses. All this and more developed in just a few years from the youngest bishop ever elected in the Church of Sudan. Miridi has 82,000 people in it, 75% of them are Anglican. Most of the rest are Catholic. Under Justin’s leadership, the church can literally change the society here, for the good of all its society’s members, and has already made a significant difference.
Both of these leaders’ projects and impact are simply amazing. I’ve been to Africa a lot, and I’ve never seen anything like it in on the continent, that is, the speed and skill and scope and the leadership and stewardship and fundraising of this development, was just breathtaking. I walked away feeling hopeful for the whole country, if these are examples about what can be done with good and godly leadership.
It–the success of South Sudan, even as a model for Africa–can be done. This country has a great future if these two bishops are any indication of the leadership potential here, and if the work of the people here can be made typical.
Jesus said, “The Kingdom of God is like a mustard seeds, which starts out the smallest of seeds, and grows into a mighty tree, so that birds can nest in its branches.” In these last 24 hours, we’ve seen mustard seeds that have been planted, and are growing large, and strong, and fast.
*Trinity Wall Street (ECUSA) made a very generous and extremely important gift to the church of Sudan of satellite internet access, wireless routers, solar panels for power, a printer, and 5 computers (including installation of it all) for each diocese in the Anglican church in Sudan, all 31 of them.