While troubles flare up once again, there is another story to be told of South Sudan — a story of unity, peace and reconciliation under the leadership of Christ.
The sound of chalk scribbling on a chalkboard filters through the room. Images of sun, arrows, small mud huts and groups of people fill the board.
Thirteen women sit in the small, hot classroom studying Bibles written in five different languages. More than eight tribes are represented and all Bibles lay open to the book of Ephesians.
Each woman carefully reads or listens to the words of the passage in her own language, dissecting the ideas and questions in her mind. Using Arabic as our bridge language, together we transform written truths into images on the board, a curriculum brimming with hope, ready to be taken into homes and translated into the heart language of each woman's village.
A strong theme runs through Ephesians. The church back then looks so similar to churches in our town of Melut on the banks of the White Nile in South Sudan. In Ephesus, one church was united in the truth of Jesus but divided into tribes - Jew and Gentile.
The women share stories of divided churches, villages and people. Two small huts are sketched beneath the image of the church on the board - division and separation residing in one house of God. Then one phrase begins to pop out across Ephesians in each language, ‘but God.’
The weeks continue and we lean into this truth. We are dead in our sin; we are separated from God and each other ... BUT GOD. In him everything changes.
Images begin to populate the board of stick figures embracing each other, huts joined and walls torn down.
The women tell stories of arriving at Gideon Theological College knowing no one, feeling alone and distant even from their closest neighbours, and then this amazing encounter of ‘but God’ happened.
Through classes, study of Scripture, time with each other, and the work of the Holy Spirit, each woman became part of a larger family then they had known before.
Dinka, Shilluk, Maabban and Uduk are embracing each other, standing alongside each other, and supporting each other as one family instead of fractured tribes.
The truth of Ephesians is real; it has flesh on it because it is more than stick figures on blackboards and words in Bibles. We all saw God do this work of harmony, unity and peace in our own lives over time.
The students of Gideon Theological College graduated and returned to their own homes, but only God knew what was to come in South Sudan.
On December 15, 2013, fighting erupted in the South Sudan capital of Juba and spread across many states in the eastern section of the nation. Within less than three weeks, all SIM personnel were evacuated to neighbouring Kenya.
The conflict rekindled deep divisions between tribes yet God in his wisdom had gathered a group of 13 women to sit in a hot classroom months earlier, teaching them to teach others in their heart language that because of God we are no longer strangers and aliens, cut off from each other and from the forgiveness of God.
Because of Jesus we are brought close to God; we are all one family.
The scribbles on the chalkboard tell a story; they tell the story of the church in Ephesus and they bring hope to current events in South Sudan. No matter what lies around the next bend, God waits there and it is His work through Christ that makes us one family.
Please join us in praying for peace in South Sudan.