by JoAnn Bradberry
NIMULE, South Sudan (BP) — As a third of South Sudan’s population faces starvation, International Mission Board personnel and Baptist Global Response are partnering with a local church to care for those fleeing ethnic violence.
Nearly four million people may starve to death as a result of the country’s now five-month-old civil war, the United Nations reports.
On the first day of 2014, Mary Loso was cooking dinner for her children when the trucks arrived carrying those trying to escape the ongoing fighting. One by one — a total of seven trucks, 150 people — they pulled into the Faith Baptist Church compound where the women’s leader lives with her husband and 11 children.
Loso panicked. “I was afraid at first,” Loso said. “I was afraid there wasn’t enough food.”
But they were her people, and she couldn’t turn them away. They were among the hundreds of thousands fleeing their homes in South Sudan because of the violence that began when ethnic fighting broke out in the capital city of Juba.
Nimule is a border town — a natural stopping point for refugees on their way out of South Sudan, fleeing to Uganda. As the town flooded with those fleeing, word began to spread about Loso’s hospitality.
That first day, Loso gathered the displaced people together with her family, and called the church elders. Church members soon arrived at the compound to pray. Three times a day, they stopped their work to pray together. They prayed for peace in the country, for their lost husbands and brothers, for enough food for the day.
The church took up an offering to buy some food. Eventually, some of the families moved onto the church compound, into an open-air sanctuary and into the homes of the pastors.
“All-in-all, God stood strong,” Loso said.
On the church compound there is a small office, the size of a pantry or a walk-in closet. Thin foam mattresses are stacked against a wall. Five pastors have been living in the office together. The pastors gave up their own homes on the church compound for the displaced families.
“We took their burdens to be ours — we are crying with them,” pastor Tolbert Alochi said.
“These people, they looked desperate,” he said. “No food, no water. Things were very hard.”
In the first days of the crisis, Alochi called the elders of the church together, and they decided to welcome those in need.
“We told them that if anybody feels that he wants to stay, we can stay with them here. Most of them are not ready to go [across the border to Uganda]. They have lost husbands, they have lost children, and they are waiting for them here.”
A team of IMB missionaries assessing the situation in South Sudan was moved by the ministry of Faith Baptist Church and called on BGR to help. Through BGR funding, missionaries helped Faith Baptist complete housing for the displaced families.
“This is an instance of a church wanting to reach out to an IDP [internally displaced persons] crisis situation and help the community around them,” Mark Hatfield, BGR area director for sub-Saharan Africa, said. “We are thankful to be able to encourage the church to follow their biblical mandate of being a church and in being significant in their community for the Kingdom of God.”
Despite the fragile ceasefire signed earlier this month, many are afraid to return home. With the help of BGR, more than 10 families have been able to remain under the care of the church, while the church continues reaching out to those who are fleeing the violence.
“We are encouraging them and comforting them with the Word of God,” pastor Alochi said. “They never believed they would make it up to this far.”
On a much larger scale, BGR is working to drill four boreholes in refugee camps, as well as provide jerry cans, metal containers typically used for transporting and storing water, for 12,000 families living in the camps. To learn more about how you can help, go to gobgr.org/projects/project_detail/south-sudan-crisis.
— Pray for Faith Baptist Church as they continue showing the love of Christ to IDPs in their midst.
— Pray for IMB missionaries and national pastors working together in the refugee camps for South Sudanese.
JoAnn Bradberry is an IMB writer and photographer based in Nairobi.