South Sudan is the world’s newest country. On Saturday, July 9, it officially separated from Sudan and became an independent nation, marked by a midday ceremony in its new capital, Juba. If accepted by the U.N. General Assembly, South Sudan will become the 193rd nation. For all but ten years since the Republic of the Sudan broke away from British and Egyptian rule in 1956, civil war has been the daily reality.
This new nation of six million people paid a heavy toll during the civil war. More than two million were killed and another four million became refugees. Enormous challenges face the new nation: lack of infrastructure, extreme poverty, one of the world’s highest infant mortality rates, and the HIV/AIDS epidemic. While the majority holds traditional animist beliefs, a large and very influential Christian voice exists in South Sudan, thanks to efforts years ago by missionaries. The northern part of their former country is 97% Muslim. The war was largely waged over religion.
I feel this victory personally. In Romania in the 1990s, I knew many Sudanese who were faithful followers of Christ. Because of their faith and the fact that they were from the southern part of Sudan, they were persecuted by their northern neighbors who not only controlled the Sudanese embassy in Bucharest, but set a fire which they pinned on my friends. My friends were wrongfully convicted and thrown into a Romanian jail – at a time when conditions were not so good even for non-prisoners. Some of the guys on my team regularly visited these brothers in prison. I’ll never forget seeing one of the guys when he was finally released. The whites of his eyes were bright yellow from hepatitis contracted while he wasted away in his cell. And now his country is standing proud, on its own feet.
Happy Birthday, South Sudan! I wish you well.