It’s our fourth day in Juba, the capital of South Sudan and I’m getting used to a heat reflecting its Equatorial proximity. The lack of infrastructure is evident everywhere. It does not take long before sealed roads turn to dirt roads with deep holes and protruding rocks. Even the best four wheel drive proceeds slowly and the dust leaves a layer on everything.
In driving to worship on Sunday, we passed many thatched houses and an increasing number of concrete houses surrounded by high fences and barbed wire. These sit incongruously amid dusty roads and random piles of rubbish, and belong to an emerging group of political and public officials.
The Church itself was concrete, and struggled to accommodate the 1101 worshippers (there was an official count). The Sunday School and Youth Group each led with energetic dancing and loud singing. There were many hallelujahs. Everyone seemed to participate, including the many people who peered in through the wire-mesh windows. Although I am used to preaching at short notice, there is nothing quite like an unfamiliar context and culture to arouse the adrenalin.
Women spoke of their deep concern for girls. They told me that 90% of people are illiterate and most young people have not been to school during the 22 years of war. The young people caught up in ethnic conflict have not really known education. Many areas just don’t have schools because they were destroyed during the war, or never built.Although statistics have not been accurately collected, it seems that maternal health is the worst in the world. A startling number of mothers and babies die in child-birth.
These women leaders long for education and good health, but they feel bypassed by groups that work mainly with men and people who are perceived as community leaders.
There are thirty women’s groups in this one Presbytery.
UnitingWorld does not normally invest in infrastructure but in a country as bereft as South Sudan, it is central. As Geoff and I wrap up our visit, we look forward to the future of this new partnership. The next stage of discussions will identify how UnitingWorld will work with the Presbyterian Church of Sudan and its development agency, the Presbyterian Relief and Development Agency.
Please continue to pray with us for South Sudan, a new nation facing many challenges.