James Catford shares some conversations and observationsfrom recent meetings at the African Biblical Leadership Initiative Forum.
The last time we met, Paul Bonju was relaxed,energised and hopeful. Then his homeland was barely one year old and the newest nation on the planet. Just two years later he is tense, troubled and tired. The South Sudan Member of Parliament, along with three colleagues, doesn’t do much small talk and is keen to get back to discussing the troubles facing his country.
There are many. Food shortages have become so widespread that my counterpart in South Sudan thinks about how he is going to eat almost before he can do anything else. The failed harvests have reached tipping point and the world’s media is anticipating a famine on a scale of Ethiopia in the 1980s.
Coupled to this is the civil war between the Dinka and the Nuer tribes that broke out at the end of last year. Supporters of President Salva Kiir and Riek Machar, the Vice-President, have inflicted heavy casualties on each other. Largely comprising subsistence farmers with little education, this is a society already weakened by its war of liberation from Sudan just three years ago.
The latest development is the outbreak of cholera which is both claiming lives and ruining the fragile economy. Crops are not being sown and churches are being crippled by the social catastrophe that they are ill-equipped to handle. The leader of our work, Edward Kajivora, has already seen civilians shot dead outside his home and sleeps under his bed.
What has the Bible got to do with famine, civil war and a medical epidemic?
A great deal. Paul Bonju MP has travelled to Ghana to meet myself and representatives of the outside world to ask for assistance for his young nation. We talk about how Christians in the West can make real the Bible’s commitment to peace and justice by putting pressure on South Sudan’s political leaders to end the conflict.
We discuss how the Bible can be used to directly challenge local believers across South Sudan to find forgiveness and bring reconciliation. We consider sermon outlines based on the Bible and study groups that bring the Scriptures into contact with the traumatised and bereaved.
When you are a follower of Jesus - and starving - the thing you need next after food is comfort and the knowledge that God has not abandoned you. This is what I have discovered when I talk to people who are ministering to the most vulnerable women, men and children in the world.
I met ‘the honourable Paul’ a few weeks ago at the African Biblical Leadership Initiative Forum in Accra. This is an annual event initiated by Bible Society and chaired byLord Boateng, the former cabinet minister under Tony Blair and former British High Commissioner to South Africa. Our sessions are focused on how the Bible can help Africa flourish and grow.
South Sudan is not alone in its struggles. Our conference calls on the kidnappers of 200 schoolgirls in Nigeria to return the children and repent of their wickedness. Back in Sudan (rather than South Sudan) a young Christian wife and mother is reported to have been spared the death penalty for her faith.
Does Africa need the Bible? Yes it does. Writing in The Times newspaper five years ago now, leading atheist Matthew Parris declared that Africa needs the faith of the Bible. ‘In Africa Christianity changes people’s hearts. It brings a spiritual transformation. The rebirth is real. The change is good,’ he says (8 January 2009).
Africa needs that rebirth now, especially in South Sudan. You can provide the Bible’s life-changing message in local languages supervised by trusted Christians on the ground. Join Bible Society’s Bible a Month scheme for just £4 a month and stand with thousands of people across the world who are putting the Scriptures into the hands of those who need them most.
July 7th, 2015 - Posted & Written by Together Magazine