A Long Road to the Beginning
The story of South Sudan has not yet been written, but it is already one of the more gripping histories in our modern times.
On January 1, 1956, the nation of Sudan officially became independent of British rule, and the Arab-dominated government in Khartoum immediately began a campaign of persecution in south Sudan, including the expulsion of most foreign missionaries.
South Sudan has always been treated as the ugly stepchild of the North. Ethnically, the people were not Arabs. Religiously, most were not Muslims. But south Sudan had many things of interest to the north. It was rich in natural resources. It controlled one of the main lifelines of Sudan and Egypt — the White Nile. Beneath the surface, vast oil reserves sat waiting to be exploited. South Sudan also contained an abundance of another kind of resource highly prized for centuries in the North: human slaves.
The Arabs established garrisons in the major towns and cities of the south: Malakal, Rumbek, Yei, Juba and Wau. Although the North kept a tight grip on these urban centers, there was one place they had never been able to control: the bush.
It was in the bush that Southerners chose to base their resistance, and from 1956 to 2005, with only a few years of peace sprinkled here and there, two wars of resistance were fought by the people of south Sudan. Marginalized and discriminated against by their countrymen in the north, most southerners had no desire to adopt the faith of their masters. And most Muslims from the south had no desire to be ruled by their spiritual cousins in Khartoum, who had treated their black brothers as second-class citizens at best.
The war was appalling, leaving an estimated 2 million southerners dead — mostly professing Christians. Millions more were internally displaced.
The south’s rejection of Islam was grounds for a holy Jihad against the “infidel” southerners. In 1983, a twin policy of “Arabization” and “Islamization” was pushed by the Central Government. Sharia law was to be forced upon the south.
In 1989, the United Nations began its “Operation Lifeline Sudan” to help stem the tide of mass famine and starvation among the southern Sudanese. But since the UN operates under the auspices of “official governments,” food shipments could only be delivered to areas approved by the National Islamic Front (NIF) government in Khartoum. This allowed the central government to use food as a weapon in its war of subjugation. For instance, southerners were told, “You can get access to this food, but first you must enroll your sons in our Koranic schools so they can be taught to be good Muslims.”
But if the government in Khartoum thought it could manipulate the UN into unknowingly assisting them in Jihad, it didn’t count on help for the south coming from another direction: Christians in the West.
In America, Christians from all walks of life heard about the plight of their brethren in south Sudan. A new crusade began, but not with swords and other implements of war. It was a crusade of love.
Organizations were founded, fundraisers were held. A massive outpouring of charity commenced. Food, medicine, mosquito nets, shelter items, and other life-saving supplies were flown in by mission organizations or private bush pilots from every corner of the globe willing to hazard the red “No Go” areas of south Sudan.
PPF was one of the many organizations founded during the bloodiest time of the fighting. Founder Brad Phillips organized planeload after planeload of relief supplies flying into the “No Go Zones” of southern Sudan. At one point during the war, Phillips organized so many flights that PPF became one of the biggest customers for one of the largest charter companies operating in southern Sudan — second only to the south Sudanese rebel army itself.
In 2005, after years of negotiations and pressure from western governments, North and South signed a peace treaty officially ending the war and placed the south on the road to independence. In January, 2011, Southern Sudan voted overwhelmingly to secede and become an independent nation.
But today, it is apparent that the north is not willing to lose control of 75% of the oil revenues coming from the territory of the south. Using the disputed border region of Abyei as an excuse for massive troop build-ups and air attacks, the north has launched a military and economic campaign to destabilize and ruin the new southern nation.
Militarily, the north has launched airstrikes on the south and sent troops into the oil-rich Abyei region, displacing more than 100,000 people at last count, most of whom are Ngok Dinka. Rebellious leaders of small, disgruntled units of the Sudanese People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) in the south have mutinied and begun terrorizing rival tribes with the support and funding of Khartoum.
Economically, the north has cut back fuel shipments to the south. Although most of the oil comes from the south, it is refined in the north. Diesel has shot up to over $3 per liter — more than $10 per gallon — driving up prices for food and everything else and creating shortages everywhere.
Whether the southern people can hold their fragile state together under all this pressure remains to be seen, but PPF is determined to continue doing all it can to help the persecuted church in South Sudan.
In spite of the bad news, the reality is that South Sudan has been liberated from an oppressive Islamic regime and has dealt a major blow to the forces of Jihad.
There is much celebrating going on in South Sudan. All southerners know that their freedom was a hard-fought victory. They also know that their long journey has only now brought them to the starting line.
To all the supporters and ministry partners of PPF, we express our immense gratitude for being used of God to accomplish what few people even ten years ago would have imagined. After more than a dozen years of work bringing support, aid, and encouragement to the persecuted in South Sudan, we are now at the beginning. As we move forward, hand-in-hand with our brethren in Africa’s newest country, we invite you to continue walking and working with us.