Thousands have died and millions fled to Sudan and Uganda as a result of civil war in South Sudan, the newest nation in the world. Yet there are still glimpses of hope – mission partner Ruth Radley shared with us an encouraging story from a recent visit to Emmanuel Christian College (ECC) in Yei, where she taught before returning to the UK in 2016:
I write this listening to my students preparing songs for an assessment. These students started at ECC in early 2016 and I was invited to stay for their graduation. The war in South Sudan had been in progress for just over two years but Yei had remained largely peaceful. However, that was sadly all about to change.
I asked Leah, a student from my class, to share her story. I was interested in the high number of students who returned to the college after 2016, a year that saw the college looted by gunmen, the then-principal and Daniel (ECC’s principal today) and two other members of staff abducted and the principal facing death. The college was stuck with rebels on one side and the government army on the other; they were marooned for a number of months and unable to move to the town.
“In July, the crisis hit us and we were stuck. We would be in class and hear gunshots; it was very hard to concentrate and it created trauma in us. However, God heard our prayers, even when there was no fuel, no light and no food; we stayed on and persevered even at the end of the year when things were looking particularly bleak.
“The road was not open, we couldn’t travel by vehicle and we had to walk 20 miles. We slept on the way in the bush and the following morning we reached the Reconcile compound [where the college is now situated until it can return to Goli].
“I then went to the Nuba Mountains where my home is, although communications were cut off and relatives didn’t know where we were – some thought we had been killed.
“It was a problem coming back to college as we couldn’t guarantee our safety and our parents were not happy about us returning. But then I spoke to Daniel who said that if I had faith in God, I should come back.
“My faith give me the courage needed to return. I didn’t know who was going to pay my school fees and where my support would come from. My parents could not support me (even now, two years on, I have not communicated with them as they are far away and there is no phone network where they are and I have no idea how they are). But God provided help through my friends who have supported me and stood with me in different places.
“I continued studying up to July 2017 but then fell sick and after two months was admitted to hospital. In August, I went to Juba for treatment and was there for a full term. It was hard as I had little money for medication from the college and I had to also work and there was nobody there who could support me.
“When I came back, I then had many courses to catch up on but I was able to compensate and join in other courses. It wasn’t easy but I see that God was working through all of this, and now I am a graduate!
“The South Sudan crisis has affected us in so many ways but because of the faith we have, the ECC you see today would not be here now were it not for such faith and trust in God.
“Most of my friends questioned me going back to ECC, asking how I could go back and risk my life, but I had to come back!
“I thank God that he has been with us all this time, even though it has not been easy. My prayer is that something will come from my graduation and all the stresses and struggles I have had to deal with and life will no longer be such a struggle.”
Leah is not sure how she will get home again, but she has asked people to pray for peace in the Nuba mountains region of Sudan as well as South Sudan.
The graduation was an amazing celebration! What an amazing end to a tough three years, watching students of all tribes dancing together. It really is such a privilege to be involved. Please do keep praying for South Sudan, ECC and Daniel.