The Tallest FlagAugust 28, 2013 by Angela Vincent
The sound of the plane was deafening and terrifyingly familiar. Though they never knew for sure where it came from or where it was going next, one thing was certain: when the Antanov airplane from Northern Sudan flies overhead, it could be the last sound you ever hear. People were about to die.
For 23 years, the people of South Sudan lived an anxious existence. Years of concern for your own survival and that of your family’s survival developed more ulcers than farms. There is no time or place to cultivate the land when a war is at your door. Life became a nomadic existence where you prayed to see the next day and where you were fortunate if you had a big enough hole in the ground to hide in.
Fighting continues along some of the North and South borders, but the civil war that raged for decades has come to an end. July 9, 2011 brought hundreds of thousands to the newly constructed “Freedom Square” in the temporary capital city of Juba, South Sudan. Front and center in the square is a massive array of flags from around the world. In the middle, however, there was a new pole that rose higher than the rest. It would become the tallest flag, the flag of the new South Sudan. When the flag went up, people fell down. Ambulances were at the waiting as many people, so overwhelmed by the reality of independence and what the potential of freedom could mean, had their knees buckle, fainting from the combination of heat, anticipation, memories of the past, hopes for the future and just sheer joy.
July 9, 2013 marked the second anniversary of independence. The ruling government’s Secretary General Abdon Agaw said, “The second independence anniversary is a very special one, it’s a year to remind ourselves how much we had to pay for our freedom; our people tightened their belts and resisted all types of temptations to cause insecurity in their government and their country.”
Some Southern military leaders did not receive positions in the new government as they expected and have chosen to incite unrest to show their discontent. Others from tribes in the minority have accepted weapons from the North, which they use to create unrest and unfairly accelerate their own development by stealing cows and young children from larger tribes such as the Dinka (which is one of the many reasons we are fencing our school—see below).
But despite all these challenges, South Sudan is still a new nation that is determined to remain unified and to see their freedom produce the fruits of development and independence that they fought for decades to gain. Offices are becoming organized and though there are both internal and environmental challenges, progress is being made.
The journey of how ELI began ministry in South Sudan is another example of the ways in which God orchestrates His people for His purpose, all along showing His love and uniting His children from around the world for a great cause.
In 2003, ELI Kenya Director Samuel Teimuge was requested to bring the ideas that ELI teaches in terms of sustainability and empowerment to a local Bible school. Taking notes in that class was a man who was born in South Sudan but spent 13 years in refugee camps in both Uganda and Kenya, hoping someday to return to his motherland to bring the Gospel message integrated with development. Stephen Reech dreamed to bring practical ideas on how people can rebuild their nation as they rebuild their own lives and villages, breaking this cycle of poverty that the war has entrenched into their souls; this cycle that only the power of God can pry loose the devastation and bring a new vision of hope. That dream has become a reality.
In 2005, Stephen returned to South Sudan and to land that was donated to ELI to help begin the first school in that area in over fifty years. All of the nearly 200 children, ages five to fifteen, began in the first grade. Today the school, with over 300 students and up to eighth grade, is doing very well. In fact, during the pre-test given before the main final exam, the ELI school ranked first place in Jonglei State and third place out of fifty-eight schools for the main final exam. Several of the children did so well with their individual grades that they took high positions in the district and one boy even received a scholarship to a well respected high school. Where children were once malnourished and uneducated, there are now new skilled thinkers, dedicated Christians, and youth with a dream to serve God, strengthen their needy community and build their nation as a whole.
Recently ELI took a great step of faith and began building a fence around the school. Though there are still some funds needed to bring the fence to completion, enough has been completed to begin planting trees for a windbreak to protect the school classrooms and for other important purposes. Imagine with us the transformation that is about to take place over the following years because of this enclosure that will now keep out the goats, cows, and other destructive animals. Later this year, crops of millet, corn, beans and sesame will be planted in this soil for the first time in over 60 years. The first successful orchard is about to be established with hundreds of fruit trees: papaya, mango, banana, lemon, guava and other important trees for medicine, construction and firewood for cooking.
The school is about to reach another level of effectiveness as a powerful tool for sharing the Gospel and for bringing development. This will become a demonstration farm where women will participate in special trainings on Saturdays, the youth in the community on Sundays, and to pastors from all around the region during the weeks when the school is closed for holidays. There will be special conferences for youth, women and pastors during January, May and September.
The ELI school in Kolmarek, South Sudan has brought light to a dark area of this new nation. Children are growing up and as they grasp the love of God in their hearts, they also gain visions of being His light to their families, community and nation. Many of the students are already moving to new locations and carrying the impact of ELI with them where they go. In Ilula, Kenya, many of the children from the ELI Children’s Home sit next to classmates who are from South Sudan. Surprisingly, several of those Sudanese children began their first few years of schooling in Kolmarek, but are now in Kenya. When we asked them about their time in Sudan, one of the girls shared that, “The school in Kolmarek gave us our first English words, our first time to learn math, a unique time to learn about Jesus and to dream of what we can become. It was a foundation that we are grateful for and we thank every person who helped to make the school possible.
The people of South Sudan are resilient. Though they have been through many trials, they have persevered. We see great hope in the future because of the children and thank God for each of you who have invested time and care to see this school and the children be empowered to grow. When you think about South Sudan, picture Freedom Square with the international flags flying in the wind and say a prayer for the people who are proudly gathered around – the tallest flag.