1. Independence Day in the New Sudan
The night before Independence Day, our new District Superintendent Fred Dearing received passes for us to sit in the bleachers to watch the official birth of the Republic of South Sudan. I was amazed at the diversity of the crowd gathered in Yei's Freedom Square to celebrate their first Independence day. It included not only the many Christian denominations that are here, but also local Muslims; not just South Sudanese from almost every state, but even Darfuris who sincerely celebrated the independence of their Southern brothers and sisters even while their home area in the western part of the North continues to suffer massacres of entire villages. It was great to witness that in the midst of their own celebration, South Sudanese pledged continued efforts for peace and freedom in Darfur. All the more amazing to realize that Independence is not just decades but centuries overdue for South Sudanese, who have been controlled, exploited and oppressed by others since ancient times without cease. In a sea of hundreds of banners, one summed it up in the words of Dr. Martin Luther King: “Free At Last.” People had walked to Yei from surrounding villages; some climbed trees to join the thousands enjoying marching and speeches in Yei's Freedom Square. Every local civic group and school had a banner and marched in a long parade; Salaam United Methodist School was there marching in their school uniforms. Sudanese women groups marched with banners proclaiming their commitment to playing a key role in the development of the new South Sudan. As we looked around us in the bleachers, we saw Sudanese young educated professionals listening intently to all the speeches, responding at times to commit themselves to the task of building a new nation. The highlight of the day was the simple act of lowering the flag of Sudan, and raising the new flag of the Republic of South Sudan. People cheered and ululated wildly, and that energy continued into the afternoon as dozens of tribal groups gathered in circles around Freedom Square into the evening to dance traditional tribal dances: Kakwa, Nuer, Dinka, Mandari, and many more. I hope and pray the peaceful, joyful spirit of those co-existing celebrations on Independence Day can be continued permanently into the complex process of becoming one nation of many tribes working together.
2.Oil and Food in the New Sudan
Petrol (gasoline) prices in Yei have risen to about $6.80 per gallon, but farther north in Unity State they are over $10 per gallon, down from $12 per gallon during the height of the fuel shortage a few weeks ago. Even though 75% of the known oil is located in South Sudan, all the pipelines and processing are in the north, and the north stopped allowing shipments of oil after the vote to separate. Oil from other countries has slowed down, reportedly because Libyan oil production has been disrupted. South Sudan is working on arrangements to build a pipeline through Kenya to a seaport, but that is expected to take 8 years. Meanwhile, higher fuel prices mean higher food costs (over half the local food is still imported and trucked in.) Already food prices were rising independently of this crisis; according to the South Sudan Minister of Agriculture Anne Itto, maize (corn) prices in Kenya rose 130% in the first half of 2011. Adding to that the fuel crisis in South Sudan, Itto says maize prices have quadrupled here (Sudan Tribune 16 July 2011). The conservation farming methods we're teaching here are increasing yields by 6.5 times in Zimbabwe just using existing hand tools with no commercial fertilizers (Conservation Farming in Zimbabwe: Evaluation Report, January 2011, Canadian Food Grains Bank.) If we can show that these methods do even half as well in South Sudan, it could help increase food production here quickly and inexpensively.
3. Training Leaders for the New Sudan
Elizabeth Heft, an Individual Volunteer in Mission from Ginghamsburg UMC in Ohio, is here for 6 weeks as an Individual Volunteer in Mission conducting training for youth leaders of the 17 United Methodist churches in South Sudan. It was exciting to see 35 Sudanese young adults, about 1/3 women, gathered for the 2-day retreat here in Yei. Elizabeth and Peter Lomorro, the Youth Coordinator for Sudan District, did a fantastic job of providing much appreciated training while the young adults provided joyful worship with drums, shakers, song and dance...and fervent commitments to the task of leading and teaching youth in the remote village churches. Looking over this group of energized young women and men gathered in Yei UMC as we celebrated communion on the final day of the retreat, I was moved with the knowledge that faith development among the youth of the village churches would take a major step forward, and astounded to realize that several of these young adults would be, in a few years, pastors of these and of new churches. What an incredible gift!