Archive for the ‘South Sudan’ Category

South Sudan flag

It is an incredible thing to witness the birth of a nation. For years I have prayed for Sudan, but I never imagined that I would have the opportunity to actually be in Africa with the people of Southern Sudan on the day of their independence. I am awestruck, overwhelmed and grateful.

Eldoret has a sizeable population of Sudanese refugees. Some have lived here since the 1980’s, while others arrived just in the past few years. Some were born here and have never even seen their homeland. Many of them have horrific survival stories and most of them have passed through Kaukuma, and other refugee camps.

On Saturday, they poured into the deeply rutted, mud-dirt streets of the Kapsoya neighborhood where they live, dancing and leaping sky-high while beating on drums and singing; the celebration punctuated frequently with that high African trill of exhilaration.

My friends Margaret and Abraham, as well as Joseph and Carol also live in Kapsoya. Knowing that there was going to be a big freedom celebration in the yard of the Sudanese Catholic church, I hurried over there on Saturday morning to celebrate with them. After a cup of chai at Margaret’s house, she and I walked over to the church, where every Sudanese person in Eldoret was gathered. Margaret was one of the few Kenyans there and I was definitely the only mzungu.

At first, we were given some of the more coveted seats under a white tent, while various groups performed with song and dance. I felt confined and frustrated there though, because I could not get good pictures from that location, and finally we left to just mingle in the crowd.

Dinka lady

Most all of the people are Dinka or sub-groups within the Dinka tribe. The Dinka people are tall and slim and elegant-looking, all cheekbones and teeth, with very dark skin. Apparently, some of the tallest people in Africa can be found amongst the Dinka. Needless to say, I felt as at-home with them as I did in the Amsterdam airport, with the unusual feeling being able to look everyone directly in the eye!

The ceremony was very Christian, with many people carrying and waving small crosses, along with the South Sudan flags. While most of the singing was in Dinka, I could recognize the words, “Jehovah Jirah” which came up frequently. Many of the performing groups also had scriptures on the back of their t-shirts: “The trap is broken and we are free. Psalm 124:7.” “Let My people go. Exodus 5:1.” “You have turned my mourning into dancing. Psalm 30:11.” Margaret and I purchased commemorative paper visors which declared “God loves us.”

While watching the people leap with such joy and abandon, I was overcome with emotion several times during the day. Knowing a little of what these people have experienced, I literally had to use all the self-control and concentration within me to restrain myself from weeping. I don’t know if it was intercession or sympathy or both. How I wish I could have had the opportunity to hear the personal stories of every person there, especially the older ones who remember all too well what life was like in Sudan, and what hells they had to go through just to survive and make it to Kenya.


Leaping into the air is a huge part of the way they express joy. When the old ladies began to leap in the air, I saw some of the old men bow their heads to hide their tears. I saw it all myself, through my own tears.


While the older folks were dressed very simply, the young Sudanese were all dressed to the nines; ladies in sequin gowns and men in stylish blue jeans, as well as many in traditional African clothing, looking like queens. I was surprised at the fashion savvy of some the younger ones who were dressed (and looked) like fashion models. There were a lot of bling-encrusted sunglasses, and men with brightly colored shoes to match their brightly colored satin shirts.

As refugees, they have not been able to work for a living since their arrival in Kenya, and have relied on the support of family and friends who have made a life in the US or elsewhere, as well as the aid of the international community. Apparently some of them are supported quite well! Margaret said that the young Sudanese are typically dressed much better than the average Kenyan. The younger refugees who were born in Kenya have never held a regular job or seen their parents work. This is not their fault, but I can’t help but wonder how they will adjust to life when they return to their homeland! It is going to be a tough transition for some of them, I fear. As the globe’s newest nation, South Sudan is starting at the bottom–ranked as the poorest country in the world, with the highest infant mortality rate and the lowest education levels. They are going to have to be willing to get into the dirt and dust and work hard to build their nation from the ground up. I am praying for them.

Almost every person that Margaret and I talked to made a point of thanking Kenya and the United States, who, along with Uganda have provided the most support for the southern Sudanese during their long and painful sojurn to freedom. Kenya has gracefully taken in hundreds of thousands of refugees, not only from Sudan but also Somalia, Rwanda, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and others African nations. It is one of her greatest qualities and redemptive gifts–to be a haven of relative stability in the midst of a very unstable region. God bless Kenya.

Today I think of Tor, the Sudanese “lost boy” who I sat next to on the plane ride from Amsterdam to Nairobi. He was stolen from his family when he was 4 years old and forced to become a soldier and learn the ways of war. As a teenager, he and some other boys escaped from the army and walked hundreds of miles through the desert, without shoes and eating and drinking whatever they could find to survive. They finally made it to the overcrowded Kaukuma refugee camp where they survived on meager UN donations of one cup of rice a day for several years.

Through a special program in the United States, Tor was taken to North Dakota, where he was given a job killing pigs and placed in a local high school, though he knew very little English and had never experienced cold weather, let alone a North Dakota winter. Little by little, he learned English, graduated from High School and worked his way up to a job at Wal-Mart, where he met his wife. (I think her American name was Michelle, but she changed it to Pennguan). Tor and Pennguan were on their way home. After all these years, he was returning to Sudan, not merely for a visit, but to help build his nation. His plans were to open a school around Wau, his home area. He had even managed to find his parents somehow, whom he had not seen since he was 4 years old.

Today, I salute Tor and his wife and all the other brave men and women who are returning to South Sudan. May God give them wisdom and grace for all the complex challenges they will face in the next few years.

And someday, God willing, I will also go to South Sudan and plant a few seeds myself in that dry soil…And I will join in the prayers of my Sudanese brothers and sisters for God to send the rain and bring in the harvest.  ~Mercy Aiken

A few more photos:

Margaret with two of her former students


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