At roughly eleven years old, South Sudan is the youngest country in the world. The Christian-majority nation gained independence from Muslim-majority Sudan in 2011 but has seen little peace in the years since.
In recent months, jihadists have made a more concerted effort to expand their influence in the area. As Bishop Joseph Mamer Manot relayed to the Barnabus Fund earlier this month, “massive displacement has happened, and the humanitarian situation is alarming as food and other property have been burned down into ashes, leaving survivors with no shelters, no food and no safe drinking water.”
After a recent attack left twenty-eight dead and fifty-seven homes destroyed, a Christian from the area added that “Islam is now invading South Sudan. They’re saying South Sudan is a strategic place and that [it] will be the gate to Africa [so that] Islam can go to all of Africa.” Located in Central Africa, South Sudan shares borders with Sudan, Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda, the DRC, and the Central African Republic.
That the jihadists’ goal is not simply to persecute Christians is an important component of what’s going on.
Geography often has as much to do with these attacks as religion. For example, the atrocities committed by Boko Haram and the Fulani Herdsmen against Christians in Nigeria—located roughly 1,500 miles due west from South Sudan—are as much about conflicting ways of life and land as they are about their spiritual differences. At the same time, it is far less likely that those recently killed in South Sudan would be dead if they were Muslims, so the religious component should by no means be dismissed.
I bring all of this up today, though, for two reasons.
Praying for the persecuted
First, we can intercede for our persecuted brothers and sisters far more effectively when we understand more about the nature of what they’re facing.
It’s one thing to pray that God would protect them and bring their attackers to justice. But our hearts and minds engage with their suffering on another level when we know enough about them to better empathize with what they’re going through.
Taking the time to prayerfully research the events and people about whom we pray will add a level of depth to our intercession and help them remain on our hearts and minds longer than if we simply pray and then go on with our day. Those suffering from the threats of death, starvation, and homelessness deserve that from us.
And that is true for the tragedies we see closer to home as well, which leads to the second purpose.
As threats of persecution and discrimination increase closer to home, we must become even more intentional about modeling Christ’s care and concern to those suffering elsewhere.
The human mind has a finite capacity for worry and distress. As the causes for such emotions increase at home, we will have to be more intentional about paying attention to the needs God puts on our hearts and minds from other places as well. It’s not that our hearts won’t still break for the persecuted Christians in South Sudan, but we’re likely to move on much faster than when we had more margin.
When we get to that point and it feels like we just don’t have the words or energy that our brothers and sisters in Christ deserve, remember that God doesn’t evaluate our prayers by how long they are or how impressive others might find them (Matthew 6:7). And his word promises that when we go to him in prayer, the Spirit will intercede on our behalf, ensuring that God doesn’t need words to understand what’s in our heart (Romans 8:26–27).
So the next time you see or read something that prompts you to pray, take the time to learn more about the people for whom you are interceding.
And when it feels like you just don’t have the energy or the words to do justice to their needs, remember that we never pray alone. Find peace and reassurance in the fact that the Spirit prays alongside us, and that God knows what’s in our hearts and minds even when we can’t fully express it.