Seeking Healing, Recovering From Genocide at Yei

Recovery from war and genocide that has been
occurring in Sudan for more than 19 years has begun at Yei.

Yei, Sudan–Yei might not be the end of the earth, but it’s very close. At least that’s the image drawn by Mr. Cons Tongo, coordinator of The United Methodist Church of Sudan.

“We think we are forgotten, at times,” he said under a tent made of linen constructed by the local members. “Before we came here this was a killing place. People were afraid to come here. We slept under trees.”

He was describing a new plot of land the church has acquired at the edge of Yei, a community that has been emptied of people and utterly destroyed by the civil war that until last year had continued here for almost twenty years. The land the church has acquired was a place where locals were brought to be killed by the Sudanese military who were attempting to quiet the resistance in the south and control the non-Arab population that fought the central government fiercely.

“We call this the bush,” Mr. Tongo told us. “We are in the wilderness. We don’t know where we will sleep. We don’t know when we will eat. This is really wilderness, but we seek to stand firm. We seek to turn this into the New Jerusalem.”

He pointed to the small group assembled in the shade of the tent and made a sweeping gesture. “My entire congregation has suffered all of these years. We receive you in the name of Jesus Christ.”

“Outside we look fine,” he said. “But inside all are damaged.”

In truth, he is probably putting it mildly. Every woman in the small group of thirty adults and children is widowed. Most of the children are orphans. All are desperately poor and this compound is the one stable place of safety many have known in years.

These people were the first wave of southern Sudanese who experienced what is today being called genocide in Darfur. They experienced the same rape, pillage, murder and forced relocation. Their towns were bombed indiscriminately. Their homes burned. Young males were taken under force, often to be killed, sometimes to be pressed into militias engaged in the fighting. Their animals were killed and crops burned. Some bear the scars of torture and mutilation. Some have only appendages for ears; a favorite practice was to cut off the ears of people to induce terror.

Knowing this, it is remarkable that this small community has the capacity to “stand firm” and the stamina to clear this unhospitable plot of land. The young man says they hope to locate a church building, an orphanage, primary and secondary schools and a community radio station in this bushland.

After all they’ve been through this vision isn’t just amazing, it’s deeply moving.

As we conclude our conversation they rise, sing and dance with enthusiasm and energy that is simply remarkable. Then we pray and the young coordinator says they are seeking healing and recovery from the war that has until now robbed them of their future.

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