A Better Tomorrow Begins Today
Ridley’s Director of Pastoral Studies, Eeva John, writes about her recent trip to South Sudan to support the establishment of a church university.
The world’s newest country: tribal tensions, civil war, refugees, mass internal displacement of people and, now, famine. If you know anything about South Sudan, then these are likely to be at the top of your list of ‘facts’. South Sudan is indeed a troubled country. Of its approximately 13 million people, 1.8m are refugees in neighbouring countries and another 1.8m are internally displaced through war and its accompanying atrocities. The lack of security means that people are too frightened to farm their land, and roads are so insecure that transporting goods from neighbouring countries is increasingly difficult, causing food prices to soar.
So what am I doing supporting the Episcopal Church of South Sudan to establish a church university, when there are so many immediate and seemingly more urgent needs? Education is the key to stability, peace and development in South Sudan. The country desperately needs doctors, nurses, trained teachers, engineers, agriculturalists, lawyers and business people who are committed to building a just, peaceful and prosperous nation. There is a huge lack of university places in the existing state universities, which means that the increasing numbers of secondary school leavers have nowhere to go — and consequently are more likely to perpetuate the violence that plagues the country. What’s more, education needs to be framed in a way that builds integrity of character and a desire to serve the nation. So for the Episcopal Church of South Sudan, founding a university with a Christian ethos is one of the many facets of what it means to build God’s kingdom in South Sudan.
I first became involved in 2011, when I had the privilege of carrying out a feasibility study for this project, visiting theological colleges, Bible schools and vocational institutes around the country. Now, the project has a South Sudanese Director and a Management Board chaired by Archbishop Daniel Deng Bul and is on its way to being registered with the government of South Sudan. It is supported by ECSSSUP, a UK charity which I chair.
On this last visit, my daughter (a management consultant) and I travelled to Wau to assess one of the participating colleges and then, back in Juba, facilitated a workshop that brought together the staff of eight colleges from around the country. Together, over three long hot days in the capital Juba, this group of thirty fellow educators hammered out the vision, values and mission of this new multi-campus university, and worked their way through a range of important issues that would enable us to launch the new university. Many of these institutions began as theological colleges but have diversified to provide other courses to meet felt needs: business, administration, development, agriculture, IT. On numerous occasions staff and students have had to abandon their campus and flee to the bush because of the war. But the determination to continue to work for long-term goals is astonishing and humbling. Resources are minimal, conditions are tough — with water, food and electricity hard to come by — and security is never guaranteed. Here, dependence on God is tangible and the call to follow Christ is palpably costly. But our South Sudanese colleagues embodied a solid hope and a gritty, joyful faith that makes it an incomparable privilege to be accompanying them in this work.
To find out more — including how to support this project — visit www.ecsssup.org.