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A letter from Nancy McGaughey in South Sudan

August 2013

When elephants fight, it is the grass that suffers…  (African proverb)

Murle Church in Jebel, Juba, South Sudan

How true it is—when those in charge fight/disagree, the ones who suffer the most are the people under them.  That has proven to be the case once again for the Murle people of South Sudan.

In my last letter I wrote that I was on my way to RECONCILE Peace Institute in Yei for a two-week class on “Community Peace Initiatives.”  That two weeks turned into a month as continued fighting in Pibor County between the rebel group of David Yau Yau and the SPLA (army of South Sudan) made it impossible for me to return.  But more than stopping my return, it caused many of the Murle people to flee the area.  My friendly little town is now like a ghost town, I am told. According to UNOCHA (United Nations Organization for Coordination of Humanitarian Agencies) almost 20,000 people have fled to refugee camps in Ethiopia, Kenya and Uganda.  An estimated 11,000 Murle have fled to Juba and are living in hastily built shelters or with friends and relatives.  Another 4,000 are hiding in the bush in Pibor County.

That can just be a bunch of numbers to many of us.  But what does it really mean?  The 4,000 hiding in Pibor County are basically living in the jungle.  It is the rainy season, there are lots of mosquitoes, and it is almost impossible to get supplies into the area.  Health care is virtually non-existent.  Last week in church one person recently returned from Pibor.  He told of 72 young children who had been found—22 in one area, 50 in another.  There were no adults with them.  Whether the adults had been killed or the children had just gotten separated was not certain.  What is certain is that they were young children trying to survive on their own.

My first Sunday back in Juba, I was trying to find the Murle church in Jebel, a section of Juba.  I had been there last year and knew the general location.  As we were driving around, we stopped to ask one man.  He recognized me from Pibor and gave the driver directions.  We arrived, but not at the church that I was searching.  When I got nearer, I recognized some of the people from the Pibor church.  When I went inside, I discovered that this church was mostly my friends from Pibor.  It was like coming home—lots of greetings, shaking hands and hugging!

Murle Pastors greeting the congregation after church.

One Sunday after church I participated in a discussion with some of the church leaders.  They talked about their fears for those remaining in the bush and about the many children here in Juba who are not receiving an education.  I listened to one pastor saying, “We as a Murle people are really dying.  What is happening to our people in the bush?  It is difficult to communicate with them.  Are they going to be left there to die? Do we have no hope?  I beg you to use whatever power you have to help us help them.”  He spoke with such passion he brought tears to my eyes and my heart.  As I think of the Murle people, I am reminded of a song by John Michael Talbot, the chorus of which is:

“Holy Darkness, Blessed Night

Heaven’s answer hidden from our sight

As we await you, O God of Silence,

We embrace Your Holy Night.”      

The second verse is:

“I have tried you in the fires of affliction,

I have taught your souls to grieve…”     

The Murle have certainly been through the fires, and while God may be silent, they know that He is with them and in Him lies their Hope.

Recently the President of South Sudan announced that he was relieving the Vice President, cabinet ministers, some generals from the army, and the head of the SPLM party from their duties.  Many us were concerned about increased tensions.  I scoffed at a quote of one politician who said, “There is nothing to be concerned about.  This is how we do things in Africa.”  And it appears he was right.  As the nation awaits announcement of new appointments, it needs your prayers!

As for me, I will be based in Juba for the rest of this year.  I will continue language study, work part time as Reproductive Health Officer for IMA World Health, and work with organizations to help the Murle here in Juba.  Currently we are trying to get an English class going for women and school for children.

I appreciate so much your support—your prayers I covet, for myself and the Murle; without your financial support, I would not be able to be here.  You are a big part of what I do, and I thank you.  Anyone who would like to join in prayers or financial support is most welcome.  You can do so by visiting my Mission Connections page to make your contribution.  Or send your gift to Presbyterian World Mission, ATTN: McGaughey ministry, P.O. Box 643700, Pittsburgh, PA 15264-3700.

Please continue praying for:

  • Peace and protection for the Murle people
  • Murle children—those in the bush, those who haven’t been able to attend school since January
  • For the government of South Sudan, for wisdom and discernment in appointing of new leaders
  • For me as I settle into life in Juba and an ever-changing job description
  • Classes we are trying to organize for women and children in Juba


Standing with you in prayer for the Murle people,
Nancy (Thokolech)

The 2013 Presbyterian Mission Yearbook for Prayer & Study, p. 103
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