The Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA) has succeeded in fully liberating the whole of Western Equatoria. The fall of Bo, the last remaining Government of Sudan (GOS) garrison in the province makes Western Equatoria the first province of Sudan from which all the National Islamic Front (NIF) Arab forces have been eradicated. The distinctive red cross on blue and white, the Christian flag is now flying all over Western Equatoria.
The dramatic SPLA offensive, "Operation Thunderbolt," which began on March 9, 1997 defeated several GOS divisions and overran the network of Muslim garrisons, from Amadi and Lui to the important road junction at Jambo to the strategic town of Yei, the key border towns of Kaya and Kajo-Keji, the heavily fortified Lainya and the garrisons at Goja, Boje and Moga. This successful series of military thrusts was decisive as it firmly placed under SPLA control all the southwestern approaches to the Southern capital of Juba.
With the beginning of the rainy season, the swollen Kit River proved to be a considerable natural obstacle to the further advance of the SPLA forces — especially as the GOS forces had blown up the bridge. During April, however, the SPLA forces, under Commander Mayardit, managed to cross the Kit River and launched a series of lightning strikes against four GOS bases. The Arab forces fled in disarray and the SPLA have now advanced to within sight (and shelling range) of Juba.
The only outposts near Juba still under GOS control (at the time of writing) are Rejaf and Rokon. Two thousand troops from the defector Rieck Machar's SSIM forces (which have now joined the GOS), which were sent from upper Nile to help defend Juba, were intercepted and defeated by the SPLA. The SSIM suffered heavy losses and the survivors fled in disarray. The SPLA offensive has also isolated the GOS garrison towns in Eastern Equatoria, Torit and Kapoeta, which can be supplied only by air drops. These air drops can be sustained only for as long as the Juba air base is able to operate. Juba itself is now cut off, with the SPLA threatening both the road route and the Nile river route from Bor.
New Offensives Launched in Bahr-El-Ghazal and Red Sea
With the GOS distracted by the threat to their Southern capital of Juba, the S P LA suddenly launched another offensive in May (Operation Deng Nhial) which captured the towns of Tonj, Warrap, Rumheck and Gogrial in Bahr-El-Ghazal province. Rumheck fell on May 1, after an intensive one-hour battle. Tonj was subdued in just thirty ferocious minutes, a few days later.
At the same time the SPLA, with their new northern allies in the National Democratic Alliance (NDA), also made major advances in Eastern Sudan. The SPLA/NDA Red Sea Offensive overran all the GOS garrisons between Tokar and the Red Sea, including Algiekh, Atirahi, Migileen, Bitay and Ateek.
Significantly, the tone of the NIF regime's propaganda from Khartoum has changed quite dramatically. The NIF spokesmen are now saying that their (GOS) forces are "holding their own" rather than the earlier "repelling the invaders"! The public is being prepared for future defeats and there is a continuous appeal for citizens to enroll in the Popular Defense Force (PDF) militia.
The minister for information. El Tayeh Mohamed Kheir, has been forced to admit that the GOS is facing some serious "difficulties" in the East. Kheir stressed that the fall of the threatened Tokar would not mean that Port Sudan (the absolutely vital road, rail and sea lifeline for Sudan) would he on the brink of falling, because, he noted, Tokar is 200 kilometers from Port Sudan! Observers have concluded that the NIF is apparently depending more on geographic distances than on any military abilities of its armed forces to protect their dictatorship!
At the time of this report, SPLA forces were also threatening the very strategic railway junction town of Wau in Bahr-El Ghazal and the hydroelectric power station at the dam near Damazin on the Blue Nile. Reportedly this hydroelectric dam provides more than 80% of the electricity for the national capital, Khartoum.
War Intensifies in the Nuba Mountains
With the liberation of so many key towns in Western Equatoria and Bahr-El-Ghazal, the SPLA will be able to resupply their beleaguered forces cut off in the Nuba Mountains for over twelve years — once the dry season starts in October or November. Perhaps because of this threat, the NIF forces have intensified their efforts to annihilate the Nuba people.
The SPLA in the Nuba has succeeded in repulsing six of the eight massive military columns recently sent into the Nuba Mountains. However, the two GOS columns which got through devastated many villages, burning crops, vandalizing churches, destroying villages, looting livestock and murdering many villagers.
Christian Flags Fly Over Newly Liberated Towns
During my latest mission trip to Sudan in May, it was my privilege to visit some of the newly liberated areas along the Yei river battlefront. At every town I saw the distinctive red cross on blue and white Christian flags flying. There was a joyful atmosphere of thanksgiving to God for the remarkable series of victories the Christian soldiers had so recently experienced. Many soldiers related close calls and answered prayers during the recent battles.
Several SPLA officers, including commanders, commented that the turning point in the war was when the SPLA had accepted the appointment of our chaplains and decreed that all parades and operations were to be started with Bible reading and prayer.
"Our situation seemed hopeless two years ago . . . but as we have turned to God, He has begun to bless us with great victories," declared one officer. "Each chaplain is worth many brigades of soldiers — the chaplains have done a great work in inspiring and strengthening our men," said another.
"These Bibles which you bring," observed one commander "are very important weapons in our fight for freedom. The Christian Bible is more powerful than the bombs of the Muslims!"
There are now six full-time chaplains and 36 assistants serving in the SPLA. To them Frontline Fellowship has delivered thousands of Bibles, hymn hooks, prayer hooks and other Christian hooks. The chaplains reported that hundreds of soldiers have come to faith in Christ in recent months.
Lui and the Legacy of Dr. Frazer
One of my chaplains' services was held in the newly liberated town of Lui . Lui has been a very important and strategic missionary, medical and educational center in Western Equatoria. It was the birthplace of Christianity in Moruland.
In 1920, Dr. Kenneth Frazer, of the Church Missionary Society, travelled up the Nile and felt led to Lui. He was a medical doctor, a teacher and a pastor; but he was also a decorated soldier who had risen to Major General by the end of the First World War. General Frazer implemented what has proven to he one of the most successful missionary campaigns ever. His strategy was to fulfill the Great Commission by ministering to body, mind and spirit. He started by opening up a hospital, then a school, then a church. Soon he had established nurses' training courses, teacher training programs and pastoral training. He also translated the gospels and Acts into Moru.
As I stood before the simple white cross which marked the grave of Dr. Frazer, I marvelled that what one man started could have accomplished so much. All around me was the evidence: a very large church, large schools, the hospital, teacher training college and nurses college. It was true that the Muslim government's bombing and occupation had forced the people to flee and had damaged many of the buildings, but Jesus Christ is the Resurrection and the Life. Christianity is the religion of the empty tomb. Out of death comes life — abundant life.
Today there are over 300,000 Moru Christians who belong to the Mundri Diocese, for which Kenneth Frazer laid the foundations. Many of the key Christian leaders in Moruland today received their education (and often medical treatment too) at Lui.
The signs of the Arab occupation were everywhere — trenches, gun emplacements, pill boxes, mine fields, the debris of war, a newly painted Mosque and many vandalized graves.
There were a shocking number of broken crosses in the graveyard by the Lui church. (However, I noticed that none of the Arabic signs on the graves of Muslim troops who had been buried in Lui had been disturbed at all.)
Rev. Jeffry pointed out the huge tree under which Dr. Frazer had first begun Bible studies and church services. "Dr. Frazer chose that tree to start the first Moru church because it was
the same tree under which the Arab slave traders had bought and sold our people as slaves." I looked at the tree with renewed appreciation of God's work of creation which made such a magnificent tree and God's work of redemption (re-creation) which has rescued us from the slavery of sin and death.
We noticed that the memorial plaque which had been set up in front of the Redemption Tree had also been vandalized by the Arab invaders during their occupation. I preached the Word to the SPLA soldiers at Lui, and prayed with them that the great work begun at that town would continue, that once again the hospital, schools, colleges and church would be fully operating to the glory of God and for the strengthening of his people in Moruland.
Medical Clinic at Mundri Is Operational
Despite a critical shortage of equipment and medicines, the field medics and nurses who completed the Frontline Fellowship Medical Workshop in March have managed to maintain an operational clinic close to the Yei river. I was most impressed with how much they had accomplished, especially with all the hundreds of patients they have had to care for during the offensives of the last three months.
The clinic was clean, neat and efficiently run. There were over forty patients in the four wards. Most were soldiers with gunshot wounds. A few had been injured by landmines. Some were civilians injured by mines or mortars. One man was in a very severe condition from a car accident. He had multiple fractures and he had almost bitten his tongue off. The medics had effectively stitched his tongue hack together again. (We transported this man hack to the hospital at Maridi for further treatment.) Some of the patients had tropical diseases of one sort or another. One nine-year-old hoy was the only survivor of three who had been blown up by a GOS mortar bomb. His mother and brother had already died and he had wounds in each arm and leg and on his body.
The chaplains had organized a special service at the Mundri clinic and well over 200 soldiers and civilians had gathered and were joyfully singing when I arrived hack from Lui. After some hymns, prayers and greetings, I presented the Medical Workshop certificates to those medics present who had passed the written examination. They also received the first Red Cross/ medical armbands and special medic packs with first aid materials. In all we delivered about 700 kilograms of antibiotics, pain killers, anti-inflammatories, fever-reducing agents, bandages, gauze and other vital medical materials.
The Mundri clinic urgently needs sheets (the patients are sleeping on reed mats on concrete floors — there are no beds or sheets and very few blankets available), eating utensils, mosquito netting for the windows, more paint (about half of the clinic has been painted) and, of course, rnany more medicines, bandages and gauze. The medics are also looking forward to further training courses and medical teams to come and assist them.
The medical situation in Western Equatoria has become even more critical since the Red Cross suspended its flights. The Red Cross Hospital in Lokichoggio (Kenya) is the only fully equipped hospital (with X-ray machines, for example) available for war-wounded South Sudanese. The GOS and UN flight ban on most of Western Equatoria also means that there is no longer any opportunity to fly out patients. This makes it even more urgent that we provide the trained and motivated medics in Mundri with all the medicines they need to alleviate the suffering of the war-wounded in Western Equatoria. There are very few places where we can achieve so much with even so few resources as the Medical Clinic in Mundri.
Literature Distribution and Leadership Training
It was a joy to deliver 1,050 Arabic/English bymnals (half went to the chaplains and half to the Episcopal church), 240 Avokayo hymnals, 2,050 prayer hooks in Moru, 40 prayer hooks in English and two boxes of other Christian hooks to the pastors of Western Equatoria. (This brings to over 26,000 the number of Bibles, hymn and prayer books and other Christian hooks in thirteen languages delivered to seven regions of Sudan by Frontline Fellowship, so far, this year.)
The recent dramatic advances by the SPLA are now also leading to other momentous upheavals, as hundreds of thousands of displaced people and refugees plan to return to their now liberated home areas.
The Diocese of Mundri is planning to restore the abandoned Bishop Gwynne College. This was the largest Bible college and theological seminary in Southern Sudan (it was named after the first Christian Missionary Alliance missionary to Sudan). Since the college had been so close to the battlefront it had been abandoned for the last decade. At present there are only three Bible colleges for all of Western Equatoria — and none of them are in Moruland. The rapid church growth and lack of adequate Bible training has led to a desperate shortage of trained pastors.
Frontline Fellowship has been officially requested by the pastors of Mundri Diocese to help restore the Bishop Gwynne College. It would be a most strategically placed leadership training center and it would be far wiser to train pastors inside Sudan than to take promising students outside for their studies. Quite aside from the extra costs and the danger of many students choosing not to return to their home areas afterwards, study overseas tends to make such pastoral candidates less in touch with their future congregations. In fact, overseas study often robs indigenous churches of their most promising leaders — not only for a few years — but all too often for life. For these reasons we are determined to assist in establishing a Bible college in Sudan that will lay firm foundations for evangelism, discipleship, pastoral ministry and Biblical reformation.
Flight Bans and Violating Air Space
On this mission trip, as on many others, the logistics were complicated by a flight ban by the GOS and UN over most of Equatoria (the part where we are working!). We were told by our hosts that when the radio message came through that a plane was going to land that day, the local officials didn't believe it: "No planes come here any more. We're under a flight ban."
Jeffrey explained: "No, it's a Frontline Fellowship team coming." To which they responded: "Oh! Frontline Fellowship," they just nodded. Apparently we have a reputation for routinely breaking UN and GOS rules and flight bans!
The drama that ensued over our return flight was another reminder of just how often we take the Lord's protection for granted on these (illegal) incursions into (the officially Islamic) Sudan. I was walking to the Zande Bible College for the last speaking engagement of my trip when I heard our aircraft — an hour early. I saw it coming in low and guessed that something was wrong when the pilot landed immediately without first circling the airstrip. I started running and collected my kit on the way.
At the airstrip the pilot was very nervous and impatient to take off. He had been warned by radio that the authorities in Khartoum knew about this flight. The GOS had forwarded official warnings that the aircraft did not have permission to enter Sudan airspace and that it would be intercepted and shot down if it continued. Within seconds we were zooming out at maximum speed at tree-top level — straight for the Zaire border. For several tense, prayer-filled minutes we scanned the skies for any sign of an enemy aircraft.
By God's grace we reached home safely. It had been another successful trip blessed by God: The medical clinic at Mundri was resupplied; the field medics had been equipped with first aid packs; 3,500 more prayer and hymn hooks in four languages were delivered; chaplaincy and church services had been held, including in newly liberated areas; our friends in Southern Sudan had been further encouraged; and important plans and preparations were discussed concerning future leadership training, educational and medical projects.
To those who made this trip possible and who prayed for it, "May the Lord abundantly bless and reward you." Photographs and further details of the recent dramatic developments in Sudan are available upon request.
- Peter Hammond
Dr. Peter Hammond is a missionary who has pioneered evangelistic outreaches in the war zones of Angola, Mozambique and Sudan. Peter is the Founder and Director of Frontline Fellowship and the Director of United Christian Action. He has authored numerous publications, in particular he has written Holocaust in Rwanda, Faith Under Fire in Sudan, In the Killing Fields of Mozambique, Putting Feet to Your Faith and Renaissance or Reformation. He is the editor of both Frontline Fellowship News and UCANEWS. Peter is married to Lenora and they have been blessed with four children: Andrea, Daniela, Christopher, and Calvin.