Sharon Borland
A Mission Trip to the Least Happy Country in the World

South Sudan

My first ever mission trip and in February 2019 I was off to a country that the UK government recommend you stay well away from and a United Nations Report says is the least happy country in the world. South Sudan is a young nation, having separated from Sudan in 2011. Christianity is the most common religion with a significant minority of African traditional religions and a small percentage of Muslims. We stayed in the capital city, Juba which has basic infrastructure (a few surfaced roads, electricity some of the time, water most of the time, Wi-Fi in some places). Much of the housing, however, is quite makeshift and doesn’t have these basics.

The Team

I went with a small charity called Flame International. They take teams of volunteers into war-torn communities suffering from emotional and spiritual damage caused by bloodshed, conflict, poverty and oppression and have been going to South Sudan for several years.

I joined 9 team members, two of whom I knew a little bit and the others I only met at Heathrow airport. They turned out to be an amazing and varied bunch but with some important things in common – we were all Christians who wanted to do our best to show the love and compassion of God to the people of South Sudan, to see them healed both physically and emotionally from the traumatic experiences of living in a country ravaged by war, division and poverty and to equip them to help others to receive healing. We had team worship and devotion every morning and evening, with each team member taking it in turn to lead. I absolutely loved the way God united us and used the gifting and experience of each person to fulfil the mission. There were, of course, times to show grace to one another when there were differences of opinion, last minute changes to plans or challenging situations, but also times to encourage and support one another. We also had some great discussions about life, theology etc and I saw the benefit of spending time with Christians from different denominations.

The People and Testimonies

We ran a 5-day conference/workshops for a group of 40 chaplains in the South Sudanese People’s Defence Forces. Most of these men and women were involved in armed conflict during the years of war and had witnessed many violent and traumatic things; several still had the physical evidence of this, including one man with a bullet embedded just under his scalp and a woman with scars from 5 bullet wounds. Almost all of them had lost close family members during the conflict and many had been suffering from pains and ailments for several years. During these 5 days they received very practical teaching with the aid of drama and visual demonstrations. There were lots of opportunities for them to respond to the teaching, particularly by choosing to forgive people who had caused them anguish and by acknowledging and repenting of (turning away from) their own wrong thoughts and actions. It was really powerful to see their willingness to take these difficult steps and amazing to see God respond as we prayed for healing. There were many testimonies of long-term pain gone, peaceful sleep they didn’t normally experience, release from emotional pain; one person had their hearing restored; others felt God’s presence more closely and experienced joy.

We spent shorter times doing a more compact version of the teaching and ministry to clergy from the Episcopal church of South Sudan and the Mother’s Union (a very influential and active group of women within the church). We heard similar stories of financial hardship, struggles with the continued division and lack of security, poor health care provision and families who are still separated – wives and children living in refugee camps in Uganda to escape the dangers. We also visited the prison – about 150 prisoners were already worshipping loudly with the aid of drums before we even arrived. It was wonderful to lay hands on them and pray and most of them felt some improvement either physically or emotionally.

At all the events, the cultural differences didn’t stop us from finding some opportunities to make them laugh and they also shared some of their humour with us. In contrast, they were taught about anger and each one came to the front to throw a stone into a bucket and shout out something they were angry about; common items included sickness, suffering, division, lack of education and security, separation from family, tribal issues.

My personal experiences

One of the highlights for me was spending 1½ days leading the prayer ministry for a small group of army chaplains. They each received some individual ministry, and, using a combination of observation and teaching, they were able to participate in the ministry and hopefully go on to use these techniques with their army units. God was certainly with me, to give me the courage to do this alone, to feel peaceful about it and to guide my prayer and ministry. It was such a privilege to get to know more of their individual stories: family members killed and unburied during the war, possessions and land unlawfully taken, men unable to marry because they didn’t have the finances needed to meet the dowry price. It was so encouraging to see them make the decision to forgive those responsible for their difficulties, choose to trust in God’s promises and to hear them say how much better they felt.

Every day I prayed more than I ever have before, for myself, for the team, for the work but most powerfully over the men and women of South Sudan as they responded to the teaching.

I met people who lived very challenging lives and yet were joyful before God and trusted totally in Him. They wanted to grow in their faith, to live obediently and they wanted to help those around them do the same.

I loved the spontaneous, unaccompanied worship and learned to worship God my own way even when others were singing in a different language.

Would I go again? ……. Absolutely – hopefully later this year!

*United Nations Sustainable Development Solutions Network World Happiness Report published 20th March 2019