International Ministries

Where people are killed, cows are revered, and bullets are placed in the offering plate

April 15, 2012 Journal
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The people of South Sudan have endured more hardship than most people in modern history. They endured 50 years of civil war in which a generation of children (lost boys and girls) fled across the border where they settled in refugee camps to be later taken up by other nations and scattered across the globe.  Those who remained saw their families and villages torn apart…. and endured hunger, thirst, a bitter war for freedom, and for those who survived; independence.

The people of South Sudan are free but are they at peace?   

I had the occasion to travel to a part of South Sudan infrequently visited by outsiders where I met a Catholic priest (Bishop Taban) who in his mid-seventies is shepherding a population of people in the mountainous region of Kapoeta.   He started a school, agricultural center, health clinic, and church and has authored several books on his country’s long struggle for independence in which he speaks of his own incarceration and suffering.  He noted that ‘real peace comes not from surrendering our arms or weapons but by surrendering our hatred, our jealously and our quest for revenge and retribution”.  “Take cows for instance”.    Cows?

South Sudan is a country where cows are highly valued. In many rural areas the only tangible sign of wealth are cows.  Men must have them to marry (20-30 cows is a common dowry) and one’s social status is measured by the number of cows owned.

Cows are frequently stolen in cattle raids and much of the violence and killing in post-independence South Sudan today is not by the liberation fighters of the South rising up against an oppressive regime in the North (Khartoum) but by ethnic wars often triggered by cattle raids and then reprisal against cattle raids: tribe against tribe, people against people; the Nuer against the Murle, the Murle against the Dinka.    In the three months since Christmas the UN estimates that over four thousand men, women, and children were killed in tribal violence and tens of thousands fled their homes and lost everything they owned.

The killing is done with guns.  Guns are used to protect cattle and are found everywhere and in the hands of everyone, even little boys.   Guns are more prevalent than money (currency) in some parts of the county. 

Father Taban told me during my visit, “They use bullets in my parish for currency instead of coins.  A visit to a health center costs one bullet, exchanges for food are done with bullets.  I said a thanksgiving mass (Matondo) last week and at the end of the service the ushers came forward with baskets overflowing with bullets. I destroy them”, he said.

It would be easy for many to say, “oh this is a problem unique to Africa”. ..but how many in our own country still search for peace? What things do we covet or treasure in our lives?  The South Sudanese people treasure freedom which they fought to attain….. and now seemingly cows, which they fight to retain.


Jesus said, wherever your treasure is….there your heart and thoughts will be (Luke 12:34).  Or in other words, that which we treasure in life is where we focus our thoughts, our hearts, and our time.

What do we treasure in life: our family, our job, our investments, our possessions? 

 Where we spend our time reflects in large part that which we treasure.    Peace in our hearts and peace in our world will come when we treasure not the things of this world but the things of God.   

In an interview with a Kenyan paper last week, this humble Catholic priest was quoted as saying, “Peace doesn't mean you live in a place where there is no quarrel, no fight, no hard work and no noise,   but rather to be in the middle of such a place with calm hearts.”    This is as applicable to South Sudan as it is to America today.

Where does your treasure lie?

Bill & Ann Clemmer  (Juba, South Sudan)