As gunfire shattered the afternoon quiet on May 11, 2015, Elizabeth quickly picked up her young daughter and started running. The fierce internal conflict that first erupted in 2013—just two years after South Sudan became the world’s newest country—had now spread to where Elizabeth lived in southern Unity State. She was working as a nutrition assistant with Samaritan’s Purse when the fighting broke out.
With soldiers bearing down on her village, she and her daughter were among thousands of people who rushed to the swamps to survive. Elizabeth struggled, her breathing labored. Not only was she clutching her daughter close to her chest, she was seven months pregnant. Though extremely tired, she pushed through her pain and made it to safety.
To evade detection and escape the violence, Elizabeth and the others were always on the run, shuttling from one small island to the other.
“My daughter was crying; we had no food; we had to sleep without any covering,” she recalled. “I was very, very, very sad.”
At first, people had to scavenge water lily roots for food. So Elizabeth is deeply grateful that Samaritan’s Purse pursued those who had fled, delivering life-saving food, shelter, and medicine. “They came to us,” she said.
“My daughter was crying; we had no food; we had to sleep without any covering”
While in the swamp, Elizabeth became a mother again, this time to a baby boy. She looked to God for strength and peace during those perilous days. Bible promises, such as Isaiah 41:10, came alive: “Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand” (ESV).
“When the war came and chased us away and we were hiding under the grass, I remember praying, ‘Oh God, please stop the shooting,’” she said. “And the shooting stopped. We were trusting God. That’s why we’re here.”
“God continues to use Samaritan’s Purse to help those who are suffering,” Elizabeth said.
The fighting finally died down six months later and Elizabeth returned home. Today, she continues to reach out in Jesus’ Name, coming alongside mothers to make sure their young children are receiving the proper nutrition they need.
“God continues to use Samaritan’s Purse to help those who are suffering,” Elizabeth said. “They are getting food, and they are getting water. And we’re encouraging their lives.”
Many Sudanese people have known the pain of war nearly their entire lives. Over the past 20-plus years, Samaritan’s Purse has stood by the beleaguered people of this troubled region. Our work began in Sudan and then shifted to South Sudan after its independence in July 2011.
When people were hungry, we fed them. When they lacked clean water, we dug wells. When their hospitals were closed, we provided quality health care. When their crops failed, we handed out seeds and tools to start over. When their churches were burned, we rebuilt them (512 in fact across the country).
One of our significant and extensive points of ministry has been at the Yida Refugee Camp. As bombing began in the Nuba Mountains of Sudan, the people walked for weeks, traveling with whatever they had. Some had nothing—no water, no food.
When they arrived in Yida, Samaritan’s Purse was there to serve them. Today, more than 70,000 refugees call the camp “home.” Another 30,000 live at the nearby Ajuong Thok Refugee Camp.
“God’s leading to us was clear. Where they went, we went. Where they stopped, we stopped. Where they stay, we stay.”
“Samaritan’s Purse and the Nuban community have a special bond,” said Adele Billups-Bong, who is area coordinator at both Yida and Ajuong Thok. “God’s leading to us was clear. Where they went, we went. Where they stopped, we stopped. Where they stay, we stay.”
Her voice choking with emotion, Adele added: “Honestly, if Samaritan’s Purse was not here in the beginning, if we had not taken the initiative to follow the Nuban community from where they were to here, I think the story would have been extremely dark. I think it would have been less redemptive. A lot more people would have died. The thought of that is heartbreaking.”
The intense shelling and fighting in the Nuba Mountains that flared up in 2011 forced David Albi to bolt. But he didn’t make the treacherous journey by himself. As the headmaster of a school, he was tasked with the arduous job of shepherding the 1,285 primary students to safety at Yida.
“We fled from different locations, and it took two weeks to come here,” explained David, who was 29 years old at the time. “Taking vehicles was too dangerous because jet fighters were bombing the cars. So we had to walk, and oftentimes we hid along the road to avoid being seen openly. It was very scary.”
“We fled from different locations, and it took two weeks to come here… It was very scary.”
God proved faithful. David started all over at a school set up at the Yida camp. The student population mushroomed to 3,000.
Then God led David to join Samaritan’s Purse in 2012. He’s been serving as a Bible literacy teacher at one of the five literacy centers at the camp. They’re using the Bible to teach English. Hundreds have completed the program so far.
“People are interested in learning to read English because it’s an international language,” David said. “But they’re not just learning English. They’re reading the Bible, and God is using His Word to work in their lives. Then the Holy Spirit brings them to faith in Jesus Christ.”
In the city of Aweil, 400 miles northwest of the capital city of Juba, Muslims systematically destroyed every church—burning some of them with Christians locked inside. The rest of the believers scattered into the countryside, where they lived in fear until South Sudan was liberated.
Today, Aweil has two evangelical churches constructed by Samaritan’s Purse and more than a dozen more that have been planted by local believers.
“By God’s grace, Samaritan’s Purse came to Aweil,” explained the Reverend William Aguer, pastor of Holy Trinity Cathedral. “Not only did they help build our church, they strengthened our faith. They enabled us to focus on proclaiming Jesus and His Gospel. They gave us hope even during time of war.”
Hope is a precious lifeline in today’s South Sudan. It is desperately needed, with what has befallen the country of late. The economy is crumbling under the weight of 600 percent inflation. Last season’s lackluster harvest has led to a severe food shortage and rampant malnutrition this summer—triggering a mass exodus of more than 50,000 people to neighboring Darfur in search for food.
But perhaps the greatest danger occurred just when the country was to celebrate its fifth year of independence in July. Intense fighting among troops loyal to rival politicians erupted in Juba, killing hundreds and displacing thousands. At one point, the country seemed to teeter on the brink of civil war. But thank God, so far the skirmishes have not spread outside of the capital. However, the country is still on edge.
Despite these daunting challenges, Samaritan’s Purse remains committed to caring for those in desperate need and proclaiming the Good News. Our staff are still at work in multiple locations across the country providing food, water, medical care, and ministry in Jesus‘ Name.
The impact is clearly being seen, as many people are becoming faithful followers of the Lord, including Muslims. Juma is one of them. Noticing Juma’s hard work and desire to develop new skills, Adele Billups-Bong, area coordinator at Yida, spent Saturday mornings teaching the young man different computer programs. He peppered Adele with questions about Christianity. Then he began attending showings of the Jesus film held in an open field. God worked in Juma’s heart and the 20-year-old committed his life to Jesus.
“He was so excited he went home to Nuba saying, ‘I have to tell my family and friends who need to hear about Christ,’” Adele said.
God is at work in South Sudan, and we praise Him “who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think” (Ephesians 3:20, ESV).