In John Lam’s hometown of Malakal, South Sudan, there’s roughly 38,000 South Sudanese families in a United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) refugee camp. Dogs roam the streets looking for people walking alone since there are no more dead bodies to devour. His Africa Inland Church Compound owns five Bibles.
When fighting first broke out in the Upper Nile Region between the Dinka and Nuer tribes last fall, Lam watched his church in Malakal, as well as those he had planted in Kodok and Wadokona, vacate of pastors and parishioners.
“Most of them have no hope,” he says. “They thought all of them are going to die. I said, look people, just pray to God.”
The violence had ostensibly been sparked by a breakdown in government in the capital city of Juba. South Sudanese President and Dinka Salva Kiir Mayardit dismissed several ministers and then his entire cabinet, including Vice President and Nuer, Riek Machar in July 2013.
Since then the two tribes have instigated a revenge war that includes wholesale destruction of each other’s tribal villages. Wives and daughters are raped and abducted, sons are killed in front of their family’s eyes, homes are looted and burned to the ground.
In the midst of a frantic flight, Lam gathered with members of the church still in Malakal and began to pray.
“The war started and they’re shooting the guns, but the people come when they realize, really, God is who can help them.”
Violence is not the first obstacle Lam has faced as a church planter. He surveyed the sites for the churches alone and began preaching and teaching with just one partner.
They planted the first Protestant churches in a region dominated by traditional animistic practices and stale Catholicism.
“The people’s lives were very bad,” he admits. “Some say a tree is their god, some pray to cattle, some make something within their house and say that this is their god.”
When a person is sick, they are brought to traditional witch doctors for healing. Cattle herders who spend much of their time in the bush will spear a cow and drink its blood with milk to staunch their hunger.
“When we talk to them, we don’t tell them ‘that thing is very bad,’” Lam explains.
“There are good things and bad things, and you have to choose. The good practices will help you and lead to eternal life. The bad practices, if you return to them, will lead to more bad things and bad people.”
The Catholics regarded the AIC church as nothing more than another religion.
“They are Catholic, but they don’t really believe,” Lam mourns. “Even they go to church and they’re still doing tradition in their house.”
They are a people far from God, he says, but they are his people. They need the word of God.
Thanks to Lam’s ministry, six witch doctor families have renounced their practices and converted to Christianity. When Catholics saw others coming and nothing happening, they joined as well.
Before the civil war-instigated diaspora, the AIC Malakal church housed 70 worshippers. 50 prayed in Kodok and 150 in Wadokona.
In Malakal, the church owns a handful of Bibles it distributes on Sunday and for mid-week Bible study. The people take turns reading to each other and write memory verses on slips of paper for their children to memorize.
“The children, you give it to them and they will sit and have it crammed before they go home,” he says proudly.
The adults take turns reading to each other, but, Lam says, if they had more Bibles, families could take them home and read them on their own time.
Once the fighting dies down, Lam plans to return to his churches in the Upper Nile Region. Even now the South Sudanese government is encouraging its citizens to return to the towns from their hideouts in the bush.
“We want to be there for them when they return,” he says. “To encourage them, to read the word of God together.”
AIC churches may also take part in reconciliation efforts, as it has done in the past. When the villagers return home, they often refuse to speak to those who killed their families and took their things.
‘I will never reconcile with you,’ they say. AIC churches preach about Christ’s commandment to forgive your enemies. When the people hear this teaching, Lam says, it works every time.
“They will start leaving their disagreements and believing what they have in their hearts. It is very very difficult, but even change is coming.”
Ways to pray for John Lam and the AIC Upper Nile Churches:
- pray that God would open the eyes of the people to receive Christ and to believe in Jesus
- pray that God would provide for the church members according to the needs of each family
- pray that more teaching would come. Most of the country believes in cultural practices, but when the teaching of Scripture is there God is touching their hearts.
- pray for those traumatized and affected by war violence