The Lap of Luxury and the Desert Place
Nature’s first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf’s a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf.
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day.
Nothing gold can stay.
In deep orange African garb, Santino sits on our back patio and paints my husband and me a word picture of the South Sudan landscape. Tall grass, tall trees, giraffes, elephants, tigers, rhinos, and buffalo – all the large game animals that children in the United States clamber to see at the zoo. Beneath the ground lie precious commodities such as diamonds, uranium, and oil – big dollar items that the world holds in high esteem.
Unfortunately, this country with such natural beauty and rich resources has been plagued by conflict for decades. Between 1956 (Sudan’s independence from Britain) and 2011 (South Sudan’s independence from Northern Sudan), conflict endured over resources, religious differences, and economic disparities. When South Sudan was liberated from the northern region, freedom at first seemed like a good thing – especially for those who had previously experienced religious persecution from the mainly Muslim north.
However, independence brought its own difficulties. In 2013, a civil conflict broke out between the two largest tribes in South Sudan – the Dinka and the Nuer. The conflict continues to this day, with casualties increasing quickly. Both tribes want to uphold their leader as president of the newly formed country. Perhaps like street gangs in the United States, tribal loyalties run deep, and neither group is willing to budge on how they envision the future. As a result, the tribes are violent toward one another, steal one another’s resources, and refuse to consider the other’s perspective. “I wish Sudan did not split into two,” Santino intimates.
Adding insult to injury, South Sudan, in particular, is experiencing extreme drought; in some areas, famine is sweeping through. “There has been no farming for three years. Everybody is living day by day,” Santino explains. “Even those that can farm do not, because they do not have time and they do not know where they will be tomorrow.” Two of Santino’s step-brothers recently died in the conflict, and he has lost plenty other family members to violence in the past.
As my husband cleans and covers the grill we used to make hamburgers that afternoon, Santino comments how the people of South Sudan would be happy to have a covering for their families like our grill has for itself.
Knowing Santino arrived as a refugee in 2001, I asked him if he ever feels frustrated by the prosperity and wealth found in this country.
“Almost all of the time,” Santino responded truthfully. Yet, he states he realizes how important it is that he is in this country. He works two jobs and sends his paycheck from the second home to his family.
I spent three weeks in Sri Lanka the summer after I graduated college. At the time, that country’s own civil conflict was just coming to an end. When we arrived, the rest of the team and I were given instruction to be safe because tensions still existed. Several nights, as I was going to sleep, I thought of how anyone could climb the gate and storm the building where we were staying. Outside of the front gate, no lock kept what was outside from coming in. I remember reflecting on how fragile my sense of security was and marveling how I had never much considered that before.
Even though the global West is wealthy on the whole, plenty of people living here know how quickly security can disintegrate into chaos. In my counseling practice, I see it all the time. A poor diagnosis, an unexpected death, a turn of the stock market, a violent encounter. All of these – as different in nature as they are – rock a person’s status quo. Is nothing untouchable? How can I keep myself secure? We so desperately want to cling to something. So, we pad ourselves with protective mechanisms like power, wealth, humor, or bitterness and hope they will sustain us during times of trial.
Our desire for security must be strong, because we’ve been trying to protect ourselves against insecurity for millennia. Nebuchadnezzar, King of Babylon, learned the hard way that earthly security is fleeting. In Daniel 4:4, we see the King living in his palace in “comfort and prosperity.” By Daniel 4:33, Nebuchadnezzar was humbled by the Lord, eating grass like a cow, because he had failed to give God gratitude and praise for his high position.
We were made to live in a perfect world with perfect safety, so it’s natural to desire peace and security. Actually, it’s natural to desire anything that God can perfectly provide. However, nothing on this earth can provide for us in the way that God can. All creation fell when Eden fell (Rom. 8:18-25, esp v. 22), so everything earthly is tainted by a susceptibility to death and decay. Gathering protections such as wealth and comfort are teasing us into believing that we are safe. As James says, spending years in luxury is like fattening ourselves up for the day of slaughter (Js. 5:5). Instead, our resources are meant to serve the Kingdom and trust the Lord.
Santino’s story is one that sticks. Books have been written and films produced about the Lost Boys of Sudan, of which Santino is one. As far removed as we in the West often are from people on the other side of the globe, Santino’s story could be our story. War and drought and famine could break out here just as easily as it can anywhere else. Even if we are spared such extreme circumstances, the day may come when we are shaken to our core by some other unforeseen circumstance. If that day should come – where will we find our hope? Where will we find our security? As Robert Frost so aptly put it, nothing gold can stay. At least, that is, not here on earth.
“The LORD is my rock, my fortress, and my savior; my God is my rock, in whom I find protection. He is my shield, the power that saves me, and my place of safety.” Psalm 18:2
What you can do to help
All the need in the world, both locally and globally, can feel overwhelming at times. If you are interested in contributing to the food crisis in the Horn of Africa, read on for suggestions.
They say knowledge is power. Learn more at:
- https://www.fews.net (Famine Early Warning System)
- https://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/IOTD/view.php?id=89735 (NASA Earth Observatory)
When I asked Santino how people in the United States might help, he suggested giving through an organization or a church. Santino relates that while food is needed in many areas, relief organizations generally stop in city centers and do not always get supplies to rural or violent areas where people often need the items the most. However, some organizations provide supplies to refugee camps or do air drops. Click here to see a list of organizations providing relief.
In addition to food and water, Santino also suggested a couple other ways to help:
- Give money for an organization or church to send tools. In those areas where farming is still possible, Santino states that one tractor can help an entire village harvest food for themselves.
- Support the Gospel. Santino recognizes the healing power of forgiveness and the message of unity through Christ. Do you know a missionary serving in the horn of Africa? Or do you know of any organizations that currently have missionaries there? Consider supporting their message through financial gifts or prayer.
- One way to support the Gospel message is by aiding in the translation of Scripture. The Seed Company is a reputable Bible translation organization. Click here to read about their efforts in South Sudan.
Another way to help is to support the refugees in your area. Do you know of anyone who arrived in the United States from a conflict torn area? In Africa specifically, the culture is collectivist, and the individualistic mindset of the West can feel lonely. For example, Santino has been encouraged by people inviting him into their homes. He has also received letters from a church he used to attend in another state.
Always, the best place to start is through prayer. What is the Holy Spirit prompting you to do with the resources you’ve been given? Ask Him, and see what He says. His answer might surprise you.