It’s a long journey from the backyard barbecues and fireworks of our own Fourth of July festivities to the Republic of South Sudan, a new country that will be born in just days from today on July 9. I’m willing to bet, though, that our traditional summer celebration will seem downright routine compared to the life-changing nature of South Sudan’s first birthday.
At first glance, it may seem as though future citizens of South Sudan don't have much to be grateful for or much to celebrate. They will be receiving the poorest corner of one of the poorest countries on earth -- a place beset by hunger, disease, and war. According to a 2007 government study (pdf), mothers in Southern Sudan are more likely to die in childbirth than anywhere else on earth. Another report indicated that more than half of the population lives below the poverty line.
So why do the Sudanese celebrate? Maybe they’re celebrating a fresh start. Maybe it’s that most South Sudanese long to write a new, unbloodied page in their history, to cultivate a renewed community and land for themselves and their children. Maybe it's the hope that, on this day, all the problems facing South Sudan will be put aside so that everyone can celebrate this moment to start a new future together. Frankly, that kind of hope leaves most of our Fourth of July celebrations in the shade.
As excitement builds amongst the South Sudanese, I wonder if their celebrations can remind American Christians what hope really means. As this new country rejoices, I’m seeing that hope is the confidence that God has a future for us and for our children, no matter how badly things are going right now. South Sudan’s new national anthem expresses that hope, describing the nation as “Eden! Land of milk and honey and hardworking people...united in peace and harmony.”
True, that hope is not yet a reality across South Sudan. But if we’re honest, that hope for peace-filled communities is also far from a reality across our own country -- and maybe even in our own homes. I think that, despite our own relative wealth and security, many of us have lost sight of real hope.
After all, when was the last time we desperately cried out to God to show us His vision for our communities? When was the last time we opened our eyes and our hands to our neighbors, both here at home and in places like South Sudan?
The beauty and challenge of God’s vision for the Kingdom is that we, through the Holy Spirit, are His hope in this world. I think the world we see around us will continue to be a fractured and broken place as long as Christians show reluctance to fully join Him in the work of forgiveness and peace. As South Sudan celebrates, I’m looking for the places where God is inviting me to embody His hope for the world. In a world infected by hopelessness and despair, I’m rejoicing in the privilege to carry His hope to my neighbors.