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.