Straight off the red-eye flight from Manila to Nairobi, my colleague Alexandra and I were greeted by possibly the biggest smile in Africa, and not just because it stood seven-foot-high off the ground.
Rev Tut Ngoth is the deputy director of the Presbyterian Relief and Development Association (PRDA) and a key player in the peacemaker program in South Sudan.
Born and raised in the rural southern districts of Sudan, Tut is a member of the generation of South Sudanese who fought for independence from Sudan. He saw this dream become a reality in 2011 after more than 30 years. But celebrations were short lived. Civil violence ripped through the country’s core in 2013 and the reverberations are still being felt today.
We were in Kenya to document through film and still images the peacemaking project coordinated by the PRDA in conjunction with UnitingWorld.
The program promotes reconciliation, peace and hope for the future, but we were unable to even enter South Sudan due to the conflict.
After a week in Nairobi, sitting down to interview Tut was like having a cuppa with an old friend. He told us about UnitingWorld’s co-sponsored program, the fruit that is already being borne, and shared his personal story.
We heard the heartbreaking story of attacks on the Nile Theological College, the destruction of the Presbyterian Church’s National Compound in Malakal, and the innocently loss of life by women, children, men and pastors caught in the cross fire between government and rebel forces. The most moving part of his story was not the graphic talk of violence, but Tut’s faith, hope, love and his unshakeable belief in the future.
It’s funny how hard it is for the human mind to process or understand confronting stories at the moment they’re told. During the interview, we were both so focused on making sure the technical equipment was working correctly, and making sure Tut’s children weren’t going to walk into the shot, that we didn’t quite process everything we heard.
It wasn’t until we began editing the footage two weeks later, sitting in a hotel room in Nanjing, China, late on a very cold evening, that we began to comprehend the true significance of Tut’s story. The heartbreaking honesty in Tut’s deep, yet soft voice. His humility and trust. At the time we knew we were hearing a unique personal account of South Sudan’s history and an enthusiastic perspective for the future, but it struck both of us that night that no matter how much we see and hear these stories of sorrow and despair, we are often never touched by them unless we meet a person face-to-face.
Daily we are bombarded with shocking images and footage of violence, famine and war. Many of us have subconsciously developed a filter that blocks our God-given compassion, preventing it from flowing from our hearts to others. Only when we sense this barricade, and take action to remove it, can we make progress towards compassion once again.
The ability to forgive, reconcile, and to harness the powerful trait of hope is the way forward to peace for the people South Sudan, according to Tut, and he is certainly testimony to that.
Beginning 1 March, Lent is a time to reflect on our lives as Christian changemakers as we share Jesus’ journey to the cross and beyond to new life.
The full interview we captured with Tut is available on UnitingWorld’s Lent Event website, along with others that take you beyond the barriers to compassion. I invite you to come and meet the people who are truly living the way of Jesus in China, South Sudan, Papua New Guinea and India. They will challenge you to give up something from your everyday life, donating the money to support them in their ministry.
This is how we make compassion real – by not only hearing the stories, but by taking action together to bring about change.
Alexander Baker is a volunteer and filmmaker with UnitingWorld.
For more information go to: www.unitingworld.org.au and follow the links.