"Most of the church comprise refugees," Edward Dima said. (Photos: Edward Dima, Brian Kaylor; Sudan map, CIA World Factbook)
The end of Sudan's two-decade civil war in 2005 brought hope, but not stability or lasting peace.
A peace treaty led eventually to a 2011 referendum that resulted in South Sudan becoming a free and independent nation.
The triumph would be short-lived, however, continuing a tumultuous history within the African nation - a painful reality that Baptist leader Edward Dima discusses in the January-March edition of Baptist World Magazine, a publication of the Baptist World Alliance.
"We progressed very well [from July 2011] until December 15, 2013, when there was a rift in the ruling party," Dima explained. "The whole thing became an ethnic conflict," the beginning of what would be another civil war, this one lasting 15 months.
"Places such as Malakal and Bentiu in the Upper Nile region crumbled politically and militarily with a massive amount of people fleeing these locations. Many are currently IDPs (internally displaced persons)," he explained.
"The South Sudan economy is crumbling. ... Local persons cannot afford to buy things in the market ... Gas is twice the normal price ... There's a scarcity of supplies in all cities ... There are virtually no roads."
Baptist church buildings across the country, and particularly in the northern regions, have been negatively impacted.
"In all," Dima said, "26 of our churches in the northern part of South Sudan were destroyed."
Pastors and church members were among the dead, while many have fled to neighboring countries seeking refuge. "They went empty-handed with nothing," he shared, "beginning a new life like a baby."
Dima and the Baptist convention he leads have sought to provide aid, but their ability is limited. "We are just a small movement in the country," he emphasized, with many congregations less than five years old.
The Baptist World Alliance provided funding that allowed the convention to help around 12,000 folks. "What the BWA did helped a lot. ... [I]n a time of desperation, it gave us hope," Dima emphasized.
Dima spoke with EthicsDaily.com's Robert Parham and Cliff Vaughn during the Baptist World Alliance's 2015 World Congress in Durban, South Africa, providing a brief history of the Sudan and discussing Baptists in the nation.
"The north [has been] predominantly Muslims and the south Christians," he explained. "So for many, many years, since 1955, the people of South Sudan have been pursuing their own independence."
A war for independence from joint British-Egyptian rule resulted in Sudan gaining independence in 1955-56.
Intermittent conflict followed - with multiple military coups - and the desire of southern Sudan to become a distinct nation continued to grow.
A decade-long civil war ended in 1972 with a peace agreement that "gave South Sudan an autonomous government to rule itself, but within the entire [nation of] Sudan," Dima told EthicsDaily.com.
Another liberation movement arose in 1983 seeking southern independence, he noted, led by the Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM).
This war "forced [millions] of the South Sudanese to flee their country. ... over 2 million people died in the crisis" before the 2005 peace agreement.
Dima was a refugee in Uganda where he encountered a Baptist missionary who helped him to obtain ministry training and to become a Baptist minister.
"God works for good in all situations," he said about this experience. "He took me as a refugee, but also I came back as a minister of the Word, as a Baptist."
Dima now serves as president of the Baptist Convention of South Sudan and pastor of the First Baptist Church of Kajokeji, which "is the mother church to many churches in South Sudan."
While he called South Sudan "a virgin area" for Baptists, there are now 176 Baptist congregations in the nation. He noted in his BWA column, "Most of the church comprise refugees."
Dima's column, containing excerpts from an interview with Eron Henry, the BWA's associate director of communications, is available here. His video interview with EthicsDaily.com can be viewed here.
Editor's note: EthicsDaily.com's video interviews from the BWA's 2015 World Congress are available here, and a photo news story is available here. Related EthicsDaily.com articles can be accessed using the keywords: Darfur, Genocide, Sudan and South Sudan.