“I cannot eat because my heart hurts too much,” he apologized when we invited him to lunch. Santino Harr is one of the “Lost Boys of Sudan.” Now a member of the Mt. Juliet church of Christ in Tennessee, which supports the South Sudan Bible School and clinic known as “The Sudan Project,” Santino was sharing intimate information about the current fighting in South Sudan.
His country having just two years ago ended a bitter 24-year war with the Muslims in the north in which two million South Sudanese were massacred before gaining their independence and becoming the world’s newest country, Santino is heartbroken to see the local tribes now fighting each other.
“Why do they kill ourselves?” he asked in bewilderment. “That is not right. They are killing women and children; children are hungry and must eat leaves of trees. The wounded die because of no medical supplies. Why?”
“If they were killing soldiers, I might understand. But they are breaking into our homes and slitting the throats of innocent civilians. Pregnant women are being killed, their stomachs cut open, and the live baby ripped out and slashed to death.”
“It is like how you would feel if you worked hard to plant and grow a garden and then saw wild animals come in and ruin it!” he observed sadly.
For the past two years, Santino has been president of the Panaroo Community, a network of several hundred South Sudanese refugees from the United States, Canada and Australia. The goal of this group is to help relieve the health problems in their former country.
Their network has a special phone system that communicates with those back in South Sudan. This is how Santino learned that 10 of his own extended family members had been brutally murdered by the rebels. Female relatives had their throats slashed and male relatives were burned to death in their houses.
The conflict is basically tribal, according to Santino. The South Sudanese President is of the Dinka tribe, and the Vice President is of the Nuer tribe, as was the commander of the military. They had agreed to work together, but this has not happened. The rebels are of the Nuer tribe and attempted an unsuccessful government coup, but they continue to terrorize and kill. Hundreds of thousands have fled their homes to live in UN refugee camps or hide in the bush.
When asked if he has been tempted to return to his country and try to help, he answered, “Two weeks ago, I would have gone if I had a ticket! But I have hope that things are improving. If I leave my job here and go back, there will be no money to support my family of six over there until I can bring them here.” The Mt. Juliet congregation is working to help reunite Santino and his family.
With obvious love for the country he fought for so they could have freedom from the Muslims, Santino said, “We hoped and prayed that South Sudan would not become just another fighting African country. We forgave before and will forgive again!”
Santino has high hopes that next year in 2015 when general elections are scheduled, new officials will be elected who will resolve problems by negotiation and not by killing. But for now, the country of South Sudan is bleeding yet again.