Belfast Telegraph

How our problems pale in comparison to lives of others

By Alf McCreary

Two days ago the Church of Ireland's Bishop Alan Abernethy was due to lead a team on a mission to South Sudan where the Connor Diocese has links with the Anglican Church.

Unfortunately he has had to postpone the visit due to the civil unrest there which has claimed at least 1,000 lives and forced some 350,000 people to leave their homes.

The trouble is so serious that another group, from the Diocese of Down and Dromore, has also had to postpone their visit, which was to have taken place next month.

I know that part of the world which I visited some years ago, and even then I was aware of the poverty and deprivation of the local people in South Sudan. I stayed in a hotel in Juba, which is near the heart of the current unrest, and it was like something from a Graham Greene novel.

The local hospital doctor was an American missionary and much of his work in casualty was dealing with patients wounded by spears and lion bites.

Despite the recent development of the lucrative oil business, most of the people of South Sudan are still poor.

Bishop Abernethy is appealing for help to assist some of the 350,000 displaced people who are fleeing to the Yei area which he was due to visit.

He is asking for donations to the Church Mission Society Ireland, and points out that a relatively small donation will provide blankets and food for an entire family for a week.

This urgent need puts some of our own problems in perspective. I know that there is hardship back home and that the churches and other organisations are handing out food to those who cannot afford it.

However, the suffering here is not on the same vast scale which I found during my many visits to Africa and other parts of the developing world, and it seems almost obscene by comparison that many of our current health problems in the rich west, including Northern Ireland, are due to obesity.

Sadly, however, the problems are exacerbated in Africa by intense ethnic rivalry, and in the Central African Republic some of the so-called 'Christian' militia have been celebrating savagely their murder of the Muslim neighbours in tit-for-tat killings.

The unrest in south Sudan has also gravely affected the ordinary people, most of whom were already trying to survive day by day from malnutrition and disease.

No one is exactly sure why the current spate of trouble began just before Christmas but 1,000 lives is a high price to pay for the ethnic rivalry between the warring Dinka and Nuer tribes.

At this point you might say: "How silly of these people to keep alive their old hatreds at a time when there is every possibility of improving life because of an oil-based economy? Do they not know a good opportunity when they see it?"

Precisely.

However, I could turn this question back towards our warring tribes at home, who by their sectarianism and bloodymindedness are threatening the peace and progress of recent years in our own Province.

As I predicted, the political fall-out from the failure of the Haass talks is not a pretty sight to behold, with leading politicians from both sides savaging each other in public.

As yet there is absolutely no prospect of a settlement here, so there is no point in telling the warring tribes in Africa to behave themselves.

At the moment we have no right to advise anybody about making peace anywhere.

Paisley interview

Some things are better left unsaid

Like many people I am deeply depressed that the Rev Ian Paisley decided to leave the high ground he had occupied after his power-sharing initiative, to descend into the murky pool in a series of television interviews with the BBC and others and discuss issues probably best left in the past.

It is perhaps best to wait until these are completed to make a final judgement, but if ever there was a case of "silence is golden" this was it.

I wince at the thought of the next session on Monday night.

Gun inventor

Biting the bullet over his AK-47

"Regrets, I've had a few", sang Sinatra, but they were nothing compared to the regrets of the late Mikhail Kalashnikov, the Russian inventor of the deadly AK-47 rifle, which has killed many thousands of people.

He expressed his great "spiritual pain", and asked himself: "Can it be that I, a Christian and an Orthodox believer, was to blame for their deaths?"

That is a matter for God to consider, but at least Kalashnikov, unlike others, was repentant at the very end.

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