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Sudanese Referendum Could Open Door For the Gospel

BY JACOB ALEXANDER                                                                                               
©2011 Baptist Press 

Nearly 99 percent of the southern Sudanese who voted in the referendum on independence have chosen to split from the Arab-dominated north, according to preliminary results reported Jan. 21.

More than 3 million ballots have been counted to date by the Southern Sudan Referendum Commission. Official results are expected in February, but if the vote is confirmed, the new country of Southern Sudan is set to formally declare independence July 9.

While many southern Sudanese already have begun celebrating the huge vote in favor of independence, some are still struggling to understand what it all means. Take the rural Toposa people, for instance.

Life among the Toposa resembles what many Americans visualize about the African bush: mud houses in small villages, dirt roads, lack of education, no technology to speak of. They number about 800,000. They communicate orally; fewer than 3 percent can read.

So they're trying to absorb the revolutionary idea of being part of a new country. Missionaries Shannon and Carrie Lewis are church planters and community developers, living and working among the Toposa through the International Mission Board. Many of their Toposa neighbors registered to vote but have asked the Lewises questions about the referendum and what a new country could mean for them.

"They are really not sure what is going on, and they really don't understand what is happening with the referendum," Shannon said. "For them, this is just something different and new."

News media reported skirmishes along the north-south Sudanese border during the weeklong referendum vote Jan. 9-15. But many international observers have complimented Sudan on the overall fairness of the vote.

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