"Pray for doors to open in good time," IMB's Tim Cearley said.
The United Nations Security Council expressed "grave concern" over the ever-worsening food situation. They are calling it the "worst in the world."
The crisis is the result of ongoing military and civilian conflict and displacement, the council said in a statement released July 25. Fighting broke out eight months ago between two major rival political and tribal factions.
"It is like a perfect storm when drought, political unrest and subsistence farming practices all come together," Mark Hatfield, Baptist Global Response (BGR) director for sub-Saharan Africa, said.
"Hunger due to cyclical drought is a growing problem all across Africa, especially in the Sahel," he said. "When there is political unrest, the situation is exacerbated due to the lack of ability to get into the fields to cultivate crops and manage herds. This all collides in places like South Sudan, where you have large groups of people living in situations where they have no surplus food stored or financial savings available to mitigate for crop and herd failures."
Some 3.9 million people in South Sudan face "dangerous levels of food insecurity," according to a joint statement issued by UNICEF and World Food Programme (WFP), "with many of them not knowing when and how their next meal is coming."
The two organizations estimate nearly one million children will require treatment for acute malnutrition by the end of the year.
"The world should not wait for a famine to be announced while children are dying each and every day," UNICEF executive director Anthony Lake said. About 50,000 children could die from malnutrition in 2014 alone, he said.
South Sudan gained independence from Sudan, its neighbor to the north, in 2011. There are now nearly 1.5 million refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs) because of conflict in South Sudan, according to UN sources.
"Many times in hunger situations like what we are seeing in South Sudan, missions organizations need to focus on mentoring the local church in fulfilling its biblical role as a holistic expression of the Gospel by assisting in food distribution," Hatfield said.
Missions organizations struggle with helping, he said, because long-term goals are focused on keeping dependency low. When assistance provided by national churches is not subsidized, they find local reproduction is more possible.
"This is a worthy goal in long-term church planting and development work," Hatfield said, "but in times of disaster, when local resources are just not available, we have to step up and share the abundance that God has given us by supporting local churches and organizations that are providing food for the hungry."
Cearley, an IMB strategy leader for sub-Saharan Africa, said the situation is real and is not going away; and soon the entire country could be affected. He said the next few months will be critical for mission personnel as they face possible escalation of violence and more food shortages. The challenge, he said, is the balance between meeting urgent physical needs and meeting urgent spiritual needs.
People are responding to the Good News. But Cearley added, "Quoting Carl Henry, the Gospel is only Good News if it gets there in time." He said pastors of the Baptist convention in South Sudan are passionate about reaching the unreached as a result of recent training in utilizing oral strategies for sharing the Gospel.
"Pray that the South Sudanese followers of Jesus would be faithful to share their faith and ready to show His love as the church tries to respond to the hunger that will come," he said.
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Charles Braddix is an IMB writer based in London. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress) and in your email ( baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).
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