I write this on Friday 8 July, 2011. I wonder how many people in the world realise that tomorrow will see the birth of the world's newest nation state. After decades of civil war with its northern counterpart, and a January referendum in which its 8m inhabitants voted overwhelmingly to secede, Southern Sudan will become the Republic of South Sudan.
No doubt there will be great rejoicing and an amount of optimism as South Sudan takes its place as a nation. Yet at the same time the nation faces enormous problems. It will take a long time to recover from decades of conflict which have taken the lives of over 1.5 million people. As thousands of families have made their way from northern Sudan to the south, so this has put great strain on already meagre resources. Water, food and other resources are in short supply.
Only this week I received a communication from aid charity tearfund, which is launching an appeal to support the people of South Sudan. Amongst the startling statistics are the fact that only about one quarter of the population have access to clean drinking water; less than 10 percent have access to a latrine; perhaps most sobering fact of all is that South Sudan is currently at the bottom of international rankings in terms of infant mortality; tragically, one mother in seven dies during childbirth.
I have found all this deeply challenging, not least in terms of how I should respond. I could make a donation to the work which tearfund is doing in Southern Sudan. I could certainly pray, because prayer does make a difference. I could respond in some other way, perhaps by seeing if there is some way in which I can join others in pressing governments and organisations who can make a difference to do something about the underlying issues of world poverty. One thing I do know, that I can't just close my eyes to the need (like the priest and the Levite did in the Good Samaritan story) - for that is not the way of the follower of Jesus.