Today I was honored to sit down with Adol Kang, the elected leader of the South Sudanese political party in Sioux Falls; Lual Jol, Senior Warden of the Sudanese congregation at Church of the Holy Apostles and Moses Deng Joknhial II, who has been the point man in the Diocese of South Dakota's cooperative effort with the village of Pajut, South Sudan.
These three men are all "Lost Boys," South Sudanese Christians who came to the West during years of persecution and Civil War. The Sudan at present is run from Khartoum in the North, where the Islamic majority frequently wields power against the Christians and tribal religionists in the South.
A "Comprehensive Peace Agreement" that stopped the Civil War is set to expire soon, and from January 9th thru 15th, South Sudanese people will be voting in a referendum to decide between remaining united to the North or forming a new, independent nation.
"It is the first time to put my finger in the ink," Adol told me this afternoon. "It is the first time since 1956 that all Sudanese people can vote."
When I asked about worries that violence might flare up in the wake of a pro-independence vote, Adol was more concerned to share the positive goals that the South Sudanese are after.
"First there will be a new, transitional government. Elections must take place in 2012. This is a test to show that we can practice democracy. There will be a new national name and a new Constitution. There will be no Sharia [Islamic law imposed by Constitution], there will be 100% freedom of religion in the South."
He also believes that independence is the best means to end the Islamic extermination of Black Africans in The Sudan's Darfur region. "Darfur will be free after the referendum," he said.
Adol, like Lual and Moses, has become a U.S. citizen. He was elected to his position in the South Sudanese expatriate community through a competitive election, and he looks to Western democracy as a political model.
"My work is to mobilize the South Sudanese people to vote. After Independence, we will look to South Sudanese now living in the U.S., Canada and Australia to help in construction of the new country."
Lual spoke of the prayer preparation going on in the community here. With South Sudanese Christians in a number of different denominations, they "go from church to church, coming together for a unity prayer for the referendum. This Sunday [Jan. 2] is our turn [Holy Apostles' Episcopal] to host the unity prayer."