Happy Independence Day,
South Sudan!

It’s hard to build a nation with a trowel in one hand and a weapon in the other. It is also hard to build a nation with a bloodthirsty enemy in front of you, Chinese opportunists to your left, a critical US State Department on your right, and UN critics behind you. But the world’s newest country is laying trowel and weapon aside today in order to celebrate one year of independence as the only nation in history ever to peacefully withdraw from a genocidal Islamic regime. Not everyone is sending congratulations. Why?

The words “peacefully” and “genocidal” rarely go together in one sentence, especially in writing about national affairs. This is what makes the story of South Sudan so remarkable.

Their first year has been an adventure of exuberant liberty marked by continual military assaults from Islamic bombers, persistent disease, unrelenting malnutrition and starvation, internal quarreling, devious internal corruption, grinding poverty, vast wastelands of dust, and boundless opportunity. This is peace and freedom in South Sudan. It is cherished by the grateful South Sudanese, who earned it through decades of bleeding and dying, and they are willing to invest more decades of bleeding and dying to secure that peace and perfect it. They are to be commended not only for their perseverance, but for their vision and creative courage.

What they have modeled for the world is the old-fashioned concept of multigenerational pioneering. South Sudan is a pioneer nation. They are in this for the long haul. They are starting with dirt and sweat and proceeding from there. They are fashioning bricks, often by hand, from the vast wastelands of dust and building something worthy of a new nation that will someday be an old nation. President Kiir put the situation very plainly to Westerners. "Even before the ravages of war could set in,” he explained, “our country never had anything worth rebuilding."

In his first year of governing, Kiir has had to invest in both the interim and the enduring, but he knows the difference. The International press is still vexed. Why would a people risk death, loneliness, and the cold shoulder of Western indifference, when they could have been a vassal region of a rich northern patron, Islamic Sudan? For the answer to that question, journalists need to look up the definitions of peace and genocide. The policy of the North was to bring peace to the South by the complete extermination of all blacks. The South looked for peace through liberty, justice, prosperity, and the blessing of God. They prefer this to the blessing of the United Nations, and have said so.

“We may still die,” Southerners admit, “but we will die free.” Some morbid observers have joined today's celebration like so many high-minded vultures, circling overhead until they condescend to land and write more grim speculation. Earlier predictions of a failed South Sudan by July 9, 2012 are being shouted down by today's singing and speech-making. About American independence, John Adams wrote to his wife Abigail, “I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated, by succeeding Generations, as the great anniversary Festival. It ought to be commemorated, as the Day of Deliverance by solemn Acts of Devotion to God Almighty.”

The road to South Sudan’s first anniversary has been rough. If the people of this young nation keep their gratitude to the God of Nations, who raises nations up and guides the nations on the earth (Psalm 67:4), the example of South Sudan is worthy to stand, worthy of the world to study. What they rediscover about nation-building may be something the rest of the world can follow in their own crumbling nations. The world should thank them for their example. Happy Independence Day, South Sudan.