New nation — new church
South Sudan is zooming along at many miles an hour to get settled. In July 2011 the world witnessed a historic day – Independence – which unleashed an emotional joy to the African people of South Sudan.
On that day, testimonies and reports of the nation’s struggle were read in newspapers and seen on television inside Sudan and across the world, but the end of the journey is not yet.
Sudanese people have been in the conflict of civil war for many years, and in that time their case did not attract international attention until almost half the population was lost – over two million people. Many Western people could not believe it. They could not understand that civil wars in Africa can be attributed to factors like ethnic, religious and political imbalances.
Sudan is inhabited by both Africans and Arabs. Independence has chopped off the southern part of the country, while Arabs retained the old name of Sudan for the north.
To track the past, Sudan gained its legitimate authority from its former colonial ruler, Britain, in 1956y. By then, their sovereignty and political and social history among the rest of Africa was settled, yet things did not go well. Sudan has for a long time embraced two religions, Islam and Christianity. That was the major difference which led to two decades of hostility and loss of life.
After many battles were fought, the window of peace negotiation was initiated in Kenya and lasted four years. Few people trusted that the Comprehensive Peace Agreement would actually lead to peace. But, pushed by the European Union the United Nations, USA, and the African Union, it did. They were the real coaches of the game which brought South Sudanese to victory.
But very soon after the peace accord, the charismatic leader of the South, John Garang de Mabior, was killed in a helicopter crash. The man who has striven to bring his fellow Africans to a liberated future left his fellow southerners with a horrified dream.
People mourned as if Moses had died. News of his death spread around the world. What did it mean to the government of the North? Tears, but it still led to the Day of Independence in July last year. World leaders travelled to Africa’s new hub capital, Juba, to declare Independence. On a dusty windy day, the new nation was named Republic of South Sudan, and the people of the world witnessed a joy which the South Sudanese will never forget.
What promise does this offer the Anglican Church and her believers in the south? The answer is similar to what happened to the Israelites, when they entered the Holy Land after suffering many afflictions in the Sinai desert. The Church is at the front line of development and ministry, and this will take decades.
South Sudan sang a birthday song for being one year old on July 9 this year, but things are not at all settled. There are border issues with Ethiopia and problems with oil fees and citizenship. There is still hatred against Christians. Soldiers from the northern government burned down the Anglican Cathedral in Khartoum in March this year as a show of ‘Christian cleansing’ by Muslims. There is now nowhere to proclaim the Gospel in Khartoum.
It could be argued that Independence provides a strategic opportunity for the Church to revive the Gospel among the people of the south. I can remember how the church’s mission had been threatened by the Khartoum for many years. Bombing and burning of Christian sanctuaries was at an alarming rate during the conflict. Thirteen years ago, we used to conduct worship services at 7 o’clock in the morning to escape the war plane bombardments later. Those years were like a hell for the church to persevere. To find a safe place to worship was difficult, and the church felt a real target.
But without doubt, joy has now begun for the Church in South Sudan to rise up and point its feet towards mission. South Sudan people are 98% Christian believers, but need development spiritually. The Church needs to be built on a solid foundation.
From now on, both Government and Church have a lot to do, even though we start from a desperate situation. We have a huge mission to fulfil.