The church in the Sudan has not only survived persecution but continues to grow. Unofficial reports indicate that the number of those associated with Reformed churches (Evangelical and Presbyterian) is close to 1.8 million. Through the conversion of the Nuer people in south Sudan, the door has been opened wider for the conversion of hundreds of thousands of their fellow-tribesmen living in the south-western part of Ethiopia. Sudanese evangelical Anglicans also continue to grow in numbers.
African Sudanese Christians are among the poorest people in the world. Yet they are persistent and steadfast believers, who have remained loyal to Christ under harsh conditions. They are zealous for the conversion of their animist fellow-tribesmen. The believing evangelical communities in the Sudan are among the largest and fastest growing in all of Africa.
Several significant problems face the Reformed communities in the Sudan. The most serious relates to the lack of trained pastors, elders, evangelists, deacons and other church workers. The majority of active workers lack the most elementary biblical training needed to disciple believers and build up the churches. Key pastors and others engaged in the task of training elders and lay-evangelists in south-eastern Sudan are under no illusion as to the immensity of what is involved. It will take serious and strenuous efforts over the next thirty years or more to provide the biblical and theological education needed.
Lack of food and medical care in south Sudan has given rise to one of the highest mortality rates in the world. Sudanese believers are not immune from this. It is said that the economic situation has also created a class of ‘professional clergymen’ who have learned to raise funds and live comfortable lives, away from their own people, in countries like Kenya, Uganda and Egypt. Also, many educated Sudanese believers have emigrated to the USA, Canada, Australia and Europe; including theologically trained young men. Thus the Sudanese church is being deprived of some of its precious future spiritual leaders.
Another disturbing development has been the spread of ethnic divisions into the Sudanese Reformed churches, as tribal tensions and conflicts have spilled over. For example, there have been disagreements about the distribution of relief materials among tribal factions, disagreements which are reminiscent of pressures faced by the early church, recorded in Acts 6. Even if African Sudanese aspirations for autonomy for south Sudan are met, the tensions will be far from over. Only the gospel can bring true healing between warring peoples. But it will take much hard work, teaching and prayer for the Nuer, Dinka, Nuba, Shilluk and other Sudanese believers to experience large measures of horizontal reconciliation.
Cause for joy
Still, there is much cause for joy too. Arab and African Sudanese believers have learned to care for and fellowship with one another in the Reformed churches in northern Sudan. The Sudanese believers are teachable and receptive to God’s Word. The gospel has also had an encouraging impact among Nubian Muslims. Even among northerners, there are indications of a hunger to own and study the Arabic Bible. There are confirmed reports of conversions amongst Sudanese army personnel and other northern Muslims.
As we contemplate the conditions facing our Sudanese brethren, let us remember that the spiritual battle for the hearts and minds of the Sudanese people is far from over. Our prayers for Sudan ought not to be conditioned by the agenda of the world at large. Let us guard against viewing the situation there purely in political or military terms, or becoming too preoccupied with stories of the persecution of Sudanese believers. The almighty Lord, in his infinite wisdom, sends the church suffering for her good and for his glory. Let us pray for the conversion of many more northern Sudanese Muslims, through the enduring faith of that suffering Sudanese church. That church is composed of our brothers and sisters in Christ.