The church in South Sudan has now begun a new direction after the painful experiences of the civil war. The new independent nation is zooming along at many miles an hour to get settled. In July 2011, the world witnessed a historic day – Independence – which unleashed emotional joy in the African people of South Sudan. On July 9 2011, testimonies of the new nation’s struggle were reported in the newspapers and seen on television inside Sudan and across the world. But the nation’s journey is not yet over, since there are many issues that are on the negotiating table.
Sudanese have been in the conflict of civil war for many years, and in that time their cases did not attract international attention until almost half the population was lost – over two million people. Many from the west could not, or did not, believe the tragedy. They could not understand that civil wars in Africa can be attributed to factors like ethnic conflicts, religion and political imbalances.
Sudan is a land occupied by both Africans and Arabs and has been one nation for many years; as a result, 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 1956. By then, their sovereignty, 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. Both have different ideologies in politics. That was the major difference, which led to two decades of hostility and loss of lives.
After many battles were fought, the peace negotiation was initiated in Kenya and lasted four years. Many people did not trust that the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) would actually lead to peace. But, pushed by the governments of the European Union, the United Nations, the United States of America and the African Union, it did. They were the real coaches of the game, which brought South Sudanese to victory.
However, soon after the signing of the peace accord, the charismatic leader of the South, John Garang, was killed in a helicopter crash. The man who had striven to bring his fellow Africans to a liberated future, had just left his fellow Southerners with unfulfilled vision
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? Hidden joy as if they did not accept the legitimacy of peace agreement, but it still led to the Day of Independence in July last year.
World leaders traveled to Africa’s new 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.
As Christians, what promise does this offer the Anglican Church and her believers in the South? The answer is similar to what happened to the Israelite, when they entered the Holy Land after suffering many afflictions in the Sinai desert. But now in South Sudan, the Church and its ministries are at initial stage of development, and this will take decades.
Recently, South Sudan sang a birthday song for being one year old on July 9 this year, but things are not at all settled. Certain issues still existed between two nations, in particular, political conflicts related to oil fees, border demarcations and citizenship. Added to this, the government in the north still expressed hatred against Christians. In April, the Muslim soldiers from the Northern government had burned down the Anglican Cathedral in Khartoum as an evidence of ‘Christian cleansing.’ 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 from the South.
I can remember how the Church’s mission had been threatened by the Khartoum regime for many years. Bombing and burning raids on Christian sanctuaries were at alarming rates during the conflict. Thirteen years ago, we used to conduct worship services at seven o’clock in the morning to escape the warplane bombardments later.
Those years were like a hell for the Church to persevere. To find a safe place to worship was difficult, since the Church was targeted.
Without a doubt, Southern Sudanese are now happy about being an independent nation, and the church has to point its feet towards its mission. Southern Sudanese are 98% Christian believers, but majority of them are in need of spiritual development. Therefore, the Church needs to be built on a solid foundation.
From now on, both the government and the Church have a lot to do, even though we start from a desperate situation. We have a huge mission to fulfill but with faith, courage and assistance we believe it is possible