July 23, 2009
Urgent Prayer Request for the Church in the Sudan
WRF Member Dr. Brian DeVries
Dear members of Christ’s global church: Our Christian brothers and sisters in Sudan need our prayers. This need for earnest prayer lies as a burden on my heart right now. Please consider the situation in Sudan and add this burden to your prayer list as well.
Rev. Jeremiah Mhlanga and I just returned from a ministry visit to Sudan. We had the privilege to meet with more than one hundred church leaders in Malakal and Khartoum from twenty different Christian denominations. They shared many of their past experiences, present needs, and hopes for the future. We also met with several leading Christian government officials who explained some of the major political and social needs in Sudan at the present. Now we want to share this burden with you.
The Pastors Conference in Sudan
Rev. Mhlanga and I visited Sudan during the first two weeks of July 2009 to speak at Pastors Conferences in both Khartoum and Malakal. The conference was organized by the Sudanese Reformed Church and sponsored by the Centre for Reformational Urban Ministry in Africa (CRUMA), Mukhanyo Theological College, and Christian friends from the United States.
Khartoum, the capital of Sudan, is located in the North. It is a modern urban center with a greater metro population of around eight million. The city, like most cities in the two-thirds world, is a dusty noisy collage of constant activity. Khartoum was established many centuries ago on the site where the White Nile and Blue Nile merge into one river. The climate is very hot and dry with little annual rainfall. Khartoum has an Arab Muslim majority; the Sudanese government is dominated by Arab Muslims. The densely populated areas of Umdurman and Dar-Al-Salam are located just outside the city limits. These have been refugee camps for more than twenty years, and these mega-squatter-cities are home to many marginalized Christians.
Malakal is the second largest city in Southern Sudan. It is located on the east bank of the White Nile. First established by the British long before national independence in 1956, the city has been a war zone for more than thirty years. Since 2005, Malakal has enjoyed a fragile peace with only occasional military clashes. It has been growing very rapidly since 2005 – too rapidly for the weak government to build even the basic infrastructure systems. Most people in Malakal call themselves Christians, though Muslims still control the market and economy. Christians enjoy religious freedom in the South, but there is much nominal Christianity, syncretism with African Traditional Religion, and now a growing presence of cults and false teaching.
The Pastors Conferences, hosted in both Malakal and Khartoum, were greatly appreciated by the participants – not only for the biblical teaching but also for the united fellowship. The theme was “Living Today as Leaders of Christ’s Church in Sudan.” Our objective was to teach simple biblical truths about God’s church in a plain topical format. As one of the church leaders summarized at the end: “We enjoyed good meals [teaching] every day. You didn’t give us new food; it was the same food. But you know how to cook it better.”
Though organized by the Sudanese Reformed Church, church leaders came from at least twenty different Christian denominations. But we were all united on the Word and around a common confession of faith in Christ alone. There was even one Catholic priest who greatly enjoyed the topics – at the end of the conference he said he learned two important lessons: (1) that the church needs to empower its members and not only the clergy, and (2) that all Christians must stand firm on the Word of God against false teaching. I think Martin Luther would have agreed.
It was a privilege to fellowship with Christian leaders in Sudan – to hear their stories, to learn from the way God has led them, to study God’s Word together, to pray with them for the church in Sudan. The Lord is also blessing the Sudanese Reformed Church, though it is still a young denomination with many needs. Mukhanyo Theological College and CRUMA are now working to help these churches train their leaders. The Sudanese Reformed Church has already been a blessing to many people, as well as to other evangelical denominations. We thank the Lord for their faithful witness despite the harsh climate in Sudan.
Conditions of Sudanese Christians
Indeed, the conditions for Sudanese Christians have been very harsh. What is now happening in Darfur in western Sudan is what has already happened in Southern Sudan and the Nuba Mountains for more than twenty years. Sudan’s President Omar al-Bashir has recently been charged in the world court for genocide and war crimes in Darfur. But his hands have been dripping with blood for many years. In the past, the world did not take note since the North-South conflict was seen as a religious Muslim-Christian conflict. But now Arab Muslims in Khartoum are mercilessly massacring Black Muslims in Darfur. Now the world is watching and some relief is becoming available. But the UN can only minimize the conflict; the UN cannot solve the problem.
The people of Southern Sudan have enjoyed a very fragile peace since the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) in 2005. Now the weak unity government of shared powers is making some efforts to rebuild Southern Sudan after almost fifty years of intermittent attacks from the Muslim north and incessant tribal conflicts. But there are still many challenges.
The CPA mandates a referendum vote by the people of Southern Sudan regarding the future of their national identity. This vote will probably be delayed until 2011. Southerners will then vote to stay within Sudan or break away and become their own country. If they stay, it is very likely they will continue to be marginalized and perhaps persecuted again by the Arab Muslim government in Khartoum. If they break away, it is very likely the Muslim government will declare war against them – either publicly or covertly – in order to suppress them again.
In the meantime, the Christians in Sudan face huge challenges. There is much corruption in the government – some officials load their own pockets even while their people are starving. Long-standing tribal conflicts continue despite the ceasefire. In fact, some of these conflicts are being armed and stirred up by Muslims in the north to promote further instability in the south. Rapid urbanization also causes problems as many Southern Sudanese refugees come back home from the North and from neighboring countries – the government cannot apportion urban land fast enough to meet demand. Additionally, the lack of basic infrastructure in the South – such as roads, clean water, and sanitation – continues to slow most rebuilding projects.
Urgent Need for Earnest Prayer
Our Christian brothers and sisters in Sudan have been suffering for many years, and the struggle continues. Their political peace is very fragile. Their churches are wrestling with major issues like poverty, lack of trained leadership, and the covert entrance of false teaching. Additionally, there are many in the South who claim to be Christians but do not live out the fruits of the Spirit, which continues to tarnish the witness of the church.
What does the future hold for our Sudanese brothers and sisters? No one knows. When viewed through human eyes, though, the future in Sudan looks very bleak. But our Righteous Lord is still on the throne – political regimes will come and go, but the King of the Church is in control. Christ the King is busy building His church; He is busy controlling world events as He expands His kingdom and prepares to return in power and glory.
So let us earnestly petition our Sovereign King for the needs of Christians in Sudan.
· Pray for God to supply the material and spiritual needs of Sudanese Christians.
· Pray for internal leadership training and development in Sudanese churches.
· Pray for the rapid growth of biblical churches and the decrease of false teaching.
· Pray that many Muslims in Darfur, who are now starting to listen to the Christian gospel, will turn to Jesus Christ for salvation and become faithful witnesses to other Muslims.
· Pray that Muslim attempts to create further unrest in Southern Sudan will be thwarted.
· Pray that Christians and churches will be given the wisdom and courage to speak boldly against corruption in the government and in society.
You can also help in other ways. Please spread the news through your Christian networks about the plight of Christians in Sudan and about the challenges they are facing. The Minister of Health in Southern Sudan and the Governor of the Upper Nile State – both of them Christians – personally told me that the world is now aware of some of the problems in Sudan because Christian churches have spread the news. They both asked me to tell global churches about their needs and to request earnest prayer. So please spread the word. Also, please petition your government officials to stay involved in Darfur and to closely monitor the CPA in the South.
What else can you do? Beside earnest prayer, the most important thing for the global church to do is to listen and learn from the Sudanese Christians. Learn how the Lord has brought the gospel to Sudan, has implanted a simple yet resilient faith in the believers, and has continued to protect His church in this harsh environment. Learn from their faithful witness despite decades of persecution. Learn how these Christians have often endured many challenges from within and without. Let their example encourage us all to be more faithful as we eagerly anticipate the return of Christ our King.
Dr Brian A DeVries
Mukhanyo Theological College