Prior to joining ICC, I lived and worked in a remote village in the deep south of Sudan rebuilding churches – many of which were destroyed by the Muslim north during Sudan’s seemingly endless civil war. South Sudan’s new found independence will prayerfully end an era that has taken some two million lives and displaced countless more. But after a lifetime spent at war or living in impoverished refugee camps spread across East Africa, how does one forgive an oppressor and start anew?
Forgiveness is never an easy process, yet the virtue was instilled within many southern Sudanese long before the civil war had ended. Forgiveness came to southern Sudan with the first missionaries who brought the Gospel. Because of those who faithfully offered the hope of Christ to the Sudanese, you will see neither vengeance nor agony on the faces of Sudan’s Christians, but rather an inconceivable joy for the opportunity of a new beginning.
At first, I was amazed when I heard an Anglican bishop tell his congregation to begin planting mango trees, teak trees, and gardens. At the time, I had been in Sudan for several months and was overwhelmed by the desperation of a place ravaged by war. I had been focusing on the immediate needs – food for the hungry, hospitals for the sick, clean water for the thirsty. Why was this pastor telling his people to plant when there was so much else to be done? I then realized that he saw past the obstacles I had been dwelling on. Instead, he was offering hope to his people by bringing new life to a new nation. He saw the fruit, the building potential, and the beauty that the trees would harvest. He was a visionary, wishing to bestow a better future to his children.
It is easy to become disheartened when reading about or living amongst the bloodshed and devastation suffered by the southern Sudanese, but let us not forget that Christ has not forgotten Sudan, but claimed the Sudanese as his own ages ago. While I was in Sudan, I reflected in my journal upon the early missionaries who brought the Gospel to this unfamiliar land and the hope that is only found in Jesus Christ:
Outside our compound is a church built of brick and stone by English missionaries in the 1930s. It was destroyed in the war and all that now remains are crumbled walls and stone pillars left deserted to serve as a plot of weeds rather than as a house of God. Within the shadows of these halls I find a cool place to write where I am hidden from those passing by. I imagine what this place must have been like when it was used for worship to our Lord. I try to picture the early pioneers who struggled to reach this unfamiliar land and persevered through countless hardships for the sake of Christ to bring the gospel to these people. What an incredible thought that as missionaries, we are continuing a work that was built and has lasted through the ages by the trials, sufferings and perseverance of faithful men and women before us who “considered everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus… (Phil. 3:8).” Those are the footsteps that we follow and whose work it is now our joy to complete.
Some who look upon those ruins may see a church that was unable to stand firm through the devastation of war, and hence may believe that the mission of those pioneers had failed. But, we know better. When I meet the Sudanese Christians and see the hope that they have, I am reminded that the work of the missionaries before us to share the Truth did not end with the destruction of a building but will endure for eternity in the hearts and souls of these people.