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Persecution Solidifies Faith of South Sudanese Christians

By Sarah Pollak

CBN News (12/20/05)

CBN News – Focus- Persecution Solidifies Faith of South Sudanese Christians

SOUTH SUDAN – For more than 20 years, the people of South Sudan , most of them Christians, suffered relentless attacks by the Islamic government of the north.

Christians were killed by the thousands, and nearly every church building in the south was destroyed by bombs and Muslim raiders.

Now, with a peace agreement in effect, Christians are slowly beginning to rebuild their church buildings, and begin the healing process after a long, hard war.

It is Sunday morning, and Christians are coming from miles around to worship together under a big tree in the South Sudanese village of Nyakama in the Nuba Mountains .

From far and wide, they bring their chairs to settle in for a service that can run for many, many hours.

They worship under the trees because, in 1990, the Arab Muslims from the north swept in to town and destroyed their church building, ripping off the tin roof and destroying some of the walls.

Nadia became a Christian in the church when it opened in the early1950s. She says that when the Arabs came, the Christians ran for their lives into the hills.

Many Christians were killed in the 21-year civil war, including her son. But Nadia is not bitter, she says wearily, “The Lord gives and the Lord takes away.”

But this church is not alone. Nearly every building in South Sudan was destroyed during the war.

Father Marco Mangu Udilio has the task of rebuilding the church in the bombed-out village of Mayen Abun .

“They came and looted the church, whatever is good, they have taken it,” Udilio lamented. “And then destroying the image of our lady and our Lord.”

Udilio said the challenges are great in his parish — very little education and a harsh landscape that grudgingly yields crops.

He left the splendor of a parish in Italy to help rebuild the church, and hopes to one day repair their cathedral.

In the nearby town of Turalei , bombs and Muslim raiders left a church with a crack from the foundation all the way up to the cross. Father Victor Discoro leads that parish.

The church building was destroyed by the Arab Muslims years ago. He saids their persecutors figured that if they destroyed the building, they would break the will of the Christians they wanted to dominate.

Discoro explained, “They feel that when they destroy the building, there will be no hope for the people… and [it will] scare the people, and they will say, ‘Where else shall we go?’ And the only place will be to go to the mosques.”

Christians continue to meet under the trees in Turalei, knowing that the uneasy peace could change at any moment.

“We still have a fear, because the Arabs are very slippery like a fish in water. They can decide to turn this peace into another war. When you put a big church, it will be the first place to be bombed, because they don’t want to see any church or chapel of the Christians,” Discoro said.

But what the Arab Muslims did not understand, is that the Christian church is not really a building.

“We Africans believe that the church is the people and the faith,” Discoro said.

And the persecution has not stamped out the work of God in South Sudan — if anything, it has solidified the faith of believers.

“They are really true believers, whereby they have become the evangelizers of the rest of the people,” Discoro explained.

Throughout the South, church leaders take up collections of money and food in every service to help those less fortunate. And even though most in the congregation can barely feed themselves, most always find enough to tithe.

All the while, they sing praises to God for His many blessings.

The Sudanese believers also take a lot of time in their services to pray for the needs of their country and community.

The believers in Nyakama are now getting a new church building, thanks to Christian aid organization Samaritan’s Purse. They have a new project to help rebuild around 87 churches in South Sudan .

In Nyakama, the people say they eagerly look forward to having a place to gather together, and are glad to have the help of Samaritan’s Purse.

Chris Wulliman is the engineer of the church building project for this village. “Not only the people of Nyakama, but the people around in villages around here –one-, two-hours walk – are also excited that their mother church is going to be rebuilt, so they can fellowship with all of their friends, their sisters, their brothers, take communion together, hear the word of God, praise the Lord in unison — in this one place right here.”

Wulliman said that letting the local church take responsibility and view the building process as a partnership is important.

“This is not a Samaritan’s Purse church,” Wulliman commented. “We are coming here as representatives from other believers in the world to help them in their time of need, in their time of suffering, to build this church. But this is their church. They are the church here. We aren’t the church. The building isn’t even the church, but the people are the church.”

Samaritan’s Purse estimates that the cost for rebuilding a church in Sudan is between $5,000 for a partial repair to $25,000 to start a church from scratch.

Here in Nyakama, they are trying to save money by reusing as many bricks as they can from the old church building.

“At the end of the day, when the church is finished, they will be able to say, ‘Yes, I worked on that I sweated. My wife carried water for that. I went and dug that foundation. They can sit in the church and say we were a part of this it becomes much more a part of themselves.”

As this Sunday morning service ends, the believers leave encouraged, but they also leave with bricks in their hands, knowing that unless God builds the house, those who labor do so in vain.