From the Worldwide Faith News archives

The War Drags On, but Sudanese Christians Refuse

Date 04 May 1996 16:08:13


96136       The War Drags On, but Sudanese Christians Refuse 
                           to Give up Hope 
                          by Alexa Smith 
NAIROBI, Kenya--Despite more than 29 years of civil war, with no end in 
sight, most Sudanese Christians say they have hope that someday  the 
violence, homelessness and political instability will end. 
     That hope is not so much eschatological or political as it is 
prophetic, for the resurrection hope so typical among Sudanese is tempered 
by a punitive edge.  
     Many Sudanese understand the words of the eighth-century B.C. prophet 
in Isaiah 18 to be a prediction of Sudan's current torment -- and the 
coming redemption of its "tall and smooth" people who are "feared near and 
far."  Those words bring both comfort and conflict to those who are trying 
to make sense of the persistence of evil, because the same God the Bible 
depicts as suffering with the people is also understood here to be testing 
the helpless faithful -- and punishing the faithless -- in the midst of the 
seemingly endless war. 
     "Everything has failed.  Everything you can think of humanly has 
failed," said the Rev. Haruun Ruun, executive director of the New Sudan 
Council of Churches in Nairobi, about the violence that persists in Sudan 
between tribes and between armies. "The only hope people have is in God who 
created them ... in the Holy Spirit who gives strength and courage to stand 
up and endure the situation -- not just now, but tomorrow and next year. 
     "There seems no end to it." 
     The New Sudan Council of Churches consists of Protestant, Catholic and 
Pentecostal churches in the areas of southern Sudan controlled by the 
Sudanese People's Liberation Army (SPLA), which is fighting  the 
fundamentalist Islamic government in Khartoum for self-determination for 
the largely black Christian and animist people of the south. 
      To date, more than 1.5 million Sudanese have been killed and at least 
5 million more are refugees, who pour into makeshift camps outside Khartoum 
that are routinely bulldozed back down into the dry Sahara that surrounds 
the capital of the once-united country.  In the south, people hide in 
moveable villages deep in the bush.   They hide  not only from government 
troops, but from one or both of the rebel armies that are fighting each 
other to control southern Sudan's people and its much coveted natural 
resources, including vast supplies of timber and oil. 
     "This is not a new thing ... so we will endure it," argued the Rev. 
Michael Chot Lul, principal of Khartoum's tiny Nile Theological Seminary, 
who said the biblical narratives tell of a God who allows suffering and 
somehow redeems it -- from the wandering of Hebrew ex-slaves in the 
wilderness to the nailing of Jesus to the cross at Golgatha. But Chot Lul 
refuses to raise questions about why the warfare persists because, he said, 
there is also resurrection, and that means no problem is hopeless. 
     "Why should the people of Israel suffer for 40 years?  Why only Israel 
at the time?  Why not other nations?  When a problem comes to you, you 
wonder,  Why me and not others?'" Chot Lul told the Presbyterian News 
Service.  And yet he insists that God allows evil to happen, and even if a 
biblical prophecy predicts unavoidable disaster, there is still hope for a 
yet unseen future. 
     Trying to make sense of the sheer persistence of evil is nothing new 
to Africans who have, for centuries, had to wonder why there is so much 
suffering, according to Dr. Setri Nyomi of Nairobi's All Africa Conference 
of Churches.  Both traditional African religions and some strains of 
Christianity have left behind legacies of divine punishment that often 
reemerge when theodicy is broached. 
      Nyomi told the Presbyterian News Service that most of Africa would 
say God allows -- but does not cause -- evil.  "The question is more  What 
are we called upon to do?' than  Why is this happening to us?'  Whether or 
not God allows evil to happen is secondary," he said. 
     But whether God actually inflicts hardship as some sort of punishment 
or simply allows the consequences of human sin to hold sway, even over the 
innocent, is where the debate gets murkier.  And it does prompt questions 
among those who continue suffering year after year. 
     "Will God only punish the poor people but not the rich people in 
Sudan?  Will God only punish the black race but not the brown race in 
Sudan?  It is a conflict in our minds," said one southern Sudanese pastor, 
stressing that most of the war has been fought in the south, displacing 
people and destroying towns and fields.  "We may not be the first people to 
ask this:   If God is just, why is this happening?'  This question is in 
the minds of my people. ... 
     "But," he said, drawing on scriptural stories, "to find blessing from 
God involves some suffering and pain. ... Although God is just and 
everything comes from him, there are also times when God wants to test us." 
     But it is a short step from a God who tests the faithful to one who 
punishes the faithless -- particularly when the source of the quandary is a 
prophet's cry of impending doom for people who have forgotten the God who 
delivered them from Egypt.  While some Sudanese attest that humans do evil 
and cause horrible suffering, others understand God to be the source of all 
     "We accept this [war] on us as maybe from our sin -- this is 
punishment being done to us ...," one theological student told the 
Presbyterian News Service.  "We also have to examine why this punishment is 
given through the hands of other people.  Sudanese really know what Isaiah 
preached ...  the Sudan." 
     Dr. Michael Wal Duany of Bloomington, Ind., formerly of Akobo, Sudan, 
turns to other portions of the Bible to try to explain massive human 
suffering.  "In Christianity," he asked, "who is innocent and who is 
guilty?  How does God punish when he punishes?  In the Old Testament, many 
things are happening to men, women, children, old people, to everybody. ... 
     "God has his own ways," Duany told the Presbyterian News Service, 
acknowledging that human beings create suffering too.  But, he concluded, 
"God can get angry and God can also love." 
     The Rev. Paul Bol, executive secretary of the Presbyterian Church of 
Sudan (in southern Sudan), said the Bible is clear about how the sins of 
the father bring punishment to the children.  "Adam and Eve," he said, 
"disobeyed and sin fell to everybody in this world simply because they are 
Adam and Eve's ancestors." 
     The tension between God's mercy and wrath is one the prophets well 
understood.  But most Sudanese preachers preach love:  how to live together 
though the world seems to be crumbling, how to trust that the church in 
other parts of the world has not forgotten them, how to believe that the 
vision of God is more powerful than the great struggle that has swallowed 
Sudan, Africa's largest country. 
     "There are times when our faith is brought into question," Ruun told 
the Presbyterian News Service.  But he points out that despite Sudan's 
horrific problems, the church -- virtually the only stable institution left 
in southern Sudanese society -- is growing enormously.  "There are times 
when you see the grace coming in ... and you begin to see light in spite of 
the difficulties.  Somehow you see that grace ... and it gives hope. ... 
     "It's up and down, up and down." 
     Ruun explained that worship in Sudan is jammed because people have 
watched human solutions fail over and over.  "They don't see any other 
solution," he said.  "But they see hope and solution in God." 

For more information contact Presbyterian News Service
  Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), Louisville, KY 40202
  phone 502-569-5504            fax 502-569-8073  
  E-mail   Web page: 


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