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Intersection of Life and Faith

Faith of Nuba People Flourishes in Volatile Climate of Sudan

  • Robert Wayne Crosswalk.com Correspondent
  • 2006 2 Feb
  • COMMENTS
Faith of Nuba People Flourishes in Volatile Climate of Sudan

Gabriel Meyer traveled to the ends of the earth and back, but it wasn't until the journalist visited the Nuba Mountains in central Sudan that he found a foreign land not of this world.

 

Meyer discovered in Africa a people and place unlike any he had encountered. So isolated was the location and so different were the Nuba - a people who maintain incredible hope under desperate conditions - that the encounter educated his mind and effected his emotions tremendously.

 

"I realized that while I had been in some unusual places, southern Egypt for example, I had never been anyplace this remote," said Meyer, whose writing experience as a war correspondent also has taken him to the Muslim Quarter of Jerusalem and Bosnia. "No roads. No electricity. With people living much as they did 1,000 years ago." With one horrific exception. The Nuba of 1006 did not face the kind of fear and persecution that tormented them during the 22-year civil war between the Islamic government forces and insurgent armies in central and southern Sudan that ended on Jan. 9, 2005.

 

Meyer made the first of six trips to central Sudan in 1998. What kept bringing him back, through 2004, was a conversation he never saw coming.

 

"The most extraordinary thing, outside the exotic landscape and whole context of the situation, was when I first interviewed a commander of one of the small militias that had rebelled against the government," Meyer said, explaining that the government expected the Nuba to join it in a holy war against southern Sudan. "I could see from the ragtag weapons they had  ... that I would be told to send a message (for supplies)."

 

Instead, the commander delivered a far different message.

 

"When I asked him what was the most important thing your soldiers need out here, he said, 'The most important thing they need is to learn to fight and not to hate. Fight the enemy if you must, but why catch his disease?'"

 

Meyer describes that quote as the "goose bump moment" when he first realized he had stumbled upon something outside the norm.

 

"That's when I knew we were dealing with something very unusual here, that the Nuba had a kind of spirituality built into their culture that I had not seen in most other places," said Meyer, who used the commander's comments as the inspiration for War and Faith in Sudan, a memoir of his time spent there.

 

"Even in other parts of Sudan I met people who suffered unbelievable things and hated (the enemy) with all their heart and soul," Meyer said. "I found that in Bosnia and the Middle East. This was different. A bigger picture of human life."

 

As an example of this "bigger picture," Meyer likes to recite a quotation from Yusuf Kuwa, the late Nuba political leader: "I will build my civilization, and then I will forgive everyone who humiliated me."

 

The spiritual makeup of central Sudan is about equal parts Christian, Muslim and indigenous, or African traditionalist. The Christian population is growing, which would seem to explain why the Muslim government of the North continues to enforce its will on the Nubas.

 

But a "secret element," as Meyer calls it, is that many victims of the civil war were Muslims. The government simply objected to their brand of more culturally tolerant Islam.

 

"So here is a government claiming to speak in the name of Islam, yet killing hundreds of thousands of Muslims," Meyer said.

 

In his book, Meyer relates a story of love, acceptance and peace involving Nuba Christians and Muslim "neighbors."

 

Following an Easter service under the grove trees in the mountains, the Nuba celebrated by singing, dancing and eating. As evening approached and the people began returning to their encampments, drumming began to be heard in the distance. Another group was approaching. Was it friend or foe?

 

"Everyone was waiting to see what would happen. It turns out it was a group of Muslims who had traveled a day and a half on foot to pay their respects to their Christian neighbors on a day of Christian feast," Meyer said. "And they began to do this dance."

 

Suddenly, the Christian leader joined the Muslims in dance in the middle of the circle.

 

"Suffering can do a number of things to people," Meyer said. "It can turn them back into themselves. It can shut people down. But there's a choice in that suffering. As you see Jesus himself do, suffering also can get us to turn out and embrace a greater reality. And that is the secret of the Nuba survival."

 

It took a trip to a world unlike any other to find a special kind of faith, but the journey was well more than worth it.