Peace Deal in Sudan Presents Opportunity for Christians
- Janet Chismar Senior Editor, News & Culture
- 2003 13 Oct
A security deal signed in late September by Sudanese Vice-President Ali Osman Taha and John Garang, leader of the rebel group SPLA (Sudan People's Liberation Army), is a significant step toward peace in Sudan and has important implications for the relief community and concerned Christians.
According to Tom Vraalsen, the U.N. special envoy for humanitarian needs in Sudan, "I left (the meetings) more confident than ever that there will be a peace agreement in Sudan." Vraalen, who met with officials on both sides, said during a press conference, that he was optimistic the bloodshed would finally end.
More than two million people have died in the Sudanese conflict, mainly through war-induced famine and disease. Fighting first erupted in 1983 when Southern rebels took up arms against the predominantly Arab and Muslim northern government in a bid to obtain greater autonomy for the largely animist and Christian south.
The peace deal comes at a critical time for many Sudanese who are suffering from hunger and health issues caused by a combination of war and natural disasters. An end to the conflict means a need for help for the millions of displaced people and refugees returning home. According to World Relief president, Clive Calver, aid should be used toward implementing programs that help prevent future crises.
Calver recently met with Sudanese churches to discuss how to better mobilize them in light of this latest security deal, and to assess how preventative development programs implemented by World Relief have, and can, make an impact on Sudan's humanitarian crises.
During an interview just after his return, Calver told Crosswalk.com that the people of Sudan feel "a glorious sense of relief that in six weeks' time, there may be peace." He describes the mood of the people: "You're standing in the middle of the village complex and a bomber flies overhead. You're surrounded by all these foxholes and bunkers, but nobody's diving in. Everyone's looking up at the sky and thinking, 'We're not going to be bombed.' It was wonderful."
Does Calver think this peace agreement will work? "I think this is the best opportunity there has been. I think the north has begun to realize that a fundamentalist Islamic government is not going to either wage a successful genocide against the south, nor is it going to gain a position where it can re-exert its will. It's got to face the fact that the animist Christian population of the south is determined that it's now going to have its moment of freedom."
According to Calver, some people are fighting for liberty and some are fighting for religious freedom - most people are fighting for both. "Some 20 years have given adequate testimony to the fact that they are not going to give up."
The Sudanese Church
Before describing the work that World Relief is doing with local churches, Calver offers a bit of clarification - the word "church" brings to mind a western model. "Southern Sudan has no gas or no electricity. It has only 10 miles of paved roads. It has no airports. It doesn't have any guaranteed fresh water supply. It has no currency - instead it deals in chickens and cows. When you talk about churches doing things, you are talking about churches that don't have pastors and that may not even have Bibles."
The World Relief effort - actually an expression of commitment from the U.S. evangelical churches to the Sudanese churches - is focused on education, health care and crop protection. "These things do not take the place of the gospel," Calver points out. "But without crop protection, you're going to have famine and death.
"I've watched the Sudanese die. I've watched babies die at my feet, and I've seen this for too many years," he explains. "This time we were inoculating people who had never, ever seen a needle."
Despite such terrible challenges, the Sudanese church is "one of the fastest growing churches on the planet," Calver adds.
A Different Kind of Hunger
People in Sudan are hungry for God. Calver relates the story of a woman who had taken her sick daughter to a witch doctor for years to no avail and finally gave up. She told Calver that she and her husband were now just waiting for the word of God. "Why they knew there was a word of God, how they knew there was a word of God, I haven't a clue."
When World Relief arrived in that area in the year 2000, "they found the word of God was a person - and His name is Jesus. They had been waiting for 12 years to find the word of God," Calver says.
Another illustration - three years ago, he arrived in a village in southern Sudan. After watching children die all day, Calver was so discouraged that he told his pilot on the charter plane, "Get me out of here. I can't take any more."
Upon arriving in the next village, about 70 miles away, he tried to find the tribal elders to tell them that World Relief would be seeding the ground and helping their children not to die in the next year.
"All I could find was 250 people under a spreading tree. I said, 'What are you doing?' And they said, 'We're worshipping Jesus. Have you ever heard of Him?'
"And I said, 'Yes, I've heard of Jesus. I've come from American churches - people who love Jesus and who want to provide feeding for you - to save some of your people next year.'
"They said, 'Well, that's wonderful, but - you've heard of Jesus?! We've heard there's a book. You've never seen one, have you?'
"I said, 'I've got a few copies at home.'"
They were so excited that Calver had seen the Bible they didn't even care about the seeding. They wanted "the book" first.
Six months later, 1000 people were baptized "all by sprinkling, not by immersion - which had nothing to do with theology and everything to do with crocodiles," Calver says, laughing.
According to Calver, "When you go to southern Sudan, it's like walking back in history and finding that God was there, is there, and will be there."
Right now, southern Sudan lies at a crossroads and you can help. "The people in Sudan simply need the resources and they'll build a new Sudan when they have peace," says Calver. "The bomber can keep flying overhead. As long as it's not dropping bombs, the church has a chance.
"Together," Calver adds, "we can make a new Sudan. But we'll do it through the church of Jesus in that nation. The seeds have been planted. Now it needs to be built up by the rest of the body."
Call 1-800-535-LIFE or go to www.worldrelief.org to learn how you can help.
Photo: David Ward/World Relief Photos