The Martyrs of Sudan: Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow

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In November 2011, Bishop Andudu Adam Elnail of the Diocese of Kadugli talks of the struggles of his people with Bishop Steve Lane of Maine and Boulis Codi, a local Sudanese leader and member of Trinity Epscopal Church in Portland, Maine. 

“The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church,” the third-century North African teacher, Tertullian, once wrote. And in no place is that observation more apt than in Sudan, Africa’s largest country, and a land long torn by violence.

British policy in the late nineteenth century was to arbitrarily divide the vast country between a Muslim North and a multiethnic South, limiting Christian missionary activity largely to the latter, an artificial division that has created enduring problems. Since independence, on January 1, 1956, three civilian governments and three military dictatorships have ruled a country that has experienced forty-one years of civil war. During the 1980s Sudan’s internal armed conflict assumed an increasingly religious character, fueled by a northern-dominated Islamic government imposing authoritarian political control, Islam as the state religion, a penal code based on Sharia law, and restrictions on free speech and free assembly.

On May 16, 1983, a small number of Episcopal and Roman Catholic clerical and lay leaders declared they “would not abandon God as they knew him.” Possibly over two million persons, most of them Christians, were then killed in a two-decade civil war, until a Comprehensive Peace Treaty was signed in January 2005. During those years, four million southern Christians may have been internally displaced, and another million forced into exile in Africa and elsewhere. Yet despite the total destruction of churches, schools, and other institutions, Sudanese Christianity, which includes four million members of the Episcopal Church of the Sudan, has both solidified as a faith community, and gradually expanded at home and among refugees, providing steadfast hope in often-desperate setting.

This hymn, written by Sudanese children in exile in Ethiopia, reflects both the tragedy and depth of faith of Sudan’s Christians:

Look upon us, O Creator who has made us.
God of all peoples, we are yearning for our land.
Hear the prayer of our souls in the wilderness.
Hear the prayer of our bones in the wilderness.
Hear our prayer as we call out to you.

From Holy Women, Holy Men, the revised version of Lesser Feasts and Fasts which continues to be on trial use through 2015

Since the passage above was written for Holy Women, Holy Men, the people of Sudan, particularly the Christian Nuba people, have endured escalating political turmoil, terror, hunger, and death.

In early June 2011, when attacks intensified in his home in the Nuba Mountains of the South Kordofan state of Sudan, Bishop Andudu Adam Elnail of the Anglican Diocese of Kadugli was in the U.S. receiving medical treatment. The reports he heard horrified him. Sudanese armed forces began an intense assault on the Nuba people who live at the southern edge to the new border between Sudan and South Sudan.

The assault included killings of civilians and a sustained bombing campaign by the Khartoum government.  Bishop Andudu’s home, the cathedral, the diocesan office and other churches were looted and burned in Kadugli, the captial city of South Kordofan.  While some residents along the border were allowed by the Comprehensive Peace Agreement to migrate to what became, on July 7, 2011, the Republic of South Sudan, the residents of South Kordofan were not among them.

In the drawing of the lines between Sudan and South Sudan, the Khartoum regime elected to retain the southern-most states that, while primarily Christian, are also rich in oil and other natural resources. The people of these states, rather than become citizens of the new nation of South Sudan along with their ethnic and religious neighbors, were forced, because of diplomatic concessions, to remain a part of Sudan. The bombardment and terror that began in May 2011 was, ostensibly, part of an effort to cleanse the region of remaining rebels. But with more than 150,000 Nuba people, who have lived in the region for millennia, targeted and often killed, its being characterized by Human Rights Watch [LINK] and other international organizations as ethnic cleansing and, indeed, genocide. After fleeing to the safety of mountains and caves where hunger and the lack of medical care was devastating, many now have made their way to refugee camps over the border in South Sudan.

According to Bishop Andudu, who has been targeted by the Sudanese military for assassination, the terror and persecution continues to this day. The Bishop has testified before committees of Congress and has briefed United Nations commissions during the past year. Though in exile, working from the U.S. and South Sudan, he acts as an advocate for his people and his clergy-in-exile by raising funds to support schools and maintain agricultural development in the refugee camps.

Remember the martyrs of Sudan – those of yesterday, today, and, so heartbreakingly, tomorrow – in your prayers. If you are inclined and able, make a donation to support Bishop Andudu’s work in care of the Colorado Episcopal Foundation, [LINK] 1300 Washington St., Denver, CO 80203. Contact members of your congressional delegation and ask them to demand a cessation of attacks on civilians; to urge the UN to provide humanitarian relief; and to support diplomatic talks between the parties.

Links: Colorado Episcopal Foundation:

To read the Human Right Watch quote in Religion Dispatches story, click here.

-Heidi Shott

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