Stephen Langa, Eastern Africa Coordinator for Samaritan Strategy Africa (SSA), is praising God for the “suddenly opened amazing doors” the movement is having in Sudan. He credits the robust relationship between the SSA offices in Kampala and Nairobi, but also a growing trust relationship between SSA and the Church Missionary Society (CMS).
Sudan, long torn by strife, is largely new territory for SSA. Stephen has worked to “harmonize and coordinate” ministry efforts there, with the goal of building one or more national teams. Dennis Tongoi and the Kenya team had developed relationships with churches in southern Sudan, while Stephen fostered relationships with leaders in Khartoum, Sudan’s capital in the Muslim-dominated north. Notwithstanding the legendary rift between the north and south, he believed it was possible to “forge a common vision and strategy to disciple the nation of Sudan.” That process got a big jump start this year.
Stephen attended a Peace and Reconciliation conference in Juba, organized by The Episcopal Church of Sudan, the country’s largest Christian denomination. He wanted to build relationships with church leaders, introduce them to SSA teachings, and explore with them how to equip all Sudan’s Christians.
The conference convened 90 participants, including church leaders from 12 dioceses from southern Sudan, but other stakeholders as well. Government leaders attended, including the Speaker of the Southern Sudan Parliament, the Governor of Central Equatorial State, and the Presidential Advisor on Religious Affairs.
Another key player was the Minister for Peace and the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) Implementation. He reviewed the history of Sudan since 1947, before turning to the current status of the CPA. His report indicated that preparations for the January 9, 2011 referendum are far behind schedule. Serious conflicts between the Northern and Southern governments must be solved to provide for a peaceful referendum and a sustainable future.
The presence of government leaders at the conference gave believers the opportunity to demonstrate Christ’s love. Participants were deeply impressed by the “open, frank and non-judgmental discussions,” as well as by the good reputation of the church with the government, the people and the international community.
Conference planners also invited the leader of New Sudan Council of Islamic Affairs to represent the Muslim community. Some of the most powerful dynamic happened when this man saw Christianity in action.
“We were told by the Khartoum government that ‘the Christians in the South hate you and will kill you if the South separates,’” he said. “But now I see that all that is not true. From this conference I have seen that Christians love us and are willing to live in peace and harmony with us”.
A similar reflection came from the traditional chiefs in attendance. Stephen reported that one commented that they [the chiefs] have been marginalized in the past by both governments, but in the conference they felt recognized and empowered and feel that they “can now contribute towards peace in Sudan.”
“One even confided that if the government had invited them they would not have come,” Steven reported, “but since it was the church that invited them, they came.”
The participants were challenged to take these new perspectives to their people at the grassroots level, especially in view of the coming referendum, to equip them to vote “from a point of truth and knowledge.”
The SSA movement benefitted as well by achieving a better grasp of “the situation and challenges that Sudan is facing as a nation.” Stephen believes the SSA can now contextualize their message “from an informed point of view.”
Five ECS dioceses are planning to have vision conferences by spring 2011, and a provisional inter-denominational vision conference in Juba has been scheduled for November 9-13, 2010. Stephen is grateful for the SSA foundation and praying for “good fruit that will result in the expansion of the Kingdom of God in Sudan and beyond.”
The enormous political uncertainties in Sudan comprise a significant challenge to the work of SSA, and that of the church at large. No one knows what to expect after the referendum. Will Sudan be a one-state nation, or two? Christians are praying that God would grant peace to the Sudanese people, that the referendum will be conducted in a free and fair manner, and that both the governments and the people will accept the results.