(Painting “Martyrs of Sudan” by Awer Bul, former Lost Boy)
O Almighty God, by whose grace and power thy holy martyrs of Sudan triumphed over suffering and were faithful even unto death: Grant us, who now remember them with thanksgiving, to be so faithful in our witness to thee in this world, that we may receive with them the crown of life; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Ghost, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
This blog post is to remind us that this Sunday, May 16, is the day in the Church calendar to commemorate The Martyrs of Sudan.
In 1983 the government of Sudan in Khartoum was seized by Islamists who declared sharia over the whole country. These radicals required all Sudanese to convert to Islam on pain of death. They intended (some would say they still intend) to create an Islamic Caliphate, beginning with Sudan and then stretching all throughout Africa.
It was on May 16, 1983 that South Sudanese Christians — bishops, priests, pastors, lay people, and even Anglican and Roman Catholic tribal chiefs made a public declaration that “they would not abandon God as God had revealed Himself to them.” They knew that such a declaration could lead to punishment, persecution, torture, death.
And, indeed, it did lead to those horrors of persecution. Our brothers and sisters in what was then southern Sudan suffered starvation, scorched earth, aerial bombardment, enslavement, and horrific torture and death for the next two decades. Over 2.5 million Sudanese from southern Sudan, the Nuba Mountains, and other “marginalized” regions were killed and millions more displaced, even as the brave Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) fought back against the jihadists.
The story of the Christians of Sudan is fascinating. Christianity began in three Christian Kingdoms in Nubia (Northern Sudan) after the initial launch centuries before by the conversion of a certain court official who, all translations to the contrary, was from Ethiopia. Ethiopia was Abyssinia in Biblical times. Nor was he from the court of any queen named Candace He was a Nubian official from Kush (Northern Sudan), from the court of the queen mother whose title was the Candaka!) to today, the hand of God and the fulfillment of prophecy has been evident. (More about this in a future blog post!)
Why do I say all that when I am supposed to be telling you about the 20th century martyrs of Sudan? To show a pattern.
Many do not know that Sudan was a place of prophetic importance in the Bible. Similarly, many of us did not know in the early 1980’s that in Sudan a battle was raging against our fellow Christians.
That battle had been raging continuously since Sudan’s independence from Great Britain, save for the decade of peace that came with the Addis Ababa agreement. But it was not until much later that most of us heard the testimonies of the Church in Sudan. Some of them sounded like something straight out of the Old Testament battles and miracles!
All those testimonies show the faithfulness of Sudanese Christians. As do the hymns written by Sudanese Christians during that time of violence and persecution, such as this one by the (now) Rev. Mary Alueel Ngongdit Garang:
Let us give thanks; Let us give thanks to the Lord In the day of devastation; and in the day of contentment. Jesus has bound the world round with the pure light of the word of His Father. When we beseech the Lord and unite our hearts and have hope, then the jok (devil) has no power. God has not forgotten us. Evil is departing and holiness is advancing, These are the things that shake the earth. ("Let Us Give Thanks" Mary Alueel Ngongdit Garang, 1992, 4BDDKD93)
As we think of the Martyrs of Sudan, and pray this additional collect in their honor, we know that our faithful God has not forgotten the Church of Sudan and South Sudan. Indeed, He has not forgotten any of us. Evil is departing and holiness is advancing. Look for the things that shake the earth. They continue to come.
O God, steadfast in the midst of persecution, by your providence the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church: Grant us your grace, that as the martyrs of the Sudan refused to abandon Christ even in the face of torture and death, and so by their sacrifice brought forth a plentiful harvest, we too may be steadfast in our faith in Jesus Christ; who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.