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Sudan Church Unites

WASHINGTON(BWA) The Sudan Interior Church North and Sudan Interior Church South have reunited to form one convention.First constituted in 1963, the Sudan Interior Church (SIC) divided during the Second Sudanese Civil War from 1983 to 2005, during which more than two million people died and an estimated four million Sudanese were displaced.

Baptist congregations were founded in several Sudanese refugee camps in Ethiopia and Kenya. “The scattering of the church necessitated the development of a second administrative center based in Nairobi, Kenya.” said Elijah Brown, who has studied the state of the church in Sudan, and who is a member of the Baptist World Alliance Commission on Freedom and Justice. “The installation of SIC-South was a pragmatic attempt to minister to a dispersed church divided by warring factions.”

Brown said SIC “leaders insist that the church itself was not split, but administratively rearranged for a limited timeframe to further effective ministry.”

The reunification of the Baptist convention was achieved after a series of meetings beginning in April 2007. After a second meeting in November, a third meeting held April 1-5 in the southern Sudanese town of Renk, resulted in unification. Ramadan Chan, who was elected general secretary of the SIC at the meetings in early April of this year, described the occasion as one of “jubilation and praises to God for his goodness.”

Christianity has deep roots in Sudan. Some traditions hold that the Ethiopian Eunuch in Acts 8 was from what is modern-day Sudan, which encompasses the lands of several ancient kingdoms, including Kush, Darfur, and three Nubian kingdoms. Christianity was the majority religion in the region from the fifth century through to the 14th century before the Mamelukes (Turkish rulers in Egypt) breached Nubian defenses and established the dominance of Islam.

Baptist witness, which began in the country in 1893 through the Sudan Interior Mission, is mainly centered in the southern section of the vast country, the largest in Africa. Despite wars and conflicts, Christianity, including Baptist churches, has experienced growth. In 2000, SIC-North reported 15,000 baptized believers. In 2007, there were 21,000. In Khartoum, the country’s capital, there are some 33 churches. The combined SIC comprises more than 225 churches and more than 40,000 baptized believers.

“Congregations gather in bombed-out sanctuaries, flimsy tin buildings, homes and under the open sky,” according to Brown, a Texan who recently submitted a doctoral thesis to the University of Edinburgh on “The Road to Peace: The Role of the Southern Sudanese Church in Communal Stabilization and National Reconciliation.”

SIC is heavily involved in mission. These include the Boys Hope Centre in Hajj Yousuf, Khartoum, home to approximately 40 street boys ranging from age 6 to 18; Sudan Interior Aid, the development arm of SIC; and Gideon Theological College, which offers theological education and ministerial training to pastors and evangelists. These are in addition to peace building efforts and repatriation of displaced persons undertaken by SIC and other Christian churches in Sudan.

The BWA has had a long and active interest in Sudan, which accepted SIC as a member body in 2000, despite its divisions into north and south. Baptist World Aid, the relief and development arm of the BWA, facilitated the reunification talks through a grant, and recently sent $12,600 through SIM for a relief and development project, with additional amounts to be sent. One aspect of the project is assistance for 2,000 families that are living in a slum area in a displaced peoples’ camp.

In early 2007, BWAid’s Rescue24, under the direction of Hungarian Baptist Aid, sent $10,000 to help with the cost of preventative healthcare in Sudan, administered vaccines, and treated more than 700 patients with myriad ailments and diseases.

In a July 2006 resolution passed in Mexico City, the BWA General Council, in response to wars in Sudan and the genocide in Darfur, “Requests the President and the General Secretary to give urgent consideration on how best to advocate the implementation of all Sudanese signed peace agreements and protection of human and religious rights as established by United Nations resolutions.” The resolution also “calls on all Christians to pray for the persecuted and displaced peoples of Sudan and the ongoing mission of Sudanese Christians.”

In a resolution passed in Accra, Ghana, in 2007, the BWA General Council further “maintains ongoing concern about the armed conflicts, contrived famines, destruction of communities, lack of transparent truth and accountability and other human rights violations in Sudan.”

The 2007 resolution “encourages international conventions, fellowships and churches to develop partnerships with Sudanese Baptists who have remained largely isolated,” and “calls on the President and the General Secretary especially to consider working with the (BWA) Freedom and Justice Commission to promote advocacy for Darfur through letters delivered to relevant Ambassadors, the United Nations, government officials, and other potential avenues.”