Book recounts history of the church through 2000 years
If there is one place where the resilience of the Christian faith has been demonstrated, then it is Sudan. From the Biblical days of the Ethiopian Eunuch, whom researches have now proven to have been a Sudanese, it has been a tale of the faith overcoming almost innumerable odds to survive.
The fascinating stories of the emergence and consolidation of Christian kingdoms, the challenges from the Islamic onslaught and eventual defeat of the kingdoms, are indicative of Christianity's ability to survive in the extreme of circumstances. Then came the early missionaries and the horrifying devastation visited upon them by the hostile climate and a myriad of tropical diseases in the then African jungle. The early Christian crusaders died in their droves yet the message they sought to spread lived on.
Not even the lengthy colonialism with its characteristic political machinations that more often than not were at variance with the Christian ideals succeeded in stemming the tide of Christian zeal.
Today, Christianity remains at the core of the Sudanese civil strife whose current phase is now in its 17th year. Whereas Khartoum insists on a theocracy with Islam as the state religion, Christians and traditionalist from the south have said a firm no and continue demanding for freedom of worship.
Now, a new impetus has been added to this struggle by Christianity in Sudan to curve for itself a rightful niche in the expansive state. The new catalyst comes in the form of a whooping 688-page documentation christened Day of Devastation; Day of Contentment: The History of the Sudanese Church Across 2000 Years.
Authored by three prominent scholars and veritable friends of Africa, Dr Roland Werner, Rev William B. Anderson and Rev. Andrew C. Wheeler, Day of Devastation, Day of Contentment is the first and doubtlessly the most comprehensive ecumenical history of Sudan. It is one book all shades of the Christian faith in the vast nation can identify with without any qualms.
The book is divided into four main parts, each of, which has several chapters describing the various stages of the Christian evolution in Sudan spanning a 2000-year period. Maps and pictures are generously used throughout the book to help readers have a better and lasting grasp of the content.
"Reading this book," says Francis Deng, one of the most eminent Sudanese scholars, "reveals both the historical forces that have divided Sudan and commonalties of experience that could be a potential source of unification."
"Sudanese from both the north and the south will find in this book that Christianity has deep roots throughout the country and that it is as much a legacy of the history of the country as Islam, with an even greater claim to deeper roots," he says in his foreword.
Other forewords for the book have been written by the Catholic Arch-bishop of Khartoum, Gabriel Zubeir Wako, and Rev. Dr John Gatu, the retired Moderator and General secretary of the Presbyterian Church of East Africa.
Though essentially religious in content, Day of Devastation; Day of Contentment should be an essential reading for all those interested in the Sudan from a wide variety of perspective, historical, political, cultural and of course religious. Quite in conformity with its title, the book is characterised by alternating themes of conflict and harmonious interaction. It is written in a simple straightforward style that is sure to win wide acceptance among readers in general and Sudanese in particular.
At the end is a rich library of sources and selected bibliography for the benefit of those who may be keen to delve deeper into a particular theme. The last page has a brief biography of each of the three authors.
Published by Nairobi-based Paulines Publications, Day of Devastation; Day of Contentment has a beautifully designed front cover with a map showing the entire stretch of the Nile River from Eastern Africa to the Mediterranean. The River Nile, the source of life for the vast land it traverses, is the cradle of the world's most ancient civilisation.
The cover material is glossy and immensely attractive to the eye. Next to the map of the Nile Valley is a simple cross, the symbol of the Christian faith. The cross is identified in one of the book's last pages as the one that stands on the banks of the River Naamat the entrance to the church and the Bible College at Dhiaukuei in Bahr el-Ghazal region. It was erected by Reuben Macir Makoi (later the Episcopal Church of Sudan Bishop of Cueibet). At its foot, many visitors to the Christian community in Dhiaukuei have been welcomed, including the Archbishop of Canterbury.
Officially launched at Nairobi's Holy Family Basilica on June 28, 2000, the book will again be launched in Sudan capital Khartoum, to signify the unifying role it is expected to play in the state torn apart by war.
How did the authors of the book acccomplish such an onerous task, one way pose?
The project to write the book dates back to 1996 when Reverends Anderson and Wheeler formed the Sudan Church Study Project. Researchers and interviewers were trained and deployed in both North and south Sudan to gather oral testimonies from relevant people. Mission and other archivers were contacted in Europe and North America. Correspondence was conducted with former missionaries and with Sudanese Christians the around the world.
A milestone was reached when in February 1997; a major international symposium was convened in Limuru, Kenya that brought together about 40 scholars with an interest in church and religious history of Sudan.
Out of the conference deliberations came the Faith in Sudan series of books, all published by Paulines Africa in Nairobi. Day of Devastation, Day of Contentment is the 10th in the series and the culmination of the intensive and extensive research programme.
Women to have more say in peace talks
Sudanese women are set to have a greater say in peace negotiations for their country following the creation of a Women's Desk at the regional Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (IGAD) Secretariat for Sudan.
Making the announcement, United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM) programme officer Janet Kabeberi-Macharia said her organisation had worked closely with Igad to create the Desk to be launched soon.
Ms Kabeberi made the announcement at a Nairobi hotel on June 23, 2000 during a reception for Sudan Women Advocacy Mission to New York and Washington DC. The reception was organised by Unifem in collaboration with the Royal Netherlands Embassy in Nairobi and the Mennonite Central Committee.
The Sudanese Mission was in the USA from June 2-14 to receive the USA's National Peace Foundation (NPF) prize for their efforts to find a peaceful solution to the Sudanese conflict now in its 17th year. The NPF is one of USA's principal education organisations concerned with conflict resolution and peacebuilding.
Since 1990, the Foundation has undertaken a wide range of international programmes, as well as work in urban schools in the US. Its recent international programmes include support of civil and cultural activities in Bosnia and conflict resolution training in Central America. NPF Fellows have carried out assignments in South Africa, the Middle East and the South Caucacus region.
The Sudanese war, in its broadest definition, pits the Arab and Islamic north against the Christian and traditionalist south. Together with its attendant consequences, the Sudanese civil strife has, to date, claimed an estimated 2 million lives. Thousands of others have been forced into exile as refugees while equally large numbers eke a living in their motherland as Internally Displaced Persons.
With both African and Islamic traditions heavily skewed against them, Sudanese women and children have continued to bear the brunt of what has been described as the world's longest running civil war with little or no say at all in any initiatives to bring it to an end.
The Mission to the USA comprised six women and was led by Ms Amira Yousif from the north and Ms Rebecca Okwaci from southern Sudan.
Some of the women's successes, said Ms Okwaci, are reflected in the awareness and training sessions at the community level, regional contacts, particularly Igad and international advocacy and conferences, such as the Hague appeal for Peace and last month's Maastricht Declaration.
Ms Kabeberi-Macharia noted that there was need to strengthen the participation of women in all peace initiatives for Sudan since the process of reconstructing a society emerging from war requires equal contributions from men and women.
The Igad peace process for Sudan began in late 1993 at a time when the military government and the SPLA were the two main parties in the protracted war. At the same time, the Sudanese regime preferred to deal with all conflicts as purely internal matters rather than internationalising them, an approach that the conflict with the SPLA defied. It is against this background that there remains only two parties to the Igad negotiations even though there are now several warring factions in both north and southern Sudan.
Until last year, the Igad process consisted of short meetings between Khartoum and the SPLA delegations once or twice a year. In mid last year, a secretariat was set up in Nairobi with Kenyan Ambassador Daniel Mboya as a special envoy. The new direction was taken to ensure that the peace initiative becomes an ongoing process rather than a series of sporadic meeting.
SUDAN CATHOLIC INFORMATION OFFICE
Bethany House, P. O. Box 21102, Nairobi, Kenya
tel. +254.2.577595 or 577949, fax 577327
For further information, please contact:
Fr. Kizito, SCIO, tel +254.2.577595 - fax +254.2.577327 - e-mail: SCIO@MAF.Org