Christianity played a constructive role in the birth last weekend of the world’s newest nation – South Sudan.
Southern Sudanese voted in a weeklong referendum of self-determination in January 2011 to pursue a course of independence from Sudan, a nation divided between the mostly Arab north and the predominantly African tribes in the south, a land mass that stretched from Egypt to Uganda.
That decision-making process was made possible by a 2005 peace accord that ended a civil war that took 2 million lives and the presence of a prestigious team of international observers that included Jimmy Carter. Added to the process were the prayers of global Christians.
Christian denominations ranging from Mennonites to Catholics urged their followers to pray for the Sudan.
Christianity Today’s editor-in-chief, David Neff, closed a column on the Sudan by saying, “And remember to ‘pray, pray, pray.'”
As a Mennonite Central Committee article recalled last week, the run-up to the referendum was a time of uncertainty.
“In light of these uncertainties a prayer campaign was initiated by Solidarity in Southern Sudan called 101 Days of Prayer for Peace. It was a movement that started in the Catholic dioceses of Sudan but soon spread across denominations, borders and seas,” wrote Heather Peters. “In Sudan we are convinced that these prayers were answered. Ballot papers arrived on time to all voting stations. There was peace, calm, and orderliness during the voting process. And there was great jubilation when the results were announced.”
Almost 99 percent voted for an independent South Sudan.
Peters said that prayers have continued with many uncertainties ahead.
In a column before Independence Day, David Stearns, president of World Vision, wrote, “In addition to faith in democracy, faith in God also has played a vital role in the events leading to this celebration.”
Stearns recalled: “Many American Christians, Protestants and Catholics, committed time, talent and treasure – as well as political muscle during the Bush and Obama Administrations – to help achieve a peace treaty in 2005 which led to last January’s referendum. That treaty, like our nation’s Bill of Rights, provides for freedom of worship.”
As far back as the early 1990s, the Vatican criticized Sudan’s sharia law and the government’s discrimination against Christians. In 1993, Pope John Paul held a blunt meeting with Sudan’s president, Omar Hassan Ahmed al Bashir, about the suffering of Catholics in Sudan.
Decades later, Bishop John Ricard from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) and Ken Hackett from Catholic Relief Services attended the July 9 independence celebration events.
“For decades the USCCB has worked to support the Church and people of Sudan who suffered great hardship during their long civil war and suffer even now from continuing conflicts, especially in Darfur and the border regions between north and south,” read a USCCB press release.
Stearns pointed out in his piece that the world’s newest nation is one of the poorest. As such, he said the nation’s well-being will result from meeting the human needs of “health care, water and sanitation, education, economic development and food.”
According to Stearns, the Sudan Catholic Bishops Conference published a booklet about faith and peacemaking with a story about a grandfather and a grandson.
The grandfather told his grandson that two lions live within every human being. One lion has “anger, resentment, jealousy, competition and fear.” The other lion lives in peace, has compassion, and respects others who are different.
“Which lion wins?” asked the grandson.
“The one you feed,” said the grandfather.
Let’s hope global Christians and southern Sudanese keep feeding the good lion.
Robert M. Parham (1953 – 2017) was the founder and executive director of Baptist Center for Ethics from 1991 to 2017. He served as executive editor of EthicsDaily.com, BCE’s website, from its launch in 2002 until 2017.