Title page for ETD etd-10292007-155531

Document Type Master's Dissertation
Author Preller, Arnoldus Mauritius
Email arriep@od.org
URN etd-10292007-155531
Document Title Present and future challenges to the church in Africa - with special refernce to the church in Sudan
Degree MA (Science of Religion and Missiology)
Department Science of Religion and Missiology
Advisor Name Title
Prof P G J Meiring Supervisor
  • Sudan
  • challenges
  • reference
  • Africa
Date 2007-04-20
Availability restricted

Sudan has been prominent in the international news for the last few years. While the media’s focus has largely been on the different civil wars and abuse of human rights I desire to highlight the dramatic growth of Christianity in Africa’s largest country. The Church in Sudan has a long, rich history with many lessons for the wider Church. During the last five decades she played a crucial role in a society where most other community structures were destroyed or destabilized. In the last thirty years Christianity in Southern Sudan against all odds expanded tremendously. The way it happened is amazing, humbling and worth reading.

In order to better understand the problems, needs and challenges of the present day Church in Sudan I painted a broad background picture of Christianity in Africa. First, I discussed the three waves of Christianity that rolled over Africa. Many lessons, positive and negative, can be learned from the way Christianity was presented during each wave. The way mission work was seen and done by mostly Western missionaries and perceived by their African mission objects impacted the Church in Africa in a significant way.

One important fact was that both missionaries and African Christians played important roles in establishing Christianity on the continent. Contributions of both groups must therefore be valued. However, while the work of Western missionaries received most of the attention for many years it is important to recognize that it was often the zeal and efforts of African Christians that made the biggest difference.

After painting a broad African background I focused on Christianity in Sudan. Christianity’s roots in Sudan go back to the time of the kingdoms of Kush, Meroe, Nubia and Alodia. The Christian kingdom of Nubia was especially prosperous for many centuries, but eventually it faded away due to various internal and external factors. Valuable lessons pertaining to the reasons that it happened assist the Church today in not making the same mistakes.

In the late nineteenth century the modern mission movement was started. It continued until the emergence of an indigenous Church in Sudan. Roman Catholic and Protestant missionaries sowed the seeds of the gospel at great personal cost in ground that often seemed barren and resistant. Men like Casolani, Comboni and Geyer poured their lives into Sudan on behalf of the Roman Catholic Church. The Protestants had their champions in people like the Anglican missionary Archibald Shaw, the American Mission missionaries Thomas Lambie and Don MacClure, and the Trudingers and Lunns who worked with SUM. The Forsberg couple who represented SIM in the Southern Blue Nile region gave themselves to the Uduk, but also made mistakes that highlight the importance of recognizing cultural differences when doing mission work. Reflecting on the work done by missionaries who were children of their time can be helpful to missionaries involved in present day Sudan.

With time an indigenous church emerged from the missionary efforts. The process was not without its problems. One challenge that occurred and that is often found where mission work is done, is the giving over of power and responsibility by the missionaries to the local church leadership. In Sudan missionaries were reluctant to "work themselves out of their job", but in the end they were forced by the government to leave the country. Civil war also broke out, causing whole communities to flee to neighbouring countries, government-controlled cities or deep into the bush. Although the indigenous Church faced many difficulties and opposition she did not only survive, but actually flourished in many cases. The Church was often the key factor that held people together who would otherwise have perished. Records of immensely brave and devoted Christians with little education who worked in extremely difficult conditions give testimony to what can be achieved in the broken world we live in.

In the period between 1972 and 1983 a fragile peace existed. During this period many missionaries and Christian organizations returned to Southern Sudan. They desired to serve the young Church but unfortunately often took control of their own projects. Fortunately several missionaries realized the importance of leaving the power in the hands of local leadership. The Arenson couple working among the Murle is a good example.

When civil war broke out again in 1983 the Church went through a very difficult time. Instead of declining, as many expected, tremendous growth took place. In some cases, like in the Bor area one reason was the disillusionment with the traditional deities. The gospel message gave hope to people who had nowhere to turn. In other areas Sudanese evangelists with very little education became leaders of large people movements while most of the official church leadership fled to neighbouring countries.

In the late nineteen eighties the international world became aware of the "silent war" in Southern Sudan. Pressure from outside led to the establishment of Operation Lifeline Sudan. It also opened the opportunity for Christians outside of Sudan to enter the country. Valuable services were rendered, but again too much control remained in the hands of the expatriate missionaries and mission organizations. The involvement of many expatriates who had access to large amounts of money had positive and negative results. Some of these results are discussed in order to prevent the repetition of similar mistakes.

With the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement on 9 January 2006 a whole new dynamic came into place. The Church has to adapt to the many changes that have occurred in the country. She now has to represent God in a milieu of transition with all its unique challenges. In order to fulfill her role the Church has to look at her history, be realistic about her present condition and reflect on the many challenges facing her as she tries to be faithful to her Lord. Several of these challenges are highlighted and some suggestions are made. It is my prayer that future historians will be able to write about a Sudanese Church that has grown in all aspects and has made an impact on the Sudanese society at large.

© 2006, University of Pretoria. All rights reserved. The copyright in this work vests in the University of Pretoria. No part of this work may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, without the prior written permission of the University of Pretoria.

Please cite as follows:

Preller, AM 2006, Present and future challenges to the church in Africa - with special refernce to the church in Sudan, MA(Theol) dissertation, University of Pretoria, Pretoria, viewed yymmdd < http://upetd.up.ac.za/thesis/available/etd-06032008-112626/ >

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