Leadership, Integrity and Nation building.
– by Kot Bol Kot, translated by Majid Girgis
The church in our country needs to change its thinking pattern and the way it lives the Christian life. It must prepare itself to be able to accept people from non-Christian backgrounds, ask God to open the doors for them, and be ready to welcome and receive them in all patience until they change and accept the Lord Jesus as Saviour and Master of their lives. This cannot happen until the church itself is healed from the bitter wounds of the past that its members have (wounds from historic persecution that the church has gone through), and starts looking at others as people, individuals who need the salvation that is found in Christ.
Some obstacles for Church growth in the country:
Church persecution wounds through history
The written history of our Sudanese church speaks about ages where the church flourished and about hard times the church lived through. This happens in most countries of the world, but things were ‘extra mixed up’ in our country. Now the church here is associated with certain ethnicities and tribes, to the degree that when you look at a person, you can easily guess if he is a Christian or not. Moreover, if somebody who “looks like a non-Christian” becomes a Christian, people are surprised, including Christians! I remember a friend of mine, who is from one of the “Christian” tribes, telling me that he got dressed as a typical person from one of “the Muslim tribes”, and went to church on Sunday to worship with a local people. The elders there confronted my friend and tried to kick him out of the building. The pastor, who knew him personally, intervened; otherwise, he might have ended up beaten by the church elders for trying to worship in the church! From this incident we understand one of the reasons for the lack of growth in the church among the “Muslim” tribes. They are unwelcomed. In addition, most of the evangelism offices in the Sudanese churches do not have a clear vision for encouraging their members to evangelise others. There is no readiness to receive into the church those who believe from amongst other groups. Their church is only open to people who come from certain tribes that are known to be “Christian”. On the other hand, there are tribes that are known to be “Muslim” and they naturally reject Christianity.
Racism and tribalism among church members
One of the abnormal things in the church in Sudan is that the ethnic and tribal belonging between church members is much stronger than their commitment to the Lord Jesus Christ. So, instead of seeing ourselves as one Body in the Lord and this everlasting bond as a unity that needs to be stronger than anything else, including tribalism itself, we strengthen our relationships with each other on an ethnic basis. This happens even in churches that seem to include different tribes and peoples in their congregations. I was told about an elder who refused to open church membership for Christians of other races and his argument was, “how do I allow my daughter to sit next to in the church the son of ‘so and so’ (a person from another tribe)?”
I belong to a church that includes multiple Sudanese tribes. Our church held a mixed Christian convention in an attempt to address racism, in addition to the main topics. When it was time to assign rooms we failed to make people from different tribes stay in the same rooms, except for a few. In the following year’s convention things became worse, because the racism became public and we nearly lost all hope of fixing this problem. Nevertheless, we decided to keep trying because unity and respect for one another as the Body of Christ will help the church, and the country as a whole, to grow and prosper. All disagreement inside the church, whether it be administrational or spiritual, ends up as racial. Sadly, all efforts for reconciliation fail. For over five years now we have seen divisions in the church and they will last longer because we hate each other’s tribes. The civil war lasted more than 21 years and reaped the lives of about two and a half million people, according to official statistics. The war destroyed those parts of the country that could have become very productive, benefiting the whole population. For so many years the national budget was sucked into the war instead of being used for production. It increased our external debt, causing us to fall behind all other nations. Some of the factors that enabled the war to last all this time were racism, tribalism and the lack of respect for one another. We even have a Sudanese parable that states, “Skin that is not yours, drag thorns through it”. There is major tribal division, politics that use division, more localised civil wars between the rebels (mainly “Christian” African tribes), people of other African religions, some Muslims, and the government (controlled by people belonging to tribes leaning more towards Arabs and Islam), which have all resulted in a lack of the desire to live together as brothers. All the above led to the splitting of the country and a continual dragging each other into more wars. Even our disagreements within the church we took into the world’s courts instead of judging such cases ourselves. Such actions go against the clear teaching of scripture. 1 Corinthians
The outside community’s opinions of the church and Christianity, as being shame and infidelity
In the traditions of the majority of Sudanese society, Christianity is shameful. This leads many Christians to shy away from boasting in their faith when it is discussed. This is especially true in places where Christians are a very small minority. Present Christianity is not attractive to non-Christians, which is why the Christian faith is limited to the few who highly esteem the reproach of Christ, as Moses did, Hebrews 11:24-27. In Sudan, the public has a saying used to express their complete rejection of a certain matter. It states, “not this … nor the faith of the cross”, making clear to the other party that this is absolutely non-negotiable. Moreover, no day passes without negative words about Jews and Christians being heard broadcast from mosque loudspeakers.
The apostasy laws
Apostasy here means leaving Islam, because a Muslim person who changes his faith could be executed if he refuses to relent and go back into Islam. Even the family itself, in most cases, shuns their son who changes his religion. So, apostasy is not only a personal decision. It has implications at both family and government levels.
‘Religion?’ A box on official documents, and the implications
Religion is taken into consideration on family laws. For example, the non-Muslim does not inherit from a Muslim. In other words, if a person accepts Christ as his Lord and Saviour, he will not be able to inherit from his father, even if he was the only child. Another continuing Muslim relative will end up inheriting from the deceased. If there is no Muslim relative, the state takes everything, and so it goes on.
For the church to deal with all these issues, it must acknowledge its own shortcomings as great sins and as acting against its great commission that the Lord has given her, clearly stated in Matthew 28:18-20. People have died, and are dying, without Christ every day. One of the reasons is the disobedience of the church to the greatest commission the Lord mandated. The church should be ready not only to bear the consequences of evangelism that the Lord promised, but also the promised joy with the repentance of sinners joining their numbers, Acts 2:40-47.
The Arabic language is the language used in everyday life all over the country, with a few exceptions. People who do not speak it are a minority. Therefore, it is possible to unite the church members of different tribes by worshiping in Arabic, which creates an environment more capable of receiving all other outsiders who have not heard the gospel until now. It also makes it easier for those people to join, merge and experience oneness with everyone else in the Lord Jesus. This whole matter is of such importance that not only our church needs to observe this but also the whole of our society, so that government can give proper attention and resources to development and prosperity instead of to war and strife.
Believers were not able to get rid of the effects of war, even after they became Christians. They kept their Christianity for themselves and did not make the effort of sharing it with the other tribes we mentioned above. Therefore, every tribe has finished up with its own type of Christianity. Even within the same denomination people are looking mainly for those who belong to their own tribe in order to keep the church stable. Only a minority were able to become inclusive. They were successful to a certain degree. But as soon as they face problems of any sort, tribalism surfaces. This is the general condition of the church in our country, which makes growth limited to within the tribal entities. People who are excluded feel excluded, and with good reason. However, there is very limited fellowship between small groups of believers in some churches that are multi-tribal. Therefore, for the national church to grow, it needs to go back to biblical principles and be built by our Lord Jesus in the way the Lord Jesus wants.
The national and the state governments must also learn and practise tribal integration. Their goal must be to encourage by example:
Every individual citizen is Sudanese first and whatever their tribe second.
Of course, we Christians are Christians first, living in the Kingdom of God and Sudanese second - good, upright, moral citizens, living out our duties, Matthew 5:13-16; 5:17-20, and whatever our tribe only third.
The church must forgive the ones who cause it harm, fully and with all their heart, as Christ teaches us in the New Testament, Matthew 6:14-15; 18:21-35. The church should seek God on behalf of those nations and people-groups by prayer and fasting, Matthew 5:43-48; 6:16-18. Ask that the Lord would set those people free from many bonds (religious, social, the authority of this world, family traditions and spiritual warfare). We must tackle head on in prayer these things that prevent people from accepting Christ as Lord and Saviour of their lives. A genuinely spiritual church has a primarily spiritual mission, although the practical results of this spiritual Christianity will be evident to all, Ephesians 6:10-20.
The church has to be ready to accept all people as members in the local expression of the Body of the Lord, without discrimination. We must open the doors of the churches and hug with our arms and our hearts all who are clearly full of the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ. For there are many who are seeking salvation but they did not find the Way because the church was not ready to receive new souls, just because they were from the “wrong” tribe. We need churches that form a good environment for the growth in Christ of all people, from all tribes and any backgrounds. We need to receive people with dress codes like Jalabia, Burka and Toub, without suspicion or doubt. We need to personally and collectively carry the responsibility of their salvation, because they risk everything to come to Christ – their inheritance, children, life partner, and relatives. The church, always in patience and much wisdom, should bear with these dear people all the burdens God wants us to help them carry.
If we are not prepared in our Christian churches, how can we criticise any other authorities for their own lack of preparedness in our local communities or in our nation?
Using this chapter and Scriptures quoted
1. Why do you think the “elders … tried to kick out of the building” someone who looked as if he was from another faith and tribe? What makes this kind of thing happen? Is it right or wrong?
2. Comment on the application to this of Galatians 3:23-29, Romans 12:14-21 and Romans 14:1-15:2. Why are “ethnic and tribal belonging …stronger than a commitment to the Lord Jesus”? Be careful of your time. Divide into three groups with one Scripture each if necessary.
3. Are there any practical difficulties in living: Christian in God’s kingdom first; Sudanese second; and my tribe third? What are they? How can these obstacles be overcome? Think about 1 Peter 1:6-7; 2:12-17 and 4:12-19.
4. Share practical ways Christians, fellowships and local churches may be “accepting … without discrimination”.
 For the Arabic original visit www.colinsalter.net and click on “Arabic language resources”.
 Race – a group of people who are similar because they have the same skin colour or other physical features, or because they have the same language or have the same history or customs (Macmillan School Dictionary: Oxford, England) 2004.