"Faith in Sudan": Recent Work on the History and Theology of Christianity in the Sudan

Article excerpt

In 1997 an ecumenical conference was held in Limuru, Kenya. The meeting brought together researchers, some Sudanese and others deeply interested and involved in Sudanese church life. The conference was entitled "The Church in Sudan-Its Impact Past, Present and Future." Many of the papers presented at that gathering have subsequently been published in a set of volumes under the general editorship of Andrew Wheeler and William Anderson. By 1998 Paulines Publications Africa of Nairobi had published the first six volumes of the "Faith in Sudan Series." The conference and these six initial publications have spurred further research and writing so that by the time of this review there are now eleven volumes in this important series. Although these works are not described specifically as "historical", both of the series editors are church historians with the result that most of the volumes have a strong emphasis on the history of Sudanese Christianity.

Given the situation of war, genocide, famine and the displacement of massive numbers of people over the two decades in the Southern Sudan it is amazing that any substantial research on the history and theology of Sudanese Christianity could be accomplished at all. That these volumes, several of them substantial works of scholarship, have appeared is a remarkable achievement. The deliberately ambiguous title of the series, "Faith in Sudan," reflects a profound hope, for these books are not merely a testimony to the faith of the churches in the Sudan, they also express the joy of the Sudanese and their partners around the world that God is in their midst. As in any series involving multiple authors the volumes are rather uneven, nor is there an apparent grand design to the shape of the series. Rather, the volumes are a rich set of studies and stories. Some of the work here is carefully documented historical research, some is on a more popular level and includes anecdotal information which would be very difficult to verify, some is frankly a bit hagiographie. Each of these volumes, however, contains valuable material.

The first volume, Land of Promise: Church Growth in a Sudan at War (1997) edited by Wheeler, presents seven studies, most analyzing a particular case study. An introductory article by Wheeler surveys the phenomenon of the massive influx of traditionalist African people into the churches between 1983 and 1996. "The Church in Sudan has been described as the fastest growing church in Africa and the Episcopal Church of the Sudan (ECS) in particular has been described as the fastest growing church in the Anglican Communion." This growth is obvious to any visitor to the Sudan. The rapid growth of the Sudanese churches is now also evident as Southern Sudanese refugees organize their worship life in refugee camps throughout eastern Africa, and in cities of the Middle East like Cairo and Beirut, where attendance at Christian churches is swelled by large numbers of refugee Sudanese worshippers. As the displacement continues, Sudanese have begun to settle in Europe and North America. This volume is limited to the study of the growth of churches within the Sudan, but there will soon be further scope for study as Sudanese Christianity begins to interact with the more settled (and declining) traditions of the churches outside of die Sudan.

As with each of the "Faith in Sudan" volumes, the material here is ecumenical in its scope. Interesting studies of the work of the Sudan Interior Mission among the Uduk and the Reformed Church of America among the Murle people provide insight into the complex questions involved in the interaction between gospel and culture. Three articles should be of special interest to Anglican readers. Oliver Duku's essay "The Development and Growth of Mayo Congregations" is a study of the growing congregations (of various denominations, including the ECS) of displaced Southern Sudanese living on the outskirts of Khartoum in Northern Sudan. Marc Nikkel has contributed two essays. …