The eyes of the world media are turning to Sudan. It seems every major western media outlet has a correspondent in Juba or Khartoum. About time! I heard someone say the other day, “There’s a lot happening in Sudan now, isn’t there?” Actually, lots has been happening in Sudan for a long time but it’s only just now being reported.
I have been thinking about my time in Sudan in September and all the important things I saw the church doing. It comes as a disappointment then that the church – Catholic, Episcopal, whatever – doesn’t figure much in the coverage, even though it is that same church that is justifiably called “the largest NGO in the country” and has a presence in more communities than any international aid organization or even the Sudanese government. Precise numbers are hard to come by in this context but let’s say 90% of southern Sudanese are Christian. (That contrasts with maybe 5-10 percent at the beginning of the second civil war in 1983.)
I called up the Enough Project last fall for some reporting I was doing and asked if they had anyone who could comment on the role of the church in Sudan. This is an organization that has done important work in Sudan over the years. The person I spoke with said he couldn’t think of anyone in their organization who knew or could speak about the church in Sudan. That was the end of that.
I think part of the problem western reporters and activists have in engaging with the church is a cultural one. In the west, so many people have a very particular – and, sadly, often justified – view that the church is the place and people who on Sundays tell you with whom and when you can have sex, guilt you into giving to the poor, and generally prescribe a whole range of ethical behaviour that is often seen as out-of-step with mainstream society. So western media outlets – like many westerners – just ignore it.
An Episcopal Church of Sudan church
But that’s not what the church is like in other parts of the world. You have to experience it to understand it fully but the church has a much broader reach and is involved in more aspects of people’s lives in a place like Sudan than westerns can understand. People turn to it for guidance, support, community, and so much more. In this context, it is not surprising that the church has been able to be so effective in promoting peace and reconciliation in Sudan.
It’s just a shame that the story isn’t being told more widely by all those reporters in Juba these days.