"They cannot burn the church from our hearts"
South Kordofan and Blue Nile show all the signs of yet another African disaster zone. War, starvation, gun-wielding soldiers and bombed sites - such are the images that have dominated our TV screens and newspapers during the past year. No access has been allowed into the area for food, medicine, or other necessities since June 2011. Hundreds of thousands of displaced people are living in near famine conditions. It seems like there is no end to this brutal and senseless war against the Nuba people.
But despite decades of conflict, the Christians in the Nuba Mountains have managed, above all expectations, to evolve into a strong church. They are even reaching out to other tribes within displaced communities. The church has actually grown stronger through drastically-changing political phases.
An Open Doors team visited Nuba in February to see the situation for themselves. Serving the persecuted church in hostile places took on a whole new meaning, when a Nuba church leader commented, "You alone come here when we are in our deepest darkness! We are truly thankful." The Nuba believers also shared how the war has strengthened and deepened their faith. "They can burn our church buildings, but they cannot burn the church from our hearts!" one pastor declared.
Areas of Nuba are still bombed on a daily basis and churches are clearly prime targets, as many of them have been hit. Nevertheless, when their church buildings are destroyed, "new" churches reappear under the trees, where the congregation cannot be seen from the air. Despite the constant danger of being bombed from the air, most of the churches in Nuba are continuing to meet, but frequently change their worship times. Despite the constant bombings and by the grace of God, the majority of churches have not been destroyed, nor have many lives been lost. Even though the people suffer tremendously, they are starting to adapt to their situation. Where bombs are dropped or long-range missiles explode, the shrapnel is being used to make implements to work the land.
Mission out of the crucible
The church in Nuba is in a dire situation, yet they helping and reaching out to the lost in a similar position. In one area, the local church is reaching out to Muslims from Darfur in the refugee camps. Under normal circumstances it is very difficult to witness to these Muslim ethnic groups but removed from their tribal setting, they are proving much more open to the Gospel. Several churches have already relocated their pastors to these camps to share the love of Christ amongst the refugees.
All admit that prayer remains the greatest need if the church is to prevail in the area. Many pastors are trying desperately to keep their congregations together, but due to food shortages, their members scatter to find food elsewhere.
School children flee to the Rock
Open Doors supports many Christian schools in the Nuba area. Although some schools are closed due to the war, many are still open. During November 2011 and January 2012 one of the Christian schools was attacked several times with bombs and long-range missiles. If the school was in session during an air raid the children would run out and hide under big rocks. Recently 14 people, most of whom were women and children, were killed on the road near that school.
The Open Doors team were welcomed by the teachers and pupils of a small school in the bush. The classrooms under the trees and the small dilapidated brick building revealed the difficult circumstances under which education is taking place. The school had 177 pupils and the team was proudly told that two of their students completed their Primary 8 course the previous year. During the visit, the team encouraged the teachers and children from Psalm 62:1-2: "Truly my soul finds rest in God; my salvation comes from him. Truly he is my rock and my salvation; he is my fortress, I will never be shaken."
To the team's amazement, they visited another Open Doors-supported school that grew from 200 pupils to over 4,000 pupils in the last couple of months. The government were so impressed with this Christian school that they actually forced them to take in all the refugee children to continue their education. At the moment this school educates 3,292 English-speaking children in the mornings and 707 Arabic-speaking pupils in the afternoon. The school is administered by 26 teachers, along with the principal who has 147 pupils in his class.
- Please pray that God will protect the churches and schools from destruction.
- Pray that God's Spirit will give courage daily to His children living in Nuba, Blue Nile and Darfur.
- Pray the government of Sudan will open the access routes to the war-torn areas, so that much needed medical supplies and food can reach the people.