You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives. Genesis 50:20

During the Second Sudanese Civil War of 1983-2005, the strongly Muslim North fought to impose a version of sharia on the non-Muslim, mainly Christian South. The South had been granted autonomy in a peace treaty that ended the First Sudanese Civil War of 1955-72, but violence broke out again in 1983 when Northern rule was re-introduced in the South.

Over two million people, many of whom were Southern Christians, were killed in the fighting, died of disease or starved to death. Christians were frequently harassed by the regime; pastors were arrested, homes and church buildings were demolished, and there were credible reports of massacres, kidnappings and forced labour. Children were abducted and either conscripted to the army or subjected to an Islamisation process by Islamic education groups. At least five million people were displaced by the violence.

But the influx of displaced Southerners into the North led to the establishing of many active churches in areas with previously unreached peoples. The North’s campaign to Islamise the South failed; in fact, the Church in the South grew massively during the conflict, especially among the Dinka and Nuer peoples.

A Comprehensive Peace Agreement was signed in 2005; one of the provisions of this stated that sharia would have no jurisdiction over non-Muslims anywhere in the country. In 2011 a referendum was held in which the South voted overwhelmingly to secede from the North. South Sudan thus became an independent nation, heralding a new dawn of peace for the long-suffering people. But the prospects for Christians in the North were ominous as President Omar Hassan al-Bashir declared plans to adopt an entirely Islamic constitution and strengthen sharia there, making the North an official “Muslim state”.

We are exhausted with living
the days of Cain,
the tower of Babel
and the oppression
and attempted extermination
of the sons of Jacob.
Come to update us, Lord,
to your civilisation of love,
of justice and peace,
of grace and mutual forgiveness,
of solidarity and reconciliation.
May this Jubilee of your Birth
bring you to life in our country
and into the life of each one of us.
It is from the depth of misery
that we cry out to you.
Bring hope into this misery.
Be our Saviour, be our Brother,
Be in all things.
Thank you, Lord Jesus.
From “A Prayer for the Year 2000”, Gabriel Zubeir Wako, Archbishop of Khartoum, Sudan (born 1941)

Photo by Nick Fewings on Unsplash

Dr Patrick Sookhdeo is the International Director of Barnabas Fund and the Executive Director of the Oxford Centre for Religion and Public Life.