Southern Sudan has endured two civil wars. The first took place from independence in 1956 to 1972 and was related to territory and leadership. The second began in 1983 and ended in 2005 with the “Comprehensive Peace Agreement.” That war began because the president of Sudan decided to declare Shariah law for the entire country.
Sudan is divided into three regions: Northern Sudan that holds the seat of the government and is Arab Muslim; Darfur, which is African Muslim; and Southern Sudan, which is Christian. The Southern Sudanese were not about to live under Shariah law and were not allowed to participate in their government because they were Christian. Civil war followed, and it was so horrific that 2 million people were killed and hundreds of thousands taken into slavery by the Arab North. The civil war was so damaging to the environment that animals such as elephants and lions left and went to Kenya and Uganda.
The Comprehensive Peace Agreement was signed in 2005. Although a peace agreement was signed, many slaves remain and only one organization, Christian Solidarity International, has taken up the task to liberate these slaves. I just spent a week with them during their slave liberation, learning about what is needed in Southern Sudan.
During my stay in Southern Sudan, I was able to review the textbooks developed by the government of Southern Sudan, which are taught in the schools. Southern Sudan is Christian and the government, which is made up of fighters who risked their lives to keep their country Christian, has found a way to teach progress. The way is via Bible teachings.
This is not an easy task since Southern Sudan is both Christian and tribal with more than 100 local languages and dialects. All textbooks are in English.
The government of Southern Sudan has been ingenious in using biblical verses and stories to get their message across. For the sake of brevity, I will list some of the concepts below:
Water: The textbook teaches about the importance of water and water conservation by using the story of Elijah and famine in 1 Kings 17. It asks students to discuss what Jesus meant when he said he would “give you life-giving water.”
Roads: The government is trying to build infrastructure, and this sometimes necessitates people moving from their village huts so a road can be built. They support this by discussing roads used by traders, Genesis 37:12-28, and how John the Baptist discussed preparing a road for the Lord. The discussion items for students included questions such as, “Has your village ever been visited by an important person? What preparations were made for that visit?”
Promotion of Education: The government of Southern Sudan needs doctors and other educated people. One section of the text is devoted to thanking God for education that is available to the human race, quoting the parts of the Bible that relate to developing a skill set. It quotes Exodus 31:1 on the gift of artistic work that God gives to Bezalel. The lesson works from the Bible by suggesting “when God gives us knowledge he wants us to use it for helping others. That means when you become a medical doctor or a judge you should use that knowledge for serving other people and not only your own people.”
Refugees: Not only does Southern Sudan use the examples of war in its own country but also it uses the work of Jesus to help local children extend their hands and hearts to potential refugees from other countries. During the civil war in Sudan many people have lost their property. Some people were forced to run from their area to other areas with nothing to eat or wear. The United Nations and some organizations including the church came up with assistance in form of relief to help the people of Sudan. The textbook refers to Jesus as the first refugee and quotes Luke 14:13-14 as a model for giving when people are in need.
Persecution: Quoting Acts 5:17-52, the text encourages the Southern Sudanese to stay with the faith and not become Muslim for promises of food. The text quotes the apostles, saying, “We must obey God and not men.” The book says “there are many stories of torture during this civil war.” The government, which is an Islamic government, mainly forces conversion for food. Other Islamic organizations such as Daawa Islamia control the relief work in Sudan except the areas under SPLA (the government of Southern Sudan). When you take relief food, the person in charge will ask you whether you are a Muslim. If you are not a Muslim, then he will tell you that the food is for Muslims only, but it is open for those who want to convert to Islam. Then they will be given food. The book then asks the students to discuss how Christians living in Northern Sudan are being persecuted and to discuss the reactions of Christians worldwide.
The many levels of Christian religious education taught by the Southern Sudan government are unique in the way they build community and responsibility. Every value that is important, from crop rotation to respect for individual uniqueness and tribal communities, is taught in that context. It is a smart way of teaching the values of the country and local communities. It could never happen in the United States, but it is making a major difference in local villages in Sudan. It is knitting together diverse tribal cultures to make a united Southern Sudan, creatively with respect for the beliefs and realities of a country without much clean water and which functions mainly without electricity.
One would say that separation of church and state, as we do in America is the best path to take. In Southern Sudan, however, thinking outside the box and utilizing religion through the government has been an effective way to be able to find progress for devastated people who have no other hope and cannot be reached in any other way.