The world’s newest nation, and one of the poorest, came into being at midnight on July 9. The Republic of South Sudan gained its independence after decades of civil war with northern Sudan and more specifically following a 99% vote for independence in a referendum held in January this year.
The 10 southern states of Sudan now form South Sudan and the population of more than $8 million consists largely of Christian and animist Africans in contrast to the Muslim Arab north.
And while estimates vary as to the extent of Christianity, some statistics report South Sudan as having 2,009,374 practicing Roman Catholics and a large membership in the Episcopal Church of the Sudan as well as smaller Christian denominations. How many people identifying as Christian are also incorporating traditional animist practices is another matter.
For a fascinating history of Christianity in South Sudan and indeed north Africa, visit The Sudan Project blog (article written in 2006).
One area of conflict that continues between Sudan and South Sudan is the disputed area Nuba Mountains region where violence continues between the largely Christian and pro-Sudanese People’s Liberation Army Nuba people and northern government forces.
Nubian Christianity traces its origins to the “Ethiopian eunuch” who come to faith through Philip the evangelist who ran alongside the man’s chariot and explained to him how the Old Testament scriptures pointed to Christ. The story is recorded in Acts 8 from verse 26 and concludes with the African man being baptised in a pool beside the road.
‘The “Ethiopian eunuch” of Acts was in fact not from the land today bearing that name, but from Nubia. (The queenly title given in Acts 8:27, Candace, is peculiar to the ancient Nubian kingdom of Meroe.)’ – From Nubian Christianity – the Neglected Heritage by Paul Bowers.
With such a strong link to the very earliest days of Christian faith, it is fair to say that the youngest nation in the world is also the youngest Christian nation.
If left with any doubts, the words of South Sudan’s new National Anthem should dispel them:
We praise and glorify you
For your grace upon Cush,
The land of great warriors
And origin of world’s civilization.
Arise, shine, raise your flag with the guiding star
And sing songs of freedom with joy,
For peace, liberty and justice
Shall forever more reign.
So Lord bless South Sudan!
Oh black warriors!
Let’s stand up in silence and respect,
Saluting millions of martyrs whose
Blood cemented our national foundation.
We vow to protect our nation.
Land of milk and honey and hard-working people,
Uphold us united in peace and harmony.
The Nile, valleys, forests and mountains
Shall be our sources of joy and pride.
So Lord bless South Sudan!
As for the humanitarian situation, it has been improving slowly since the cessation of war but is still very poor.
According to Wikipedia, “South Sudan is acknowledged to have some of the worst health indicators in the world. The under-five infant mortality rate is 112 per 1,000, whilst maternal mortality is the highest in the world at 2,053.9 per 100,000 live births. In 2004, there were only three surgeons serving southern Sudan, with three proper hospitals, and in some areas there was just one doctor for every 500,000 people.”
Let’s hope Christian aid organisations and local churches take this fresh opportunity to build lasting community relationships that foster improve well-being for the people of South Sudan, regardless of religion.
Another major issue is the culture of violence and armed conflict among this ravaged group of peoples. While there is much to be hopeful for, South Sudan news headline continue to be dominated by atrocities and deaths related to ethnic cleansing and racial violence. See Sudan.net
Please pray for the Republic of South Sudan.