Like many people, you’ve probably never thought of visiting Sudan. Once Africa’s largest country, Sudan split from neighbouring South Sudan in 2011 and is now third largest on the continent. Whilst the south has a cooler, wetter climate the majority of Sudan is a patchwork of lonely deserts fused with bustling towns and nomadic settlements. Although many areas of the country are steeped in conflict and labelled unsafe for visitors, huge parts still offer very safe and exciting travel. Backpackers will find the warm hospitality of strangers and the eastern town of Kassala is a popular destination for Sudanese newlyweds.
Conflict and strife
There’s no denying that Sudan’s troubled past and present struggles define much of its character today. Until the 13th Century, the north of Sudan had been largely Christian for nearly 1000 years. Muslim invaders gradually Islamized the country over the following two centuries. With British control in the 19th and 20th centuries, the south was evangelised and a Christian minority now remains in South Sudan today.
The conflict between the Arabized north and Black African south has been an ongoing theme. In 1983 when Islamic law was imposed in government civil war broke out between the north and south. Later, in 2003, the conflict in Darfur also erupted from resentment against the central government. Millions were displaced to neighbouring countries and thousands were killed. Although the division of South Sudan from Sudan in 2011 opened a new chapter for both countries, there are ongoing disputes over oil reserves and border demarcations.
The state of the Gospel
The majority of the population in Sudan is Sunni Muslim. The local church is small and numbers of believers are unknown. Persecution of the church is high and has increased since 2012, with frequent bombings, land seizures and destruction of hospitals and schools in certain areas. Despite this the church is standing incredibly strong; fellowships in the Nuba mountain are reaching out to their neighbours with resulting fruit like never before, and Darfurian believers are seeing the greatest ever openness to the gospel amongst Muslims.
In 2009 the government banned 13 NGOs from working in the country and since then input from foreign organisations has been severely limited. Many gospel workers were also forced to leave Sudan in recent years. Development work is taking place more heavily in the border regions of neighbouring countries, where the majority of church planting efforts are now also found.
Where does that leave us?
Now, more than ever is a vital time for reaching the unreached in Sudan. Huge populations of broken and hurting Muslim people groups - many numbering over 100,000 - are in desperate need of the Good News. So too are those involved in inciting the conflicts. Too few are actively working amongst any of them. Now is the time for development work and professional, varied business to start, to open new doors for transforming that nation through the love of Jesus and those who bear his name. For inspiration in how to pray, turn to the back page for prayer points for Sudan.