Giving thanks for the first anniversary of the founding of the Republic of South Sudan, a group of approximately 70 gathered late the night of July 9 at Episcopal General Convention to celebrate the Martyrs of Sudan in a service of Holy Eucharist.
Interspersed with prayers in Dinka, English and Arabic, the Sudanese Christians and visitors sang and celebrated their deliverance from the civil war with the north that raged from 1983-2005. The war resulted in the death of nearly two and a half million South Sudanese, and displaced almost twice as many. Following a largely peaceful referendum in 2011, the new country declared its independence from the Islamist government based in the capital of Khartoum. Hostilities between the two Sudans have increased over the past year, with both moderate Muslim and Christian refugees from the north fleeing persecution by the Khartoum government. Recently, officials in Khartoum demolished a Christian church, claiming that all Christians had relocated to the south and the church was no longer needed. Church officials disputed the claim, countering that they were being driven out.
“O God, you will not be defeated and you are steadfast in the midst of persecution,” the congregation recited in a collect (opening prayer) for the Martyrs of the Sudan. “By your providence the blood of the martyrs has become the seed of the Church in each generation: we remember before you this day the blessed martyrs of the Sudan who were steadfast in their faith in your Son which they refused to abandon, even in the face of death. Grant that we with them may make the continuing offering of sacrifice that will bring forth a plentiful harvest, through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.”
Over ninety percent of the population of South Sudan is either Anglican or Roman Catholic, up from just five percent of the population in 1983.
Scripture verses for the evening focused upon suffering and refinement, pointing to God’s deliverance.
Ruben Akurdid Ngong, bishop of the Diocese of Bor, preached while the Episcopal Church’s missioner for the office of Black Ministries, Canon Angela Ifill, celebrated communion. Offering that the South provided hope to the rest of the Sudan, Ngong predicted that those in Darfur and other parts of the Sudan were now daring to ask if one day they too might live in freedom.
A lesson for the evening was from chapter three of the Book of Wisdom, a deutero-canonical text.
“For if before men, indeed, they be punished, yet is their hope full of immortality; Chastised a little, they shall be greatly blessed, because God tried them and found them worthy of himself. As gold in the furnace, he proved them, and as sacrificial offerings he took them to himself.”
A reading from Matthew chapter 24 said, “They will hand you over to be tortured and will put you to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of my name. Then many will fall away, and they will betray one another and hate one another. And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray. And because of the increase of lawlessness, the love of many will grow cold. But the one who endures to the end will be saved. And this good news of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the world, as a testimony to all the nations; and then the end will come.”
During the service, Ngong was joined by bishops from two of Bor’s partner dioceses, Catherine Waynick of Indianapolis and Brazilian Primate Maurício Jose Araujo De Andrade of Brasilia. Waynick noted that her diocese was the second, after Southwest Virginia, to partner with a Sudanese diocese.
The U.S.-based Episcopal Church and the Episcopal Church of the Sudan have experienced tension in recent years centered on disagreement over scriptural authority and sexual conduct. In 2011, the church withdrew an invitation to Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori to visit the country.
“We acknowledge your personal efforts to spearhead prayer and support campaigns on behalf of the ECS and remain very grateful for this attention you and your church have paid to Sudan and South Sudan,” wrote Archbishop Daniel Deng Bul Yak. “However, it remains difficult for us to invite you when elements of your church continue to flagrantly disregard biblical teaching on human sexuality.”
The group worshipping on Monday night did not make reference to the passage of same-sex union blessings by the House of Bishops earlier in the day, or to the Integrity Eucharist led by bishops Gene Robinson and Mary Glasspool taking place across the skybridge in the Convention Center.