Sudan has a very long and complicated history, influenced by cultures from the north, south, east, and west. Sudanese Arabs (population est. 43 million) include city dwellers, rural farmers, and pastoral nomads. Most live close to the Nile River, Sudan’s most distinct physical feature, whose two major tributaries converge in the capital, Khartoum.
The significance of the strong, traditional tribal system decreases the closer one gets to urban areas. Sudanese Arabic is the primary language for government, business, education, and the arts.
Islam arrived with the Arabs in the 7th century. “Sudan” stems from the Arabic word for “black.” The Arabization and Islamization of Sudan over the centuries has created an identity crisis among both Arab Africans and Black Africans.
Sunni Muslims, the majority, are often organized into religious “brotherhoods” with strong Sufi (mystical) influences. Holy men and women are important figures. Pre-Islamic beliefs in spirits and magic continue to influence the daily practice of Islam.
The political organization known as the “Muslim Brotherhood” (originating in Egypt) was established in Sudan in the 1960s and heavily influenced the government under the brutal dictatorship of Omar al Bashir from 1989 to 2019.
People are tired of the fighting. Few trust each other. Many live without hope. Most simply want to live life in peace, work, get married, have children, and earn enough to feed their families.
Sudan remains one of the poorest countries in the world. Access to clean water and decent health care is very limited. Young men who want to get married lack the resources to provide a dowry.
Sudanese who claim direct Arab ancestry have an advantage over Black Africans who have been “grafted in” as Arabs through intermarriage and/or conversion to Islam. This “Arab racial supremacy” is, in part, tied to the history of slavery in the country and generates deep resentment.
Various conflicts have impacted Sudan for centuries. South Sudan seceded from Sudan in 2011, and the fight over territory and lucrative southern oil reserves rages on. The Sudanese are also wrestling to create a new identity and government infrastructure since the 2019 ouster of Omar al Bashir.
Christians in Sudan have suffered greatly – especially over the past 30 years, as the state implemented Sharia law, terrorized believers, confiscated church properties, and forbade the distribution of Christian literature. Most foreign Christian missionaries and organizations were expelled after the establishment of South Sudan in 2011.
Since al Bashir’s ouster, the new Minister of Religious Affairs has promised that confiscated lands and properties would be returned to churches and that Christians would be guaranteed freedom of worship. Christmas was declared a public holiday in 2019, and believers marched in the streets singing and chanting their praises to God! They are cautiously optimistic about the future. However, while the state may no longer officially persecute Christians, their family and friends most likely will.
House church fellowships are growing along with the national churches. There is a renewed conviction that Sudanese Arabs will be reached by Sudanese believers. These fellowships need discipleship and leadership development, especially in areas of personal holiness. The New Testament is available in Sudanese Arabic, as are the JESUS film and other media; however, more internet and radio broadcast resources are needed to reach and teach oral learners.