History of Christianity Research Paper


The civil conflicts in the Sudan have had a profound effect on its population with devastating consequences. It is rarely talked about in the media, or if it is, the headlines are minuscule.

Countless campaigns have been engineered to inform the masses of the world to the plight of the Sudanese people, but they have for the most part been futile. Much attention is given to celebrities divorcing or adopting kids from Africa, yet this conflict, which has been going on for the past twenty years, still remains to be resolved with international pressure. In the heart of this conflict are the extremist policies of the government and its institution of hard-line Sharia Law in the country. At the same time sideline, there is a flourishing Christian community, which is rapidly growing. The country has a history of Christianity that spans almost a millennia and a half, with a rich and traditional heritage, which has made the country what it is today.

Surprisingly, however, after years of conflict and persecution, the Christian community seems to be on the rise with numbers higher than that of many other states. In effect, the growth of Christianity in the country is starting to have a changing effect on the country, which will have reverberating effects on regional and world politics for years to come. In order to understand what is happening in Sudan, however, one must delve into its history in order to grasp how the country has been shaped over the past millennia.

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Historical Analysis

The area of Sudan was settled approximately thirty thousand years ago by African hunter-gatherer tribes. They sustained themselves in the Sub-Saharan region of Africa with the local resources that were available to them at the time. They eventually were able to manufacture pottery, which was used for trade. Like in most other cultures of the world at the time, the inhabitants domesticated animals and developed cultivation techniques, which they were able to use to sustain themselves. (Encyclopedia Britannica) The Nile River, like in Egypt, made transport more efficient for trade, and annual floods created a fertile land around it. The hunter-gatherer settler tribes eventually evolved into flourishing kingdoms, which were able to compete with their neighbours on many economic, cultural and military levels.

Fast-forwarding to about 3,500 BCE, the time of the exodus, the area of Cush was mentioned to be the birthplace of the wife of Moses. Modern scholars have recently established that the area of Cush, which was just south of Egypt’s frontiers, was actually an area, which is now called Sudan. Furthermore, it was established that the ancients of the area had no colour prejudices when it came to relations with their neighbours, meaning the North African Egyptians and the Black tribes of the Southern parts (Cush) had no conflict regarding colour. The only conflict that potentially arose in these circumstances was that of cultural prejudices. Edwin Yamauchi, interviewed in Christianity Today, stated that:

“The ancients didn’t have color prejudices. They had a culture prejudice and many of the references to the Cushites are pejorative, like miserable Cushites, and cowardly Cushites. But once they had assimilated into Egyptian culture, that is they spoke the Egyptian language and adopted Egyptian customs, they could rise high in rank, even into the royal family.” (Moll)

The region’s relationship with the Egyptian dynasties was for the most part peaceful and cooperative and never led to any serious conflict. It was not too long after this that Christianity began to spread to the Middle East and North Africa, culminating in its rise in the Sudan.

Shortly after his birth, Jesus Christ’s family was forced to flee south from Israel to Alexandria, Egypt, which at the time had a vibrant Jewish community. The reason the family had to flee because of King Herod’s decree of the murder of first-born sons, who he thought would take his throne. As the story goes, Joseph, Christ’s father, was told by an angel in a dream to take his wife and child and flee to Egypt until he gets word from him. It wasn’t until about one hundred fifty years after Christ’s death, that Christianity started to move south into North Africa from Jerusalem and the surrounding areas.

Development – Early Years

Christianity was able to blossom in Egypt, parts of modern morocco and so forth, due to the fact that large Jewish communities lived there, and embraced the similarly-sounding gospel to what they had previously believed. In a way Christianity’s spread to North Africa, symbolized a form of resistance to the oppressive regime of the Roman Empire, which in turn gave way for the Pagan’s persecution of early Christians. From the north, via the Nile river, Christianity spread south from Egypt, to parts of Nubia (Sudan) and Abyssinia (Modern day Ethiopia and Eritrea). The style of religion that was established there, came to be known as Monophysite, meaning that “G-d was one indivisible unity and wholly divine,” which ran contrary to the position of the Church of Constantinople which said that “G-d was both human – in the form of Jesus – and divine” In preceding centuries, after Christianity was well established in the kingdoms surrounding Abyssinia by a trader, the gospel established itself in Nubia concretely in the seventh century.

Christianity became a religion for the common masses, and eventually it gained ground amongst the upper classes, culminating in Christian kingdoms. For the most part, the Coptic Church of Egypt—called that because the language spoken at the time of Christianity’s move into Egypt was Coptic—had theological influence on the churches of Nubia. By the time Christianity was well established in Constantinople, the people of Nubia were well versed in the Christian doctrine, which was later confirmed by missionaries from Constantinople. On the northern horizon, however, a new and powerful force was about to shake the fragile foundation of the newly established religion in Nubia. (BBC)

Development – Conflict and Oppression

In the late sixth to the early seventh centuries, Islam began its spread from the Arabian Peninsula, west to North Africa. By the force of the sword, Christian communities were overwhelmed with the sheer magnitude and determination of the Arab warriors, who came to spread the gospel of their Prophet Mohammad. Mass conversions to Islam took shape throughout the region and only tiny Jewish, Christian and native religious communities remained. Shortly thereafter, the Arab armies began to move south from Egypt into Nubia to continue on their mission. It was in Nubia, however, that they were stopped in their tracks by the Christian kingdom. When seeing the Islamic juggernaut sweep through the north, the rulers of Nubia requested help from Constantinople to stop the Arab advance into the south. With the help from Constantinople and their skillful warriors, the Nubians managed to stave off the advance of the Arabs, thus forcing them into peace treaties, which were called Albaqut. (BBC) For the most part, a peace lasted for the next seven hundred years between the two religions. During these seven hundred years, however, a demographic change took place with trade and movement of peoples from the north culminated with intermarriage and the spread of Islam into Nubia, not by force, but by integration. Libya’s Qaddafi once stated “There are signs that Allah will grant Islam victory in Europe – without swords, without guns, without conquests. The 50 million Muslims of Europe will turn it into a Muslim continent within a few decades.” (Edwards) And similarly the spread of Islam into Nubia was followed by the Muslim majority’s overthrow of the Christian minority’s kingdom, thus commencing the period of Islam in what is now the seventh largest country in the world by land mass. After seven centuries of peace, the Christian communities in Sudan for the most part ceased to exist and it wasn’t until the nineteenth century, that Christianity would begin to blossom there again. The history of Christianity was almost completely wiped out; the grand cathedral was turned into a mosque in the fourteenth century. (BBC)

The name Sudan got its name from the Arabs, who called it Bilad al-Sudan ‘The land of the Blacks.’ The modern conflict that has engulfed the country has its roots primarily in the ethnic divides of the country. The majority Muslim north of the country, which was conquered by Islam in the fourteenth century, has a few pockets of Christians, but for the most part is descended from the Black Africans who mixed with the migrating northern Arabs. The south of the country is comprised of native Black Africans who still adhere to the Christian faith, as well as the tribes who adhere to native religions. (Daly) The status quo has been on shaky grounds for the past few years because of the long civil war. A recently US-brokered truce between the north and the south might unfortunately be coming to an end. This year, the people of the southern Sudan are set to vote on a referendum to separate them selves from the northern part. After the hard-line government’s takeover of the country, Sharia law has been instituted in all aspects of modern life there. Sharia law dates back many centuries and has been adopted by hard line extremists and governments in the Muslim world in order to curtail the freedom of the inhabitants. Women’s rights are virtually non-existent, in cases of physical punishment, curtailing of movement, dress, speech, etc. Female genital mutilation is still practiced in countries like these, where a doctor removes a twelve year-old girl’s clitoris, in order to discourage her from having sex for pleasure. In places like Sudan, in refugee camps and poor tribes where sanitary conditions are virtually non-existent, ‘experts’ who lack proper equipment, will often use rusty metal or broken glass to perform the operation on the conscious girl. Other examples of Sharia law are the Dhimmi status of non-Muslim minorities in a country. In order for them to live in peace and safety, to do business and support their families, they are forced to pay exuberantly high taxes to the states. The word Dhimmi means a ‘protected status,’ and in this way the Dhimmis are curtailed in their freedoms within the country, more so than the Muslim population. In other cases, churches, synagogues and other places of worship, under Sharia Law are not allowed to be taller than the mosques.

As with Sharia Law, it is argued that the reasons for the Black Christian south to separate from the north have to do with resources. In the world of peak oil, high-energy prices, and the US, Europe and China vying for the last few drops of oil left in the earth, Sudan has proven to be a stable source of oil for the world’s economies. As with many other wars in the Middle East, which have been over vital resources, here too the reason is clear. Under the premise of holding the country together, the government controls the oil resources of the south, while subjugating them to the rule of Sharia Law. Moreover the Nile River divides the country into east and west, so whoever has control over it, dictates the price of transport through the territory.

It is for these reasons that the mostly Christian South of Sudan is seeking to separate from the north and crate a viable state in the south. This has of course not just worried western leaders, who need stability in order to have a steady and safe supply of oil, but also the powerful government in Khartoum, the capital of Sudan. Many western leaders fear that the separation will not be successful and will not last for too long, which will lead to renewed conflict which can engulf the entire region again.

Influential Figures

To form a more clear understanding of the events in history that formed the current state of Christianity in the Sudan area, it is essential to put a face on those who influenced the events that transpired. The following is a short series of profiles of some of the authoritative individuals who’s presence has been felt throughout the past hundred plus years.

Charles Martial Allemand Lavergie (1825-1892)

Charles Martial Allemand Lavergie was a missionary who in the late 19th century paved way for many African ambassadors to Christianity. In 1879, as an Apolistic Delegate to Sudan, he stated:”for my secret design is really to try to found a Christian kingdom in the centre of equatorial Africa. Two hundred rifles do not seem exaggerated to me”. There was a group of missionaries who were called Lavergie’s Missionaries of Africa, also known as the White Fathers. They were the largest congregation of the time focusing on the oppression of the Muslim North as well as other parts of Africa. Through his words, political influence and exceptional fundraising abilities, he made evident his discontent for the Muslim religion. He was keen on transforming individual lives and did so by establishing Christian villages for orphaned children and helping redeem slaves who then went on to become influential figures themselves. (Isichei)

Dr. Kenneth Fraser (1875-1935)

Dr. Kenneth Fraser was a well-respected pioneer missionary, born in Scotland, who performed many acts of wonder for the people of Sudan. He is not only respected by local Christians, but also by ministers of the Gospel. When he arrived in December of 1920, he immediately began working on opening up the first hospital in the area. In Moruland, he would also be known as the missionary who instituted the first school and established the first church. Here was a famous slave tree under which Arab soldiers would tie the Moru people up before sending them off to the slave market. Dr. Kenneth Fraser started the first genuine bible group here, turning it into a holy and respectable place. The reason Fraser was so well received was not only because of his religious philosophies but because people identified with the strong character of the soldier and the hunter that he had within him. He used his skills as a doctor and his ability as a teacher to connect with the people.

Elinana Ja’bi Ngalamu Dudu (1918-1992)

An Episcopal of Sudan, Ja’bi Ngalamu was a native of Wandi, who’s parents resided and held jobs in South Sudan. He was a teacher, a deacon, a brilliant administrator. He was the first African bishop of the Diocese of the Sudan, and later the first archbishop of the new Province of the Episcopal Church of the Sudan. Most importantly, he is a prime example of the way Christianity in Sudan did not only and grow by and depend on the help missionaries, but due to religious authority and evangelists that came from within African settlements. Ja’bi Ngalamu was at first a nominal Christian, who only later fully converted and repented. This brought him close to the people as he had a stringent philosophy and was able to convert teachers and other Christians as well as focus on the civil aspect of the Sudanese conflicts. One of his more important acts was the signing of the Addis Ababa agreement in 1972, which was a series of agreements of which the aim was to soothe the conflict amongst leaders after the first Sudanese civil war. (Jendia) As archbishop, he helped establish the Sudan Council of Churches in 1976, which is now known as the New Sudan Council of Churches and is comprised of six churches including Roman Catholic, Episcopal, Presbyterian, African Inland, Sudan Pentacostal and Sudan Interior Church.


The situation has become so grim that the conflict has pinned neighbor against neighbor in the central areas of the country. The tribes of the central area, both Muslim and Christian have usually lived in peace for a long time. The polarization and the marginalizing of the Christian communities, has forced them to embrace Christianity to a great extent. In the year 1900, there were 9 million Christians in Africa. It was predicted that Christian identity would double every 12 years and by 2000 it would reach 350 million. As of 2000, there are 380 million Christians in Africa and the predicted number for 2025 is 633 million. These statistics are relevant to the southern Sudan as well where Christianity is growing at a very fact pace. Since the institution of Islamic laws in the country, the people of the south have felt marginalized and have made the embrace of Christianity not only an issue of faith in their lord, but also into a political one, showing their intention not to bow down to forced conversion. This mentality has spread up from the south to the Christian tribes along the eight parallels that divide the country into two. The youth of these tribes have embraced the ideals of their southern brethren to the point that they don’t want anything to do with their neighbours. Likewise, their Muslim counterparts have embraced Muslim radicalization and conflict has erupted.

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BBC. The Story of Africa- Christianity. 9 February 2010 <http://www.bbc.co.uk/worldservice/africa/features/storyofafrica/8chapter1.shtml>.
Daly, PM Holt and MW. A History of the Sudan-From the Coming of Islam to the Present Day. Essex: Pearson Education Limited, 2000.
Edwards, Ruth Dudley. Mail Online- Will Britain One Day be Muslim? 5 May 2007. 9 February 2010 <http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-452815/Will-Britain-day-Muslim.html>.
Encyclopedia Britannica. The Sudan. 2010. 9 February 2010 <http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/571417/The-Sudan>.
Hunwick, John O. Religion and National Integration in Africa- Islam, Christianity and Politics in the Sudan and Nigeria. Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press, 1992.
Isichei, Elizabeth Allo. A History of Christianity in Africa: From Antiquity to the Present. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing, 1995.
Jendia, Catherine. The Sudanese Conflict – 1969-1985. New York City: Peter Lang Pub Inc, 2002.
Moll, Rob. Christianitytoday.com. May 2004. 9 February 2010 <http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2004/mayweb-only/5-24-21.0.html?start=1>.

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