by Emad Botros
From time to time, and as we hear in the news, there is global political interest that focuses on a particular country as a result of a crisis, a peace agreement, or some other event of consequence. When this happens, the first questions that come to my mind are often: what does this mean for the local church of that country and how can faith-based organizations help? As I think about these questions, I begin to realize the complicated relationships between global political interests and faith-based organizations. In the following conversation I will explore the pros and cons of this relationship and the implications for the local church. I will focus on Sudan as a case study after its removal from U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism.
When the name of Sudan was removed from the international terrorism list, after almost three decades, this political decision was celebrated by the people of Sudan. It gave hope once again for the economic recover, job creation, and foreign investment, though it may take some time until the Sudanese people gain the fruit of these developments. This decision, moreover, will offer multiple opportunities for both the local church and faith-based NGOs, as well as to the international community, to participate in building the future of this country.
As we all know, media is a very powerful tool for the formation of public opinion and interest. In other words, public attitudes and interests are largely shaped by various kinds of media promoting society to take specific actions. In this sense, the media may offer faith-based NGOs a great service “free of charge” as it creates awareness to support a particular international cause.
As global interest in Sudan is likely to increase in the next few years, members of local Sudanese churches have the opportunity to use their God-given gifts in their professions and vocations to shape the future of its people. As I have personally observed, the Sudanese church has well-qualified professionals who can take on such honorable opportunities. This personal observation is from the long-standing close relationship I have made over the years with Sudanese friends as well as from my experience as a faculty member at ABTS.
A good number of Sudanese students come to study with us already holding a previous professional degree, mainly teachers and lawyers. As the time of graduation approaches, students often approach faculty to have a conversation about their futures when they go back home. With a bachelor degree in theology, the assumption in this part of the world is this: a student with BA in theology should serve in full time ministry, whether with the church or with faith-based NGOs. In our conversations, and as one of our key values as a seminary, we encourage our students to think about their vocation as a ministry, and to lay it down before God in the service of their communities and the building of God’s kingdom in their midst.
However, an unfortunate trap of following global political interest as determined by the media is that it neglects the injustice practiced in other countries for political reasons. I think of places- such as Yemen, Libya, and Sudan- that are not covered in the news as much as other contexts, like Syria. The people of Sudan, for instance, have experienced extreme suffering and injustice at every level for the last three decades. Nonetheless, global political interest often overlooks Sudan. As a result, faith-based NGOs have provided limited support for understandable reasons. Relatively few voices within the local Sudanese churches and the global international NGOs had spoken on behalf of the Sudanese people, calling for justice and freedom. The Sudanese authorities, however, swayed the public opinion of the Sudanese people by feeding the notion that the Sudanese Christian community contributed to the tensions between the state of Sudan and the international community by sending “false” reports of the injustice practiced against them.
Moreover, the challenge that the church in Sudan might face is to “go with the flow.” What I mean is that since the needs on the ground are so great, there is always the temptation to accept any kind of international support. On the one hand, this may be beneficial to the church as they attempt to meet the needs of the Sudanese people. On the other hand, this may distract the church from its focus on the real needs of its people.
Regarding the latter concern, one way to address it is to stress and agree on two main shared fundamental values between the local church and the international community. The first value is listening and learning. It is the role of faith-based NGOs as part of the international community to encourage the local church to “speak up” to educate these NGOs about how they can best help the Sudanese church accomplish its mission. As we listen, we learn about the emerging needs of the Sudanese community.
Second, as we listen and learn from the local church in Sudan, we are also invited to exercise the value of mutual partnership. As we practice this virtue, we are invited not only to speak into the life of the church in Sudan but also to humbly walk alongside the church. It is one thing to impose our agenda and our resources upon the local church, and it is another thing to invest our resources so that local churches may use them in a way that suits their own vision, mission, and context. Mutual partnership takes both elements into consideration.
In conclusion, as the doors are open to help the Sudanese people to build the future of their country, faith-based NGOs are invited to examine the relationship between global political interest and their involvement in Sudan. Local Sudanese churches, on the other hand, are encouraged to discover the emerging needs of the Sudanese people in this critical moment of its history and the honorable opportunity to serve their communities through words and deeds. As local churches and faith-based NGOs walk alongside each other, it should be the mandate of these NGOs not only to listen and learn, but also to prayerfully and wisely speak into the life of the church. May our Lord use such mutual partnerships for the advance of His kingdom in this beloved country.
Emad teaches in the area of Old Testament and Biblical Studies. When he has the time, he enjoys taking part in a soccer match and likes to play the drums.