The Church Missionary Society began work in 1899 in the Sudan in Omdurman, and the Christian faith spread rapidly among Africans of the southern region of the country. Until 1974, the Diocese of Sudan was part of the (Anglican) Church of Jerusalem and the Middle East. The Church in the Sudan reverted to the jurisdiction of the Archbishop of Canterbury until the Episcopal Church of the Sudan, consisting of four new dioceses, was established in 1976.
In 1983 the government of Sudan was seized by Islamicists who declared sharia, requiring all Sudanese to convert to Islam on pain of death. On May 16 a small group of Anglican and Roman Catholic chiefs in southern Sudan, together with their bishops, clergy, and laity, declared that they “would not abandon God as [they] knew him”. With that declaration the second cycle of the Sudanese civil war began. (The first cycle of the civil war had started with the departure of the British from Khartoum in 1957 and ended in 1972.) Peace was finally signed on January 9, 2005, but two and a half million of the Sudanese people had been killed, most of them Christian. By the end of the civil war, two thirds of the six million people of southern Sudan were internally displaced, and another million were in exile throughout Africa and the rest of the world, including the bishops of most of the dioceses of the Episcopal Church of the Sudan.
The second century north African theologian Tertullian wrote, semen est sanguis christianorum (the blood of the Christians is seed), often paraphrased “the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church.” Christians were estimated to be only five percent of the population in southern Sudan in 1983, but today nearly ninety percent of the population is either Anglican or Roman Catholic. In the words of their bishops, the Sudanese Christians “live only on the mercy of God…whether we live or die we are the Lord’s…we have had nothing else but the grace of God and his guidance.”
adapted from the Anglican Communion website
and the proposal to the 75th General Convention of The Episcopal Church
O God, steadfast in the midst of persecution, by your providence the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church: Grant us your grace, that as the martyrs of the Sudan refused to abandon Christ even in the face of torture and death, and so by their sacrifice brought forth a plentiful harvest, we too may be steadfast in our faith in Jesus Christ; who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
The image of the Martyrs of Sudan was painted by Awer Bul, one of the Lost Boys of Sudan. The iconographical painting was commissioned by Hope with Sudan, and the image is taken from the Hope with Sudan website.