By Mark Tooley* guest writer
April 2002 – Anglican Bishop Dolli A. Bullen of Lui, Sudan, convenes his congregation under the sprawling branches of a 1,300-year-old Laro tree. His former brick cathedral was bombed into rubble by Sudan’s radical Islamic government last year.
Centuries ago, slaves were sold within its shade, and it used to be called a “slave tree.” But Bishop Dolli said his current “cathedral” is now called a “tree of salvation.” Tragically, slaves are still marketed in Sudan, where Islamic militias abduct non-Islamic women and children and sell them like cattle.
Over two million Sudanese, mostly Christian, have been killed in the war waged by the Islamic government against the non-Islamic regions in the country’s south. But Bishop Dolli says the church is growing dramatically, despite the genocide waged against it.
“The southern Sudan proves Tertullian right: ‘The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church,’” Dolli said in a recent interview. “Indeed, the church is doing very well in our suffering country.” Dolli was visiting Washington, D.C. to receive a Religious Liberty Award from the Institute on Religion and Democracy.
Victims of Sudan’s war include Bishop Dolli’s brother. Government agents dragged him from his house, tied a rope around his neck and dragged him three miles while tied to a military jeep. Having ripped off his skin, the agents poured petrol over him and burned him alive. Dolli now cares for his brother’s four children.
Besides the daily threat of death and imprisonment, Christians who live in Sudanese government-controlled areas in the north must abide by “Sharia” or Islamic law. Church buildings are targeted for destruction. Women are required to wear headscarves and veils. All children must attend Koranic schools. Non-Muslims are denied employment in government and other public institutions, such as banks. Sunday is a regular workday.
Bishop Dolli’s diocese is now controlled by anti-government rebels. But his churches must deal with government bombings and extreme poverty, exacerbated by government efforts to halt humanitarian relief.
The Diocese of Lui covers 8,000 square kilometers, all of which Bishop Dolli must cover by bicycle. Last year, he personally confirmed 22,000 people into the church, biking from one church to the next. “You can imagine the heat and the tsetse flies!” he exclaimed. “This took me one-and-one-half months to cover that area. That’s why I’m not fat!”
According to the World Christian Encyclopedia, there are over two million Anglicans in Sudan and over three million Catholics. Another one million or so Christians belong to Protestant, Pentecostal, and Orthodox churches. Forty years ago the Sudanese government legally banned all missionary activity, hoping to eradicate Christianity. But Bishop Dolli said they dramatically failed.
“We pray for them, that God will touch their hearts,” Bishop Dolli said of Sudan’s Muslims. “We grew up with them. We played football together. We learned Arabic. We know them. Arabs can be your best friend. We don’t hate them.” Dolli said that since anti-government rebels took over his town they and the community have been careful to cause no destruction to the mosque there.
Bishop Dolli said there are many Muslims who are secret Christians but who are afraid to openly confess their faith. He recounted the story of a Muslim military officer he knew who for two years simultaneously read the Koran and Bible. He finally realized that although Muhammad had died, Jesus had risen and would come to judge the world on the Last Day.
After confessing his new Christian faith, the Muslim authorities plucked out the soldier’s fingernails and imprisoned him. Public appeals to Sudan’s president caused his release, after which the church smuggled him out of the country dressed as a woman. He now attends seminary in Europe and plans to return to Sudan as an ordained priest.
Forgiveness is a major theme for Bishop Dolli. “It has to come from the heart,” he said. “Lip service will not work.” He knows from personal experience. One Sunday after preaching from John 3:16 about the love of God he was confronted by the man who had turned in Dolli’s brother to the authorities, resulting in his death.
After pausing for literally several minutes, Bishop Dolli said he embraced the man and hosted him to dinner at his house that evening. “Praise the Lord he is a lay leader in the church now,” Dolli enthused.
“In Sudan we take evangelism very seriously,” Bishop Dolli explained of the main reason for the church’s dramatic growth there. “It is not only the work of the clergy, but all people.”
Bishop Dolli said Sudanese Christians covet the prayers of Christians in America. “When Peter was in prison, Christians prayed for him and he was released,” he recalled. Dolli also encouraged American Christians to urge their government to impose sanctions against the Sudanese government, especially against its oil industry, which funds the war against the Christians.
When asked what American Christians can learn from Sudanese Christians, Bishop Dolli replied, “You can learn perseverance. We have grown as Christians through persecution. You can learn forgiveness.”
* Mark Tooley is the director of UM Action, a committee of the Institute on Religion and Democracy in Washington, D.C.
Grandson of Civil War slave honored with efforts to redeem Sudanese captives
On February 7, 1902, a baby boy was born in rural Clay County in north Mississippi. On that same day 100 years later, that child – the son of a teacher and grandson of a slave – became America’s newest centenarian.
In honor of Emmett Lenoir’s 100 years of life, his home church has launched a fundraising effort to redeem slaves held captive in Sudan. “What more appropriate way to honor the grandson of a slave than to purchase the freedom of slaves in Sudan,” said Lenoir’s grandson, Joseph Parker, who pastors the London Chapel African Methodist Episcopal Church of West Point, Mississippi, where his grandfather has served as Sunday School superintendent for 70 years.
The goal of the Jubilee Project is to redeem 100 slaves. The redemption cost, according to Christian Solidarity International (CSI), a Swiss-based group, is about $35 (U.S.) per slave. Half of the first $2000 will go towards purchasing the freedom of slaves. The other half will retire a small church debt. After that, 100% of the funds will be applied to the redemption effort.
Slavery in the Sudan became known to the world about seven years ago. In an effort to Islamize the country, the Government of Sudan has incited armed militia to attack areas controlled by the Democratic opposition and has given permission to kill, torture and enslave those seen as enemies of Islam. During the slave raids, able-bodied men are killed while tens of thousands of Christian and animist women and children are captured and taken to the Arab and Muslim-dominated north as slaves. According to CSI they suffer endless hard work, beatings and poor nutrition; girls and women suffer sexual abuse and, often, ritual genital excision.
Lenoir, whose appearance and wit belie his age, remembers his grandfather telling of riders on horseback galloping across the fields of Lenoir Plantation near West Point, Mississippi, shouting to the slaves, “You’re free! You’re free!” He recollects that one of his grandfather’s duties as a child in slavery was to tend the horses of Confederate Army officers. Later, his grandfather became a Christian minister.
That heritage of the gospel of Christ was handed down and embraced by faith from father to son to son. “The best choice I ever made was becoming a believer in the Lord Jesus,” Lenoir said about his conversion at age nine. “I got busy in the church, read my Bible a lot and looked to it as a guide for my life.”
Gifts can be sent to: London Chapel Church, 8977 Decker Road, West Point, MS 39773.