After building more than 500 churches, Samaritan's Purse is training a new generation of evangelists and disciple-makers
The Reverend Simon Deng Dut Chok knows the pain of persecution. He still winces when he thinks about how Christians suffered for their faith in his city, Aweil, when the Muslim majority attempted to wipe them out. But he also knows the joy of a church rebuilt and how believers, once beleaguered, now praise God for how He is using them to reach others for Jesus.
In the nearby town of Akuem, Pastor William Deng Koch also knows all too well the anguish of seeing churches burned and bombed by the Islamic government of Sudan. It even happened to the church he pastored. His heartache is tempered, though, because he also knows the power of a church reborn and the miracle of lives transformed by the Savior.
These two pastors in northwest South Sudan are among a host of Christian leaders who deeply appreciate how Samaritan’s Purse helped build 512 churches throughout South Sudan and parts of neighboring Sudan between 2005 and 2012. And how we continue to equip believers to make a lasting difference for the cause of Jesus Christ in their war-torn country.
Churches Burned and Burned Again
Between 1955 and 1972, the people of Sudan suffered through the country’s first civil war. Bold foreign missionaries serving across the nation were all kicked out in 1964 by the Islamic government in Khartoum. Pastor Simon said the churches, though struggling, were growing—and spreading—despite the pressures of Islamization.
“When missionaries came to Aweil, churches were established, though the church was predominantly in the bush,” he explained. “Despite suffering under the Islamization of Sudan, when mosques were built everywhere, churches were growing rapidly in Northern Bahr el Ghazal State because Christians were praying to God that they would be faithful even while being oppressed.”
Even into the mid-2000s (and beyond), church buildings were made out of grass-thatched materials, with a wooden cross on top, which made them easy targets for Sudanese government troops in the country’s second civil war (1983-2005). “They burned them, and when built again, they burned them once more,” he said.
Pastor Simon then grew quiet, tears welling in his eyes. Finally, choking back his emotions, he continued: “Christians were thrown into the church buildings and were burnt alive. I have very bad memories, even when I talk about that now.”
Samaritan’s Purse arrived in the Aweil area in 2010, one year before South Sudan achieved independence. Just as we had done in other cities and towns, we constructed churches in Aweil. “I am very thankful for Samaritan’s Purse and all they have done,” Pastor Simon noted. “They have been alongside us during this period of war, and they did not abandon us.
“With permanent, concrete structures that Samaritan’s Purse built, these will last for years,” he added. “We appreciate and praise God for their effort.”
Hope in Time of War
For all that South Sudan lacks—roads, industries, schools, doctors—the one institution the people can count on is the church. Aweil has two evangelical churches constructed by Samaritan’s Purse and more than a dozen more that have been planted by local believers.
Holy Trinity Cathedral is one of the churches we helped build. In 2012, Samaritan’s Purse laid the foundation and put on the roof, but the church members raised the walls. We also provided 150 benches and the pulpit. About 270 to 300 people worship there every week.
“Not only did they help build our church, they strengthened our faith,” said the Reverend William Aguer, Holy Trinity’s pastor. “They enabled us to focus on proclaiming Jesus and His Gospel. They gave us hope even during time of war.”
Philip Alich Mayoldit is a youth leader at Holy Trinity. There are more than 75 children and youth enrolled in Sunday school. He is among those who have been trained by Samaritan’s Purse to teach people to read the Bible. It wasn’t too long ago that Philip participated in our Bible literacy program. “I was a student first in the literacy program, now I am a teacher,” he said.
Samaritan’s Purse gave Philip—and other leaders—a bicycle in order to “go into all the world and preach the Gospel.” We also provide books that help new Christians learn how to follow Jesus.
“I’m always going somewhere on my bike to teach the Bible and to evangelize,” he said. “We go into every corner of Aweil and outside the town to teach people how to read, so they can read their Bible in their own language and believe in Jesus Christ. It’s so good that they can know Jesus.”
A Vibrant Partnership
Pastor William Deng Koch pastors the Sudan Pentecostal Church in Akuem. He’s been a minister of the Gospel for 21 years, starting out first in Omdurman. He came to Akuem in 2002 and, by God’s grace, was able to lead dozens of witchdoctors to the Lord. They are now a part of the congregation that he leads there.
“At first, they didn’t want anything to do with church and didn’t want to hear the Gospel,” he explained. “But as their wives listened and committed their lives to Christ and were changed, 40 of the 60 witchdoctors…discovered that the Gospel was the truth, so they committed themselves to Jesus Christ and were baptized.”
During that time, the Muslim government in Sudan targeted Akuem because of a significant rebel presence. Daily bombardments destroyed buildings and killed many people. Pastor William’s previous church in Omdurman was bombed and burned down at the same time.
“That was such a hard time,” Pastor William said. “There was a lot of killing. People would hide under trees or in holes. I saw the bodies of some of our members who lost their lives.”
Churches in those days were constructed out of grass and mud. “We didn’t build any permanent structures because if you built a concrete building, it would be bombed,” he said. “Plus, we couldn’t afford the materials and the metal roof that we would need.”
Enter Samaritan’s Purse. We partnered with Pastor William and the members of the Sudan Pentecostal Church to start construction of a permanent building in Akuem. At that time in 2010, 900 people—500 of them children—were worshipping at the church. We built the foundation and put on the roof. The members constructed and plastered the walls and laid the flooring. The church was completed in January 2012—five months after South Sudan gained its independence and became the newest country in the world. Today, some 2,800 to 3,000 regularly attend the church.
“Samaritan’s Purse has not left us,” Pastor William said. “They’re still involved by training our members in evangelism and discipleship. I’m greatly encouraged to see our members doing the work of ministry.”
Michael Deng is among them. He was one of the original witchdoctors among whom Pastor William planted the church. He was second to the head witchdoctor and had great powers.
“He didn’t at first realize this was the power of Satan,” Pastor William said. “When he heard the Gospel in 2002, he discovered that he was using his life for wicked things. He wanted to turn away and change, so he surrendered his heart to Christ and has since invested his life in serving Him. Today, in his 70s, he’s one of our elders, teaches Sunday School, leads prayer meetings, helps with our evangelistic outreach, and encourages some of members in their Christian life, especially when life gets hard.”
The Gospel is the key to everything, the pastor added. “We will continue to preach God’s Word until everyone hears that Jesus Christ is the Lord.”