A ministry assisting Bible translators is pushing its efforts in Southern Sudan, explaining that it is uncertain how the Jan. 9 referendum will affect its work in the area.
"We don't know how much longer the door to Southern Sudan will be open to us," said Bruce Smith, president and CEO of Wycliffe Associates, an organization that mobilizes volunteers to assist Bible translation, in a statement. "Nobody knows what will happen after the referendum – whether there will be lasting peace or a new outbreak of civil war."
Sudan will hold a referendum Jan. 9, during which the South will vote whether it wants to secede from the North. The vote is a key provision of the 2005 Sudan Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA), which ended more than 20 years of civil war. The South is overwhelmingly expected to vote for independence, causing concern it will lead to another conflict between the predominantly Arab and Muslim North and the animist and Christian South.
In response to the upcoming referendum, Wycliffe Associates established a Matching Challenge that allows donations to be matched dollar for dollar, up to a total of $51,700. The funds will be used towards supporting Bible translation efforts in Southern Sudan, where such work is critically needed.
Smith highlighted that more people are without the Bible in Sudan than any other nation in Africa. Of the 111 languages spoken in Sudan, 54 languages do not yet have a single translated verse of the Bible.
"We got to seize every opportunity God places before us," Smith said, "and invest as much as we possibly can, as effectively and quickly as we possibly can, for the cause of Christ."
Wycliffe Associates is working to repair the Juba Bible Translation Center, which was closed in 1988 due to civil war. Volunteers have painted guesthouse rooms, replaced electrical work, and installed new plumbing systems and kitchen cabinets at the Center's facilities to help translation teams working in Southern Sudan. The teams are also training national translation workers who can continue projects in the case of another civil war.
Sudan President Omar al-Bashir, in comments Sunday, seems to have resided to the likelihood that the South will secede. He said, "If the South breaks away, God forbid," then he plans to amend Sudan's constitution to impose Sharia (Islamic law) as "the main source of legislation," make Islam the official religion, and establish Arabic as the main language, according to The Associated Press. Under the CPA, the mainly Arab and Muslim north was forced to recognize ethnic, religious and linguistic diversity.
The secession of the South is like "losing a part of the homeland, but it will not be the end of the world," said al-Bashir.
Sudan is one of the most difficult mission fields in the world, remarked Smith, noting Christians make up only five percent of the population.