Historically, Christian missionary efforts in Sudan, like in other African countries, saw education in a dual role – to present the gospel of salvation through Jesus Christ to those who have not heard and to facilitate personal and societal development. For Russ and Lyn Noble, this dual role gave them an open door into southern Sudanese society.
The people of southern Sudan in the 1970s were largely unreached with the message of Jesus. Along with healthcare and other channels, the emphasis on education was central to AIM’s strategy for reaching out to the southern Sudanese in incarnational witness of Christ. God used AIM to focus on these essential ministries as they presented the gospel and planted churches together with the Sudanese.
With years of first-hand experience in the formal education sector in southern Sudan, the Lord clearly led us into literacy work in mother tongue languages. During the period of civil war from the early 1980s until 2005, more and more Scriptures were developed in the 60 plus languages of southern Sudan. However, only very few people could read and write – in any language. The literacy rate was one of the lowest in the world. There were virtually no trained teachers who could adequately teach their people to read or write in their own languages. Despite Bibles in local languages being developed and printed, most people had no literacy skill to read them. Often stacks of full boxes loaded with vernacular Scriptures would be devoured by termites, or pages were torn out and rolled to make cigarettes by soldiers. God’s Word was sacrificially and lovingly developed in southern Sudanese languages and yet few people valued it or could read it. It was a treasure lost.
Our final seventeen years were devoted to working in conjunction with local churches in areas spread out around the country to train indigenous language teachers who would teach children and adults – especially women – to read in their ‘heart’ language. As the Apostle Paul wrote to Timothy, ‘…you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus’ (2 Timothy 3:15). God’s intention of the written word is to point us to the living word – Jesus, the Saviour of the world. The skill of literacy is a key to knowing and following Jesus better because we can read God’s written word which makes us ‘wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus’.
Throughout the history of the Church (and even before) education has been significant to sharing the greatest story ever told – that God has created us, he loves us, he has provided our redemption through Christ, and that we have a living hope for a future with him forever. God has used AIM, right from its entry into southern Sudan in 1949 and up to the present, to continue using education as a vital channel to point South Sudanese to the Saviour and to disciple believers in their faith and their Christian walk.