by Janet Chismar
When Sudanese authorities flog 53 Christians or government forces attack a bishop's plane in the Nuba Mountains, few eyebrows are raised. Such occurrences are all too common for the nation's two million believers. Yet, while these incidents have garnered outside attention, years of ongoing persecution have largely been ignored.
"To be a Christian in Sudan is a matter of survival and not living," says Hamilton Lugar with Voice of the Martyrs. "Christian families in the Sudan often can't tell who will be next in the line of fire. When all can gather for evening devotion, you all praise the Lord.
"There is no freedom of worship, no equality, as our young boys are denied education," Lugar continues. "And those who are lucky enough to reach colleges are forced into the military before they get their certificates. Most are sent to Southern Sudan where the war is dragging on, to fight against their fellow Southerners. Few return. Young girls are raped by Sudanese soldiers, and children are enslaved. Churches, schools and hospitals are burnt."
This is Life 101 for Sudan's two million Christians. According to The Persecution Project, the Islamic religion is dominant in the northern part of Sudan, while Christians control the southern areas and the Nuba Mountains. Christians in Sudan make up one of the fastest growing churches in the world. It is the only Islamic country with millions of evangelical Christians, and the church is growing about 10 percent each year.
Sudanese Christians have been persecuted since the mid-1950s, but a cease-fire held through the ‘70s. In 1983, the Islamic government came to power, and replaced the Sudanese constitution with one based on Islamic law and an emphasis on the military. Jihad ("holy war") was officially declared against the Southern "infidels."
Most Recent Battles
Easter Week 2001 was far from peaceful in Sudan. The Catholic World News reported that leaders of ten Christian denominations have filed a protest to the Sudanese premier over the treatment of Christians during Holy Week and Easter.
Hundreds of worshipers were arrested and given harsh sentences following unrest that was sparked by the cancellation of an interdenominational open-air Easter service. Christian Solidarity Worldwide reports that German evangelist Reinhard Bonnke had been scheduled to lead an ecumenical Easter service on April 10 in Khartoum's Green Square. He held a similar event last year that went off peacefully. However, the Khartoum authorities insisted on moving the service to a site owned by Muslim fundamentalists who, prior to the event, whipped up anti-Christian sentiment, accusing Bonnke of being a "witchcraft infidel and a blasphemous Christian."
Then, on April 16, an airplane carrying the bishop of El Obeid, Macram Max Gassis, was caught in an attack by government bombers on an airfield in the Nuba Mountain region. The bishop and his entourage were unhurt but a militiaman was killed and two civilians were injured. The Khartoum regime has long seen the bishop as an obstacle to their efforts to depopulate and demoralize the people of the Nuba region, according to PetersVoice News.
According to Steve Snyder with International Christian Concern, "The tensions in Sudan are due to the radical, militant Islamic regime that has pledged to Islamize all Africa. The regime has been responsible for nearly two million deaths over the past 18 years and the massacre of the mostly Christian population in the South. Therefore, it is no surprise that the regime will not tolerate Christians becoming too vocal about their faith in public, probably because some Muslims have become Christians. Many Muslims don't like the tactics of the regime any more than the Christians like it."
Tammy Moss with Prayer for the Persecuted Church traveled to Sudan over Christmas. She said, "Sudan is one of the worst places in the world for Christians."
Moss added: "It is horrific that this war has been going on so long and, really, there has been silence about what is happening to our brothers and sisters there. It is unfortunate that the U.S. church doesn't know more, because there is so much to learn from our brothers and sisters there."
"It is obviously the power of the Lord that the church is even alive in Sudan," she stated. "They face incredible challenges. Yet the people have amazing faith."
Janet Chismar is a Religion Today editor.