He was one of the most attentive and responsive students any teacher could wish for. Year by year, Clement attended the Preachers’ Workshops I ran in Khartoum under the auspices of the Africa Inland Church – Sudan (AIC-S) and visibly grew in spiritual maturity and gifting. Clement was not Sudanese, but Congolese and had the bearing that only a man who has served in the military could have. He was a leader in his local church, ran preaching classes in his home and held a responsible position in his nation’s Embassy in Khartoum. In 2013, and not for the first time, he was imprisoned and told he would not be released until he had raised sufficient money to be expelled from the country. Despite money being sent, Clement died in hospital as a result of sustained torture and beatings he had endured in prison – because he was a faithful and outspoken Christian, bearing witness for his Saviour in an oppressive Islamic state.
The world and the church rightly rejoiced in the peaceful process that brought South Sudan into existence as an independent nation in 2011, though it has been tragic to see the ongoing internal conflict there, but in many ways their northern neighbour has been forgotten. For many years, Sudan’s President, Omar al-Bashir, has made clear his intention of making Sudan a model of and vehicle for Islam in Africa and his zeal was only intensified by the humiliating loss of so much of his country through independence, not to mention the vast oil revenues that had come from the south. Sudan is now becoming one of the most hard-line Islamic states in Africa with Sharia law being imposed on everyone in the country, regardless of their nationality or religion and all church buildings are subject to being seized by the Government.
While many thousands of southerners have returned south many still remain in the north, thousands of whom are believers and many of them have made a conscious and spiritually strategic decision to stay in the north and continue to be a strong Christian presence in an increasingly hostile Islamic environment.
Following the independence of South Sudan, the Khartoum authorities ruled that no non-nationals could be in leadership in any churches in the country, thereby at a stroke, removing from the churches virtually anyone with any maturity and experience. In recent years there has been significant fruit for the gospel in the Nuba Mountains and in the Darfur area, for example, and suddenly these young, inexperienced and ill-equipped believers have been thrust into positions of leadership and are much in need of our prayers.
Believers from Nuba and Darfur are also subject to systematic harassment and persecution by the authorities and many have become internal refugees. Voice of the Martyrs tell of ‘Musa’ who converted to Christianity while he was still in primary school in the Nuba Mountains. ‘When his father, a devout Muslim, eventually learned of his son’s conversion, he called a meeting with Muslim religious leaders. The family confronted Musa about his faith and threatened to stop paying his school fees if he didn’t return to Islam. But Musa refused to give up his faith, so the family stopped paying for his schooling and disowned him. The 18-year-old was forced to leave his home, but he has received help from others and is sometimes able to attend school.’
Number six on the list
Sudan is ranked at number six in the list of countries where Christians experience the most persecution and according to Open Doors, ‘Blasphemy laws are used country-wide to persecute and prosecute Christians. Apostasy is criminalized, punishable by the death penalty, and it is very harsh, especially on non-Arabs. In this regard, the case of Miriam Ibrahim – a Christian woman who was sentenced to death but later freed after massive international pressure – is a microcosm of the lives of Christians in the country.’ And all this despite the fact that the country’s constitution formally enshrines freedom of religion.
The Supreme Court of Sudan has upheld the right to extract confessions under torture and crucifixion as a form of execution, as being compatible with Islamic Sharia law. Slavery is a popular tool of the Islamic regime. Young black children, from predominantly Christian homes are sold as slaves to Muslim masters for an average of £35.
Recently received news from Sudan tell of churches being demolished or confiscated, no permission given for the building or rebuilding of churches and church meetings being broken up by the authorities. ‘The church is now contaminated with terror,’ one Christian says. ‘You don’t feel safe in prayer.’
There is no doubt that the Khartoum government is conducting a systematic campaign of opposition to the church, stating that Sudan is an Islamic nation and therefore there is no place for, in their view, ‘unbelievers’. The recent widely publicised case of Miriam Ibrahim is, in many ways, a microcosm of life for many Christians in the country.
I will build My church
However, despite this relentless and brutal opposition there is good evidence that the number of Christians in Sudan is increasing, and that more churches will be needed. One church leader says, ‘We want the government to give us new plots so we can build a new church. We are citizens and the constitution says there is freedom of religion and worship so we are using this to get our rights.’
Friends of South Sudan, formed as Friends of Sudan in 2007, continues to do what it can to encourage and support churches in Sudan. International banking restrictions make it very difficult to get financial resources into the country – but there are ways! Above all, we want our brothers and sisters there to know that they are not forgotten and that we continue to stand with them in prayer. We also work closely with the churches in South Sudan – helping to provide a Christian education for the children and funding theological training among other projects.