Persecuted Christians in Sudan

MARY REICHARD, HOST: Next up, Sudan.

Last month opposition leaders in Sudan removed longtime President Omar al-Bashir from power. Under his 30-year regime, Sudanese Christians suffered tremendous persecution.

NICK EICHER, HOST: Ministries working in the country wait while military leaders and civilian groups jockey for control. The question is whether the new government will support all Sudanese or just the Islamist elite.

WORLD Radio’s Kim Henderson recently caught up with a Christian worker in that region. 

AUDIO: [Sound of Khartoum protesters]

KIM HENDERSON, REPORTER: Last week, protesters in Khartoum camped outside Sudan’s military headquarters. They continue to call for civilian rule even as talks between their leaders and army generals have faltered.

AUDIO: [Man speaking in Arabic]

Some like this man fear the delays will give Islamists an opportunity to hide their crimes. They are accused of acts of genocide and political assassinations.

For decades, turmoil in Sudan has mounted.

AUDIO: [Sound of bombing]

The Sudanese Civil War, spanning 38 years, began largely over efforts to impose Sharia law on Sudan’s diverse ethnic and religious communities. The Darfur genocide alone has left some 300-thousand people dead and millions displaced. And for Christians in the Nuba Mountains region, being a target for annihilation has become routine.   

The Islamist government of Sudan has terrorized that region with ground and air attacks, as well as a humanitarian blockade. Al-Bashir’s regime pointed to rebel activity as the reason for the strikes. He claimed Western plots to overthrow his government originated in the area.

AUDIO: [Sound of bomb exploding]

His regime dropped more than 4,000 bombs on hospitals, schools, and churches in the Nuba Mountains.

In 2012, American actor and humanitarian activist George Clooney described the situation for the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

CLOONEY: Now 3 days ago while we were in the Nuba mountains, 15 bombs were dropped on a neighboring village. When we got there, we found children filled with shrapnel, including a 9-year-old boy who had both of his hands blown off.

Not much has changed since then.

Matt Chancey is a director with Persecution Project, a relief organization that’s been on the ground in Sudan for more than 20 years. He says things heated up in 2011 when South Sudan broke away and became an independent nation.

CHANCEY: Bashir said, okay, great. You know, it’s, it’s too bad we lost the oil revenue, but at least now we’ve got our country we can now make into a full Sharia state. Whereas before we had all these heretics and apostates we had to deal with.

Life for the Nuba means jumping in foxholes several times a day. It means teaching songs to their children about running and hiding when they hear the sound of a plane.

Chancey doesn’t mince words about the enemy.

CHANCEY: What we’re talking about is Sunni Wahhabism. It has a name. And the Sunni Wahhabists are the ones that are causing 99 percent of the problems that we face.

Modern missionaries came to the Nuba Mountains in the 1970s. Today, Christians make up an estimated 30 to 50 percent of the Nuba population. Chancey says that’s about a half million at the most. And yet they have become what he calls the front line in the war on terror.

CHANCEY: That’s something I wish our government would understand. That’s a major battle line in Africa right now. The persecuted church in the places, like in the Nuba Mountains, they are the front line. They’re confronting the ideology that’s trying to kill them with the gospel message of love and peace. They’re holding back this, this wave of extremism that is attempting to spread south.

Chancey believes secularism and atheism are no match for the Islamist tide.  

CHANCEY: It has a system. It has a routine. It has relationships and family and community – stuff that the Christian West is jettisoning in favor of exalting the individual but there are consequences.

Chancey urges Western believers to pray for persecuted Christians in Sudan.

CHANCEY: We need to be in prayer for the church over there because they have to live with whatever happens.

Tensions in Khartoum continue to escalate. On Tuesday protest groups began a two-day strike affecting medical, electrical, and banking services. But military leaders remain in charge, despite weeks of negotiations over a transition to civilian rule.

Reporting for WORLD Radio, I’m Kim Henderson.

(Photo/Associated Press) Protesters in the Sudanese capital of Khartoum.

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