Sudan (MNN) – Last week Sunday five church leaders from the Sudanese Church of Christ were arrested. They were released several hours later, but the event has highlighted once again the disturbing trend of the government trying to gain total control over Christian activity in Sudan.

According to Morning Star News, the arrest took place after the leaders refused to cancel worship as ordered by the police. The arrests were reportedly made under the charge of disturbing the public. This follows a series of similar arrests in recent months.

Kamal Fahmi of Set My People Free says that much of the trouble is rooted in the current government’s favor of Islam.

“They are very much anti-Christianity or non-Muslims. The president … after the separation of the south, he said he [wanted] to make the north 100 percent Muslim. So, in a way, the Church is going through pressure after pressure.”

Lekwongole Presbyterian Church. (Photo and caption courtesy of Judy McCallum via Flickr: https://flic.kr/p/ePMM1)

According to Fahmi, last Sunday’s incident was a symptom of this growing pressure. “Their leadership was arrested (this is the Church of Christ) and they tried to interfere with the church affairs,” he says, explaining that the government has tried to control when believers meet and who is allowed to attend.

And, they’re taking that control a step further.

“They even want to change the leadership to have a leadership which is kind of standing with the government which would put even more pressure on active Christians within that denomination.”

Fahmi says another way the government has tried to interfere with church on Sundays is to require the educational weekend to be Friday and Saturday instead of Saturday and Sunday. And so, believing students have started taking three days off so they can still attend church services. It’s not ideal for their education, but Fahmi says they are taking a stand.

Influence of foreign powers

When the United States eased sanctions on Sudan at the beginning of this year, Fahmi says they were hoping that things would largely improve across the nation. But this has not happened.

“What I have realized with this government, since [they began ruling in] 1989, they go two steps forward, pushing [the] Islamic agenda. When they’re facing pressure, they go back one step. But then again, they go two steps forward. And so, in a way, things have not really changed from last year despite the sanctions [being] lifted because properties have been confiscated, there is pressure.”

Even so, he says they are thankful for the policy changes by the American government within Sudan under the new Administration. He explains that a recent dispute between the Church and the government resulted in the United States standing with the believers like they never had before.

The subject of the dispute was a government school started by the Presbyterian Mission to serve the people of Sudan.

“The government was planning to take it, putting pressure. The church members were in the school, protesting– they were not violent, they were meeting there, non-violent. They were praying, they were singing, and mostly [they were] women and children.”

But when a group who represented the government came in, an elder was killed.

“For the first time, the embassy of the US, the ambassador was at the funeral and he stood with the people of the church and the Presbyterian Church which was running the school. And since then, there has not been pressure on the school for a while.”

This event points to the fact that foreign powers do have some influence within the nation of Sudan. And so, Fahmi says they are hoping for more action like this to be taken.

“We really would like, despite of the removal of the [sanctions], that the American government would continue to put pressure on the Sudanese government to give freedom for Christians to worship, freedom for expression– to share their faith– freedom for the Church to function without interference from the government in hindering their normal activities of worship and practicing their faith because they are equal citizens.”

Fahmi says these are not unusual or extraordinary requests to have for a people group. These things fall under the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Specifically, Fahmi says believers in Sudan are appealing to articles 18 and 19 which advocate for freedoms including thought, beliefs, and expression. More specifically, article 18 says that all humans have the right to change, practice, and share their religious beliefs regardless of context. The next article calls for all people to have the freedom of their own opinions and expressions of those opinions without repercussion, regardless of the medium of expression.

You can read these articles in full detail, here.

Supporting the Sudanese Church

While persecution is a dark and overwhelming topic, it is an opportunity for the global Church to stand together in a number of ways. In light of what believers are facing in Sudan, we can stand up for them in prayer, advocacy, and appeal to the authorities.

pixabay“One of the most important things, actually, is to pray. Because we know the saying … ‘prayer [changes] things, and also prayer [moves] mountains,’” Fahmi says.

In addition to this, he says we can call for social justice. He refers to Martin Luther King Jr. as an important figure in the fight for civil rights for African Americans and an example of what it means to stand up for those who are abused by the majority.

“He stood, he protested. And I think we need to protest against what is happening to the Christians in Sudan. Make it known, because we need to see a change. We cannot watch our brothers and sisters suffer.”

He brings to mind another example of prayer, advocacy, and fight for social justice. This story comes from the Bible: Esther. When her people were threatened, she prayed, fasted, and shrewdly called upon the King to preserve them. Meanwhile, God worked in the King’s heart to influence his decision to save the Jewish people from harm.

“As Christians, it is nothing wrong to ask the authorities, because authorities are put by God to bring justice. And when there is no justice, we have to speak against injustice. And we have to advocate for our brothers and sisters in Sudan. And we have to be concerned about their situation.”

And there is another more tangible way to step into the situation.

“There is quite a number of people displaced because of the civil war in [western Sudan],” Fahmi says.

As people move to other cities, they typically look to the Church for assistance. Many of these people are farmers and they have difficulty finding work in the city. The move also presents issues in finding housing and education. So to partner with the Church of Sudan financially means they are able to serve as the hands and feet of Jesus to those around them.

Set My People Free is an organization of people working for freedom for individuals who have converted from Islam. To learn more about Set My People Free and to get involved, click here.