Sudan (MNN) — The Sudanese government returned 19 confiscated properties to the Sudanese Church of Christ (SCOC) last Monday, September 24.

A Sudanese court in August ruled that the property confiscations were unlawful. The court also ordered the Sudanese government to drop its case against five SCOC church leaders, according to World Watch Monitor.

church in sudan

(Photo courtesy of World Watch Monitor)

“The Sudanese government actually lost the case in court, which was kind of surprising,” says Greg Musselman with Voice of the Martyrs Canada. “When you have a country like that with such a strong-arm leader and government [and] the fact that a court would overrule them, you just have to wonder, was something happening in the background?”

Sudan is currently listed as the fourth worst country for Christian persecution on Open Doors’ World Watch List. It beats out other notorious countries such as Pakistan, Eritrea, and Iraq.

Musselman reflects, “The government of Sudan [is] an Islamic country under a dictatorship. Many Christians have suffered brutally, even those from the outside. A personal friend of mine, a guy named Petr Jasek, a Czechoslovakian [Christian] spent over a year in prisons in Khartoum because…they put it out there that he was spying on the country.”

While we can’t know for sure, part of Sudan’s motivation to agree to return the church properties could be fueled by international political pressures. Authoritarian governments aren’t always moved by pressure on human rights issues. However, the Sudanese government wants to be removed from the United States’ list of State Sponsors of Terrorism and normalize relations with the West.

“I think advocacy is working, especially at the government level. Again, we could talk about North Korea, we could talk about Pakistan, many of these nations that need financial help from the West and especially from the US. The US is in a position to exert pressure on some of these governments.”

(Photo courtesy of Open Doors USA)

Meanwhile, human rights groups point out that Sudan has not made significant progress and still commits various human rights violations. Denial of religious freedom is just one of the ways the Sudanese government controls its people.

“When the US continues to have this influence, that still needs to be used not just for the rights of the Christians, but also for the rights of the people of Sudan that are being oppressed by their government,” reminds Musselman.

While this news regarding the SCOC’s properties is encouraging, there are other congregations in Sudan whose confiscated lands have not been returned. If a church is allowed to meet, they often have tight restrictions from the government.

The outlook for religious freedom in Sudan may still seem grim, but it can’t overshadow the persistent faithfulness of the Church.

“Whether they have legal buildings or whether they are meeting in homes or in the darkness at night…we know the Kingdom of God is still going forward. People are still coming to Christ. People are still becoming strong followers of Jesus through discipleship. Those things still happen regardless of what the government does.

(Photo courtesy of Prayercast)

As you learn more about Sudan and what Christians face there, you can be equipped to respond through prayer, giving, and even advocacy.

Find out more about Sudan on VOM Canada’s website here. They have prayer requests and ways you can be an encouragement to the Sudanese Church through their ministry.

For now, please pray for our Christian brothers and sisters in Sudan to persist in their faithful witness of the Gospel. Ask God to soften the hearts of Sudanese national leaders towards believers in their country. And praise the Lord for the return of church properties to the SCOC.

(Header photo courtesy of Prayercast)