A New Day for Freedom in Sudan?
"My name is not important. I suffered for Christ." --'Ishmael'
In Sudan, Ishmael warns from behind a veiled screen, "it's very difficult to be a Christian." Like so many others, he should know. Sent to prison, where he was beaten until he couldn't stand. "There was no lawyer, no friend. There was nobody." He asked all of the difficult questions through the torture and suffering. "God, where are you? Why is this happening?" Until one day, he made a decision -- to love.
"I decided to pray to God to give me a miracle of love, so that I wouldn't have to live in two prisons -- a prison physically and a prison spiritually." He felt God saying, "I am with you. I am suffering with you." And at that moment, he knew. He would give his life to share Jesus.
These days, Ishmael spends his time preaching the gospel -- a task that was just made a little easier by the nation's transitional government. Last Wednesday, shortly after I returned from Sudan, the country's religious affairs ministry made a major announcement: "All government-appointed committees are abolished as of today [Wednesday, March 11, 2020]." For pastors and believers who've watched their churches reduced to ashes by their own government, an order giving Christian leaders more power over their property and operations is an answer to a thousand prayers.
After Sudan's notorious former president, Omar al-Bashir, was deposed last year, the country's new leaders have obviously decided to take steps to correct years of faith-based oppression. Bashir's old regime used government-appointed church councils to restrict the actions of Christian denominations. The councils would routinely seize church property and close churches. For years, confiscating or bulldozing churches was a primary way the regime persecuted Christians. Now, to the delight of many Sudanese church leaders, the country's new transitional government is bringing an end to the councils--a move which has given fresh hope to Sudan's suffering Christian minority.
Together with the rest of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), I sincerely applauded the move, which was one of the many topics we discussed when I visited Khartoum last month. As in America, churches have a right to represent their own interests. "This decree confirms our sense that while Sudan has many serious challenges ahead, its transitional leadership is sincere in its promise to implement concrete and meaningful measures to improve religious freedom conditions in the country."