The crisis in Sudan continues to deepen, bringing devastation to thousands of lives. Several churches have also been damaged in attacks, the latest at the weekend when a church leader was beaten. Here we have the latest from the country, including a Q&A on the situation with Fikiru*, an Open Doors research expert for East Africa.
Five people were injured, including a church leader, when a church was attacked in Sudan last Sunday (14 May). It’s one of several churches caught in the crossfire since conflict broke out last month.
On entering Mar Girgis (St George) Coptic Church in Omdurman at the weekend, unidentified, plain-clothed attackers shot at worshippers and attacked the priest, Anba Sarabamon, leaving him with multiple fractures. They destroyed his residence and raided the home of an elderly women and a dormitory for young women, before taking off with the priest’s car.
The two opposing sides at the heart of Sudan’s conflict – the National Army and the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) – blame each other for the attack. The weekend also saw attacks on two mosques and two hospitals.
Earlier this month, rockets damaged two churches. This follows attacks on two churches in April, including All Saints Anglican Cathedral in Khartoum at the hands of RSF soldiers.
Since fighting broke out on 15 April, more than 700 people have lost their lives, and nearly a million people have either fled the country or been displaced internally. Attempts by the warring groups to reach a resolution to the escalating conflict have so far proved futile, prolonging the devastation that’s gripping the nation.
Heavenly Father, we cry out for an end to this conflict. Soften the hearts of those heading up these warring groups; lead them towards compromise and awaken in them a deep compassion for those suffering. Provide food, water and other necessities for all those in need, comfort those grieving, and heal all who are wounded. Strengthen and unite your church, and may they be bearers of Your love during this crisis. Amen.
4 May 2023
As the crisis in Sudan persists, Christians are among those fearing that they will die either of hunger or by the bullet. A seven-day truce has been agreed, but previous ceasefires have broken down.
Since fighting broke out more than three weeks ago, at least 500 people have been killed and more than 4,600 injured. Around 100,000 people are said to have fled to neighbouring countries, with the number expected to rise to 800,000. Some 70% of hospitals in the capital Khartoum and nearby states have closed. Thousands of people – both displaced and trapped in the country – are facing starvation.
At a prayer meeting last week, church leaders gathered to share about the severe impact the fighting is having on Christians.
Most believers are day labourers and have no emergency funds to fall back on. It’s put huge pressure on Christians, who already face marginalisation as a minority group in the country. Some believers have been caught in the crossfire.
More widely, years of division and persecution – combined with most believers living in poverty – have left the church in Sudan in a fragile state.
There is hope of a resolution, with the two leaders at the centre of the conflict, President Abdel Fattah al-Burhan and General Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, open to peace talks. They have agreed to a seven-day ceasefire and are both expected to nominate their envoys for peace talks and a preferred venue to meet.
19 April 2023
In recent days, fighting has erupted in the capital Khartoum and elsewhere across the country. What has prompted this?
It's sad that our country, Sudan, is once again in more like a civil war. It's a rivalry between the two armed forces – the National Army and the Rapid Support Forces (RSF). The RSF is part of the security formed by former President Omar al-Bashir. It’s a remnant of the so-called Janjaweed militia (a paramilitary group) which fought in Darfur and is accused of genocide.
The leaders of the two groups – acting President Abdel Fattah al-Burhan for the army and General Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo for the RSF – were united in the October 2021 military coup, but now they have different opinions on what the formation of civilian government looks like. This has ended up in fighting, with both saying that the other party should surrender.
What impact is this having on civilians?
According to reports, around 200 people have lost their lives. Most of them are civilians. Normal life is disrupted. People do not have electricity, especially in the bigger cities like Khartoum, Omdurman and Port Sudan.
People are also dying from a lack of medical support, because it is almost impossible to leave home for treatment. Those who have underlying medical issues are not able to go to hospital. Sources told us of people they know personally who have lost their lives because of this. Emotionally and physically, people are suffering.
What change, if any, has there been since April 2019 when President Omar al-Bashir was toppled?
The Sudanese people had hope for change when President Omar al-Bashir was overthrown. But to our surprise, the situation has never improved, both in terms of political and religious freedom, as well as in response to the economic problems. People in Sudan protested four years ago because they didn’t have bread. Now the same truth applies and people are more worried.
What hope is there of a solution to the conflict?
As a Christian, I would love to hope that God has His own way, to stop things and then change the situation for the good of His people. But if I think of the context, it's really discouraging. Unless the military are told to go back to their barracks and leave the administration of civilian government, the situation in Sudan will not improve soon. It's my prayer that the international community, especially countries that have a strong influence on the country, will intervene if this situation is allowed to continue.
What impact is this unrest having on Christians?
One of our sources told us that his uncle has lost his life in the crossfire. Once you leave your house, you're not sure whether you can come back alive. It is difficult because people need to leave home to survive (e.g. earn money, get food).
And our fear is that, if the current crisis enables Islamists to influence the political life and the situation in Sudan, believers are heading under another dictatorship which will be against Christian life in the country.
"Knowing that you are by our side is always an encouragement to us" Fikiru
There was some hope that the transitional government would change things, but now we are stuck. And this war offers another opportunity for Islamists to take over and say, “You see, democracy is not working. Now, let's go back to our rules, which is Islam and Sharia (Islamic law).” And if they are able to do that, the life of Christians will be worse than in the days of Omar al-Bashir.
There were positive steps towards religious freedom following the overthrow of President Omar al-Bashir in 2019. To what extent are these now under threat?
Even though progress was made in the early days of the transition, if you see the actual daily life of believers in the country, not much changed. In 2019, Christians were among those calling for reform and they were told to be patient, that things will change over time. They were willing to be patient, but since then nothing has materialised.
Christians are fearing that Islamists may exploit this crisis, and then once in power, they can bring back all those laws and even do whatever they want. We really need to pray for Christians because the future is not bright.
How can we pray?
The longer the conflict goes on, the more it will have really a damaging effect on the daily life of Christians. If they don’t have opportunity to work, they will begin to starve. Let’s pray for the Lord to give wisdom to the political and military commanders of Sudan, that they come to their senses and stop this war.
Please pray for the safety of Christians who are endangered by this situation, because the war is taking place inside the cities. It will have an impact on the life of Christians.
And please pray that the crisis will not lead to a situation that empowers or enables Islamists to take back their agenda. Sudan is a big country and most of its neighbours are fragile with their own struggles. If the situation in Sudan deteriorated badly, it will have implications for Christians around the region as well. Let's pray for Christians and for the future of the church in Sudan and in East Africa.
Amidst this hugely challenging time, where can you see good news?
When you meet Sudanese people, and especially Christians, there's a lot of encouragement. The country has been through a difficult time for decades. But Christians in the country are committed to continue serving and reaching unreached people in the country and take the good news to their Muslim neighbours.
I recently met one convert who was thrown out by her family. Everybody was expecting that she will denounce her faith and go back to her old religion. But she said, “Despite all these challenges, I'll stick to my faith and continue to love and serve Jesus.” This kind of determination and strong faith in the Lord is a source of much encouragement.
Is there anything else you’d like to say to your brothers and sisters supporting you in prayer?
This is a difficult time for Sudan and let’s lift it up in our prayers, that the Lord will intervene and motivate those who can contribute solutions to the crisis. Knowing that you are by our side is always an encouragement to us, so thank you so much.
*Name changed for security reasons
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