The latest violence has put Sudan’s Christians at even more risk. Here’s what you need to know about the turmoil – and how you can partner with the Church in Sudan in prayer.
Over the last few weeks, Sudan has once again plunged into violence. The United Nations has recently estimated that more than 100 000 people have fled the country to get away from the fighting, and an additional 334 000 people have been internally displaced in the country.
The overthrow of long-time dictator Omar al-Bashir in 2019 was a moment of optimism, and Christians were hopeful when the interim government finally got rid of the death penalty for leaving Islam. Sudan seemed to be changing. But then there was a military coup in late 2021. That caused Sudan to rise on the 2023 World Watch List, claiming the #10 spot. And now, the latest conflict between two rival generals has ended the hope that Sudan would slowly become more free for its people, including Christians.
The fighting in Sudan could have severe implications for Christians, not only in the country but elsewhere across the region. We recently talked with Open Doors partner Fikuri*, a research expert in East Africa. In this interview, he explains what’s behind the unrest, what it means for Christians and how you can pray.
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 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 [force] 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 a civilian government looks like. This ended in fighting, with both saying that the other party should surrender.
What impact does this have on civilians?
According to reports, more than 400 civilians have lost their lives. Normal life has been 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’s almost impossible to leave home for treatment. Those who have underlying medical issues are not able to go to the 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 overthrown?
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 is told to go back to their barracks and leave the administration of the 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 will come back alive. It’s difficult because people need to leave home to survive. And our fear is if the current crisis enables Islamic extremists to influence the political life and situation in Sudan, believers will be heading toward another dictatorship that will be against Christianity in the country.
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 are Islam and Shariah (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 has changed. In 2019, Christians were among those calling for reform, and they were told to be patient and that things will change over time. They were willing to be patient, but since then, nothing has materialised.
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 a damaging effect on the daily lives of Christians. If they don’t have the 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, so 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 neighbouring [countries] are fragile with their own struggles. If the situation in Sudan deteriorates badly, it will have implications for Christians around the region as well. Let’s pray for Christians and the future of the Church in Sudan and East Africa.
During 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 taking the Good News to their Muslim neighbours.
I recently met one convert who was excommunicated by her family. Everybody expected her to 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. Let’s lift it up in our prayers – pray 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.
Thank you for continuing to pray with the Church in Sudan. The country needs your prayers now more than ever. Click here to see how you can help believers in a time of turmoil.
*Name changed for security reasons.