Sudan (MNN) — Pastors could be
arrested for preaching in their own pulpits, if the government of North Sudan
has its way.
According to a report from Compass
Direct News, Sudan's Ministry of Guidance and Religious Endowments wants all
churches in the north to provide their
names and contact information.
Todd Nettleton, a spokesman for
Voice of the Martyrs USA, says there's good reason for church leaders to be
concerned about the edict. The precedent
has been set by many governments, most notably: China. "They're saying that all the church leaders
need to register with the government; obviously, the next step after that is:
'Now we need to know all the members of your church.'"
The letter reveals government intent
eventually to control every aspect of Christian work in the North, or more likely:
drive it away. "It's one thing if you're out evangelizing on the street,
if you're leading Muslims to Christ. But to tell a pastor: 'Even in your own
church, you're not allowed to stand up and preach' — that says that religious
freedom is really on the way out in Sudan."
On January 3, Sudan's President Omar
Al-Bashir warned that the country's constitution will be more firmly entrenched
in Sharia–a veiled threat at oppressing Christians amid growing hostilities
toward Christianity. "The Compass
report talks about 350,000 people who have left Northern Sudan and have moved to
the South. Most of those people were Christians. They knew that once these two
countries split, the North would be an Islamic nation. They are going to make
decisions based on what's best for Islam."
This follows the secession of largely
non-Islamic south Sudan last July, which means those who remained in the North
could be facing violence, pressure, and baseless accusations of defaming Islam. Nettleton
explains, "The North identifies Christians as being loyal to the South, as
being loyal to the West. They're seen, really, almost as 'enemies of the state'
by the northern government and by some of the Islamic militias there."
Evangelism is already forbidden, but
apostasy could bring a more dangerous dynamic to the Church's doorstep. "Sudanese law prohibits missionaries
from evangelizing, and converting from Islam to another religion is punishable
by imprisonment or death in Sudan, though previously such laws were not
peace South Sudan hoped for since the July 9 secession has yet to
materialize. Pressure on churches and
Christians have increased, with Muslim groups threatening to destroy churches,
kill Christians, and purge the country of Christianity.
Nettleton says the changes will create
challenges for ministries. "For mission workers or other outsiders to go
into Northern Sudan is going to become extremely difficult. One of the ways
that we can pray is that the church who is there already will be courageous and
will not be intimidated by these things."
pray that the Lord will strengthen His Church in Sudan. May He protect believers
from harm and grow the Church in faithfulness and in number. Ask Him to give
them the grace to overcome loss and fear. Pray that they will
have the desire to meet with one another for mutual encouragement and to act as
witnesses for the Gospel.