Sudan (MNN) — Two Christian pastors from South Sudan have found out that a visit north to Sudan can be both time consuming and deadly.
Todd Nettleton, a spokesman for the Voice of the Martyrs USA, says one of the men was doing what pastors do: preaching the Bible. He was invited to speak at a church in Sudan and was arrested. Then, “about a week later, the other pastor went to inquire at the National Intelligence Service: ‘What’s going on with this guy who was arrested? What’s happening with his case?’ He, too, was arrested.”
Yat Michael Ruot and Peter Yein Reith have been in custody since the beginning of the year. Why is this story making headlines now? Nettleton explains, “Their trial is ongoing; they had a hearing yesterday in Khartoum. If they are convicted on all these charges, they could face the death penalty.”
The trial actually opened on May 31, after a two-week delay. The charges? “Now remember, this is a man who stood up and spoke in a church, but charges against them are ‘waging war against the State’ and ‘spying.'” Nettleton confirms that the pair also was charged with “inciting organized groups” and “offending Islamic beliefs.” How the Sudanese government arrived at these charges is still a mystery. Nettleton says, “They basically have been charged with Intelligence crimes, and there really doesn’t seem to be any background for that or any reason for that.”
Citing a story from Fox News, Nettleton adds, “There is a report out that the National Intelligence Service offered to release them if the payment of a very large bail was made, so there is some suggestion that perhaps this is just simply a shakedown.” However, the real lesson in this story comes from an earlier account about a Christian woman being held in Sudan’s prisons, facing death for apostasy. “What we learned from the case of Meriam Ibrahim is that the Sudanese government, even though it is a radical Islamic government, they are a government that is concerned about public perception.”
Nettleton says international hue and cry united the followers of Christ in Ibrahim’s case. The same needs to happen for Ruot and Reith. “We need to be in prayer for these two pastors, but we need to also be speaking out about their case, raising awareness and putting pressure on the Sudanese government to let these pastors go free.” More specifically, “Pray for them [Ruot and Reith], that they’ll know the presence of Christ even as they go through this trial and go through this imprisonment. Pray for a just verdict, that they will be set free.”
It’s not just their plight VOM USA is concerned about. The ministry has longstanding connections with the local Church. Nettleton says they just had a team return from an aid mission in Sudan’s Nuba Mountains. While there, Sudan shelled some of the refugee camps where they were working. “They really are under a lot of pressure. The government has made no bones about the fact that they will oppress the Church; they will persecute Christians. So let’s pray for our Christian brothers and sisters there to stand strong, even in the midst of that persecution.” [Click here to watch an incredible story of how God intervened on behalf of Gospel workers in Sudan.]
Sudan ranked #6 on the Open Doors 2015 World Watch List of 50 countries where Christians face the most persecution, moving up from the #11 spot in 2014.