How do you close down a church? If you’re the Sudanese government sometimes you send the heavy mob in: police-backed armed mobs to occupy church property, bulldozers to tear down the church on spurious legal grounds.
But for the past two years, the Ministry of Religious Affairs in Sudan has also been trying a different approach: finding ways to remove the leadership of a church and to hand its property over to a rival, government-controlled group.
Take the case of the Sudan Church of Christ (SCOC).
In September last year, several SCOC leaders were summoned by the police and told to hand over all the church property to a new, government-approved committee. When the men refused, police told them to expect charges.
Sure enough, a month later the charges came: police detained five SCOC leaders (SCOC president Pastor Ayoub Telian , Pastor Ali Abdelrahaman, Mabortor Hamad, Haibil Abraham and elder Abdo). Again, they were ordered to hand over the church to the state-sanctioned rival committee. Again they refused.
A week later they were arrested on an entirely trumped up charge: noise pollution.
Apparently they had been praying too loudly.
We will not ‘pray according to state decisions’
Several court cases followed. At the end of November the case was transferred to the attorney general. In February it was adjourned until March. At that point the case was postponed because no prosecutor was present!
According to the pastors’ lawyer, the court had said the case would be dropped ‘on condition that the five accused priests should not re-commit the “general disturbance”’. But Pastor Ayouba rejected what he saw as an order ‘to pray under pressure, and according to state decisions’.
“There is no law in the world that forces prayers to be prayed according to a government’s point of view,” he said.
This week, we have found out that the SCOC leaders are to appear in court again. Whether on the charge of noise pollution or another similarly invented charge we don’t know.
But please pray for peace to rule over the hearts of these faithful men of God. Pray for courage and patience to bear with the endless delays and frustrations and the constant, relentless pressure applied by government, courts and police.
As one Open Doors contact has said, “The Sudan Church of Christ has been brave in speaking out against persecution, and we pray that they see fruit of their work.”
’Discreet and systematic acts of persecution’
Sudan is fourth on the 2018 Open Doors World Watch List of the 50 countries where Christians face the most persecution. A recent report from the US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) highlighted that ‘that there is no religious freedom’ in Sudan and that the Sudanese government is guilty of ‘discreet and systematic acts of persecution’.
For Sudanese Christians this means a constant struggle to get permission to build churches or even to prove that they own the churches which have already been built. It means seeing your property seized and demolished, the land sold off to investors. It means being arrested and detained, often without charge. And even for those brave pastors who successfully challenge these actions in the courts, pastors told USCIRF that ‘even when they have success in civil court cases, there is no change, and the decisions are ignored’.
Your support is changing lives
Through partnerships with the local church, Open Doors equips church leaders in Sudan for different aspects of ministry, supports community development, and provides practical assistance to persecuted Christians. This includes literature distribution projects, theological and discipleship training and trauma care training, training to help believers to stand firm through persecution, and community development projects.
Watch this short video to see the incredible impact of your support and prayers for our church family in Sudan:
£20 can provide food aid to a hungry family in Africa for two weeks, to help them survive.