The concern, raised by two workers in statements to Baptist Press, follows a report on religious freedom in predominantly Muslim Sudan released July 9 by the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom.
July 9 was the second anniversary of South Sudan's independence from Sudan. USCIRF chair Katrina Lantos Swett expressed fear for South Sudanese living in Sudan, saying they are "stateless" and face severe religious freedom violations.
The security crackdown against aid workers, meanwhile, is "aimed at foreign Christians ... under the pretense of trying to stop proselytization by Christians," reported Franklin Lloyd*, a foreign worker who lived in Sudan for more than a decade, "but many of the people thrown out have nothing to do with that.
"Nothing is formal or legal, there is no formal written announcement that something is going on, there is no open accusation, there are no court cases," Lloyd said. "Everything is either being done by intimidation or by media campaigns that raise pressure to form public opinion."
Lloyd reported that security officials break into the homes of foreigners suspected to be Christians and confiscate their electronics, passports and any form of Christian literature. After the home is raided, the officers take the foreigner into custody for hours, days or, for some, weeks, Lloyd said.
"On paper Christians are still legally respected and there is still freedom of religion, but in actuality, it's not being honored by the system," Lloyd said, noting that the raids are "obviously illegal, and everyone says it is illegal but they are doing it."
Victoria Channing*, a Christian worker who called Sudan her home for many years, made the difficult decision to leave in light of recent developments.
"Leaving Sudan has been one of the most painful processes I have ever experienced. I cried for days before and after leaving," Channing said.
Living under the fear of deportation or arrest, "You wake up every morning thinking today is the day security officers are waiting for you downstairs or at your workplace," Channing reported.
South Sudan gained independence from Sudan on July 9, 2011, becoming Africa's 54th nation.
The world watched as Sudan's president, Omar al-Bashir, began to form a new government without the southern portion of the country. Bashir had seized power in a military coup in 1989 and become Sudan's president in 1993. He has since faced numerous charges from the International Criminal Court, including genocide.
Prior to South Sudan's independence, al-Bashir declared on national television, "If South Sudan secedes, we'll change the constitution. There will be no question of cultural or ethnic diversity ."
Arabic would be the only official language, al-Bashir said, and sharia (Islam's religious law and moral code) "will be the only source of the constitution." Sharia covers a variety of topics including crime, politics and economics and also addresses personal matters such as hygiene, diet, prayer and fasting, drawing from the Quran and examples set by Islam's prophet Muhammad.
The climate of Sudan changed quickly prior to South Sudan's secession. In early 2011, church properties in Sudan were raided, destroyed and set afire. Continuing into 2012, priests and Coptic Christian leaders were arrested under charges of baptizing converts, according to Morning Star News, an independent news agency focusing on persecution.
An article in Religious Liberty Monitoring reported that in Khartoum a campaign was launched to close schools and colleges operated by Christians. The Sudanese media is campaigning to punish "Christianization," and the punishment will be imprisonment for six months, a fine or a flogging of 40 lashes, the article said.
While many foreigners left Sudan out of fear, the church in Sudan has faced mounting persecution, Lloyd said. Many fear the church will see more in the coming days. Security forces watch national Christians closely, and if Muslims convert to Christianity, they are pressured to recant their faith, he said.
Lloyd asks for believers to pray for the Sudanese church because "they are being forced underground and are facing very serious persecution. How they respond to this is going to decide the future of the Sudanese church."
Channing observed, "The government is snuffing out what they think is the light and they are trying to chain the work, to control it and to contain the believers."
But government leaders haven't read Paul's second letter to Timothy, she said, "where it says the word of God cannot be chained, it cannot be held back."
Lloyd's wife Patricia* said the Sudanese should not put their hope in political change. "The better and more realistic hope would be to put their hope and trust in Jesus to change their fellow countrymen from the inside out for eternity."
How to respond:
-- Channing asks for prayer for those who are responsible for persecution in Sudan and for government leaders in Sudan as they undertake the drafting of a new constitution.
-- Pray for believers within Sudan, that they will hold strong during seasons of persecution, continuing to meet together and share the Gospel with others.
USCIRF chair Katrina Lantos Swett, in releasing the commission's July 9 report, called on the U.S. government and its allies to "increase their efforts to help Sudan and South Sudan resolve the status of their nationals residing in the other's territory."
*Names changed for security reasons. Eden Nelson is a writer for the International Mission Board based in the Middle East.
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