This article was first published at Christianity Today, on December 28, 2019.
“Hallelujah! Today, we are happy that the Sudanese government has opened up the streets for us so we can express our faith,” said Izdhar Ibrahim, one of the marchers. Some Christians had been frightened before “because we used to encounter difficulties.”
The changes started in 2011, after South Sudan gained independence from Sudan following a long war and a referendum. South Sudan is mostly Christian and animist, a belief that all objects have a spirit. Al-Bashir’s government then escalated its pressure on the remaining Christians, human-rights campaigners and Christians say.
Al-Bashir, who came to power in an Islamist-backed military coup in 1989, failed to keep the peace in the religiously and ethnically diverse country.
Noah Manzul, one of the church elders, said the march was treated almost as if it were a “crime.”
Its return is “an expression of religious freedom,” Manzul said. “We can live our lives with ease.”
Manzul’s social work with homeless children and orphans got him into trouble under al-Bashir, when he was accused of trying to convert the children to Christianity, an allegation he denies. Activities like singing hymns in the teeming market outside the church were stopped, he said.
To be sure, some Christians said they were not impacted negatively by al-Bashir’s government, and officials at the time disputed that the government targeted Christians.
But Suliman Baldo, senior adviser at the Enough Project, which supports peace and an end to atrocities in Africa’s conflict zones, said the ultimate goal under al-Bashir was “to limit the influence of the church.” Under his rule, Christian church properties could be seized, Baldo said, adding some churches were demolished, and some preachers were arrested.
During past holiday seasons, many recalled, posters would appear on the streets warning against celebrating with the kofar, or infidels, a reference to Christians.
Now, the constitutional declaration that guides this transitional period no longer refers to Islam as the primary source of legislation in Sudan. A Christian woman was appointed to the nation’s interim ruling Sovereign Council.
And December 25 was declared…
Please click here to read the full article at Christianity Today, to which I contributed additional reporting.