On 9 July 2011, the world’s newest country – South Sudan – was born. But as the anniversary of independence approaches, it may not be a happy birthday. For thousands of Christians in the region, the storm clouds are gathering…
The effects of South Sudan’s secession are being seen on the streets of Sudan in the north. On 22 June 2012, Sudanese security forces clashed with anti-government protesters in the most widespread demonstrations to have broken out in Khartoum. The protests started after the government announced severe measures that would significantly raise the cost of living.
As a result of South Sudan’s secession on 9 July 2011, the Sudan government is now in an economic crisis. In January, South Sudan shut down the production of oil, causing Sudan’s loss of all the fees for exporting crude oil from South Sudan through their pipelines to Port Sudan in the North. To stop the widening budget deficit of about $2.4 billion, the Bashir government decided to scale back fuel subsidies. These measures have enflamed the cash strapped population and they have taken to the streets in protest.
Another effect of the secession is that churches are being demolished in Sudan. On Monday 18 June, the parish church of St John, Haj Yousif, in the Diocese of Khartoum, was demolished at around 11:00 am, without any pre-warning by the government’s local authority, the Ministry of Planning and Housing. The church building was bulldozed while Christians looked on helplessly. The Catholic church in the same area was also demolished.
According to an Open Doors source, the churches were demolished because Southerners attended the services in these churches and having left for the South it was thought that these churches were no longer needed. However, the church does not belong to the South Sudanese. It is an Episcopal church of Sudan, whose Bishop is Sudanese. The Rt Rev. Ezekiel Kondo, Bishop of Khartoum, said:
“I do strongly protest against the government’s local authority… and ask for due compensation of all the destroyed items of the church. I also ask the government of Sudan to allot a plot of land for this church so as to let the Christians of this area carry [on] their worship.”
What it’s like for Christians in Sudan
If you live in Sudan, in the north, you are very much in the minority. The population here is predominantly Arab Muslim and the country is number 16 on the World Watch List. The church is hanging on by its fingertips. With the enforced exodus of South Sudanese, churches are getting smaller. Church leaders are experiencing persecution – which they know is only going to get worse. And, in the Nuba region – the most Christian area of Sudan – churches and Christian communities have suffered attacks. Despite these conditions, there are reasons for hope and Open Doors is working on the ground to help Sudanese Christians stand strong.