KHARTOUM, Sudan (BP)–Franklin Graham met with Sudanese President Umar Al-Bashir at the presidential palace in Khartoum Dec. 8 to discuss religious freedom and the implementation of peace in a nation brutalized by civil war for two decades.
“When peace and freedom come to Sudan, I will be your friend and will urge my country and churches in my country to do all they can to help your country,” Graham told Al-Bashir, acknowledging his past criticism of the Khartoum government and lack of religious freedom in Sudan. “Many Americans are hoping that under your leadership, Sudanese Christians will be able to build and rebuild churches, and that Christians will be able to worship and travel freely.”
A civil war of mostly religious nature has plagued the largest country in Africa for nearly two decades. The ruling Islamic regime has waged what has been widely described as a genocidal campaign against Christians, animists and moderate Muslims in the southern and central regions of the country.
The effort supported by the Khartoum government has included slave raids and the bombardment of hospitals, churches, schools and relief stations. It also has involved rape of women and children as well as the forcible conversion to Islam of children and starvation for Sudanese who refuse to convert.
Since 1983, about 2 million people have died in Sudan’s civil war, according to the Associated Press.
Graham has visited Sudan three times this year and made his first trip to Khartoum at the invitation of Al-Bashir. The two discussed peace talks between the Khartoum government and the Southern People’s Liberation Movement, according to a news release from Samaritan’s Purse Dec. 8.
“Many people will not believe you are actually here today,” Al-Bashir said in welcoming Graham, apparently referring to the evangelist’s criticism of the government. “I want freedom of religion because I would like to convert you. We will try to make you a Muslim.”
After the president’s remarks drew laughter, Graham responded by saying a return visit would be desired if the peace agreement is signed and implemented.
“I would like to come back to Khartoum and preach because I would like to convert you,” Graham said, according to the news release.
Al-Bashir attempted to convince Graham that he is in favor of religious freedom for Christians.
“The problems of religious freedom have been tied to the war,” he said. “As soon as the war is over, the pressure against Christians will be over. We have to be sure that the freedom of religion of Christians is not less than the freedom of Islam.
“We will take the responsibility to rebuild the churches in this country,” Al-Bashir continued. “We want every person to have religious freedom, no matter what religion. We welcome you who have come through the back door for years to come through the front door now.”
During the 35-minute meeting, Graham expressed hope that Christians and Muslims would indeed live together calmly in Sudan in the near future.
“I hope as peace comes to your nation that equality will come and that Christians will be able to worship as Muslims can,” Graham said. “Muslims and Christians can live together peaceably, and I believe that pleases God.”
In addition to meeting with Al-Bashir during his three-day trip, Graham met with the country’s vice president and a minister of foreign affairs as well as with the Sudan Council of Churches and the Sudan Inter-Religious Council. He also met with a Southern People’s Liberation Movement delegation. In each setting, Graham promoted the peace process and commended the participants for current progress. He also asked how churches in America could help sustain peace once it is achieved in the country, according to the news release.
The president also gave Graham permission to distribute 60,000 Christmas gift boxes to the children of Sudan and to speak for 30 minutes on national television on the subject of peace. Graham helped unload the shoeboxes from a cargo plane Dec. 9 after they were assembled and shipped from volunteers in America as part of Operation Christmas Child. The project sponsored by Samaritan’s Purse has collected about 7 million shoeboxes and will distribute them in 95 countries this holiday season.
Samaritan’s Purse, the international Christian relief organization led by Franklin Graham, has been working in Sudan since 1997, providing medical, food, educational and housing assistance.
The Charlotte News Observer in North Carolina featured a Sudanese refugee living in Charlotte who was participating in Operation Christmas Child. He said he received a shoebox in 1999, when he was an 18-year-old orphan living in a Kenyan refugee camp, and it made a tremendous difference in his life by showing that people in America can share love with children across the world who have nothing.
(BP) photo posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo title: SHOWING CHRIST’S LOVE.