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Sudan believers endure ‘because God wills it’

KHARTOUM, Sudan (BP)–“Mohammed Abdoul-Rohman” sits on a stool in his one-room shack on the edge of Khartoum, capital of Sudan, watching two of his daughters play outside.
A small rat, which has found a home under his desk, sits nibbling on a crumb. It’s a good sign. Rats can’t eat crumbs if there’s no food.
Mohammed’s wife left him shortly after one of their infant twin sons died. Left alone with six children, Mohammed could no longer hold down a job and take care of his children, so he chose the latter.
They all live with him in the shack. Dirt covers the floor where the children play. The ceiling offers little protection from the elements. At $6 a month, the shack is vastly overpriced.
Growing up as a Beja — a Muslim people group living in Sudan, Eritrea and Egypt — Mohammed was given few spiritual tools to deal with his current struggle. No vocabulary exists in the Muslim worldview to express heartfelt pain. “Insha ‘allah,” says Mohammed as he raises his head, revealing sullen eyes.
The phrase means “as God wills.”
It seems as if the only God he’s ever known has sold Mohammed out. According to his Muslim beliefs, not only does God provide no help for his current problems, but it’s God’s will that he suffers.
In Sudan, eight Muslim people groups have more than 1 million people each. The largest, Sudanese Arabs, make up about 60 percent of the population. Sixteen million of them live in Sudan and Egypt. They control the political and economic landscape of the North African nation.
Regardless of which people group they identify with, some 70 percent of all Sudanese are Muslims.
Among Muslims in Sudan, choosing a religion is like going to the closet and pulling out your father’s old checkered jacket to wear — not because you like the style or fit, but because it’s the only one hanging in the closet.
“I’m a Muslim because my family is Muslim,” says “Ahmed Hafaz,” a 30-year-old Arab in Sudan. He faithfully prays five times a day, like many of the nearly 1 billion Muslims worldwide.
Muslim domination of the area now called Sudan began in the 14th century, when the Egyptian Mamelukes invaded the area. In 1822, the Ottoman Empire took over Nubia and renamed it Egyptian Sudan. After Sudan gained independence from Egypt in 1956, a war began between Muslims in the north and animists and Christians in the south. Although cooling for short periods, it has raged for the last 40 years.
In 1989, after years of political unrest, a military coup toppled the first democratically elected government in the country’s history. In less than two years, the government imposed Shari’ah — strict Islamic law. Once Shari’ah was declared, the government confiscated all drinking alcohol and threw it into the Nile. Few places in North Africa are as safe (for Muslims, at least) as Sudan, where Islamic law keeps crime rates low.
But Islamic law has a darker side. A secret security force, run by the government, monitors Sudanese suspected of breaking Islamic law and foreigners who might disrupt the government’s control. Recently an American perusing one of the markets in the town of Omdurman encountered a security officer who discretely displayed his gun — just a reminder of who’s in control.
The law also delivers severe punishments for disobedience. According to Islamic law, any Muslim who converts to Christianity can be given the death penalty. Any Sudanese Christian who tries to share the gospel with a Muslim can expect harassment, persecution and possibly a long jail sentence if caught.
That — and the brutal treatment of non-Muslim peoples in the south — explains why the West often perceives Sudan as a nation of religious fundamentalists and terrorists dedicated to enforcing their creed by any means necessary. For a long time missionaries were sent only to the south, an easier field compared to the Muslim-dominated north.
But many in the north are trapped by a fundamentalist agenda they disagree with. Like many Arabs throughout North Africa and the Middle East, the Sudanese Muslims are among the most hospitable people in the world. They’re quick to invite foreigners — of whatever nationality — into their homes for a cup of tea or coffee. The only similarity the vast majority of Sudanese share with terrorists who make headlines is a deep need for the gospel.
Theologically, every Muslim who becomes a Christian must confront four issues: the divinity of Jesus, the Trinity, the crucifixion and resurrection, and the Bible as the Word of God. Missionaries and believers in many Muslim nations, like Sudan, struggle with how to present these truths in areas that often are hostile.
But that didn’t prevent “Samir Muaz” from hearing the gospel. When Christians couldn’t reach him, God intervened and reached into Samir’s life in a way only he could: through dreams, an increasing phenomenon in the Muslim world.
One night Jesus appeared to Samir in a dream and asked, “Why did I have to rise from the dead?” In a second dream, Jesus said, “I am the Lord.” In a third he said, “I am the crucified Lord.” Next he showed Samir the Bible and said, “This is the Word of God.” Last, he showed him a pit of fire surrounded by wailing people and told him: “If you do not believe, this will be your destiny.”
In five dreams, God had personally dealt with three of the four theological issues Muslims confront. A frightened Samir finally went into a Christian church in Sudan. But the pastor, fearing government reprisal, was reluctant to tell him how to become a Christian.
“Then I went and bought a Bible,” Samir says. “The same one I saw in my dream. I read it in three or four months. There was a lot I didn’t understand, but God explained it to me.”
The theological barriers to the gospel may be the easiest to overcome for Muslims who decide to follow Christ, however. Pressures from governments and families often present the toughest roadblocks.
“Hassan Abdoul-Karim” knows all too well that the government watches him. Several years ago he was imprisoned for holding church services in his home.
“They hit us, sometimes they didn’t feed us — many things,” Hassan says. “But we felt Christ was with us. We even shared the gospel with others inside.”
Hassan lives daily with the knowledge that the authorities would rather see him dead than preaching Christ. When he was released from prison, he was warned that if he told others about Jesus, he would be killed. But he’s since told many of his Muslim neighbors about the hope he’s found.
Hassan and Samir share a dream for Sudan: They want to plant 50 churches in the next five years, the beginnings of a church-planting movement. They know they might pay in blood for it, but they believe God will plant those churches and many more. Why?
Insha ‘allah. Because God wills it.
Editors’ note: The byline and names in this article have been changed to protect individuals. A related story is available www.imb.org/TheCommission. (BP) photos (six horizontals) to be posted in BP Photos section of the Baptist Press photo area of www.sbc.net. File name: sudan1-6.jpg. See related photos at http://www.imb.org/Media/PhotoDownloads/default.htm

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  • Eileen Carroll