Pray for the Peace of Sudan
The historic conflict derives in part from the fact that the North is predominantly Islamic, and the South, predominantly Christian and animist. With the growing pressure in the North to introduce Shari'ah law, southerners say that part of the reason for secession is to protect their human rights and their religious freedom.
It's about development. It's about protecting human rights. They say that after 50 years of conflict, this is probably the best solution for resolving it. If the parties haven't been able to resolve it in the last 50 years, what are they going to do in another 50 years? But there are lots of challenges around secession. For example, there are massive oil reserves in the South with a pipeline that goes only to the North. Who would control that if they were to vote for secession?
We frequently hear that the North is mainly Muslim, but there are Christians in the north of Sudan too. What is their status?
That is to be determined. Our concern for northerners who are Christian—whatever the outcome of the referendum—is that their human rights and religious liberty would not be limited, that they would be protected, and that they would be able to live out their faith with freedom of expression.
We've heard talk that the southerners who were displaced to the North would love to migrate back to their homes in the South. What are the obstacles to that?
One obstacle is purely economic. How do they afford to move back? In addition, they've been told that when they leave the North, they will have to give up their homes and all of their possessions—everything. So they would be coming back to the South as refugees. The South is the least developed part of the country, having very minimal infrastructure, including healthcare, education, or other social services.
If people migrate by the hundreds of thousands to a place that already has very little development, the additional pressure on the infrastructure there is pretty significant. So they may go to other surrounding countries as well—Uganda, Ethiopia, Egypt. There is potential for destabilizing the entire region. If, after the election, there were 1.5 million people on the move, would there be a safety zone, a corridor through which they could actually leave? Where will they leave to? It will impact whatever country they go to. Even if the referendum is free, fair, and nonviolent, the movement of people will be massive, and the potential for destabilization in the whole region is pretty significant.
Is resettling that one-and-a-half million people an effort in which Christians from North America and other parts of the developed world can help through NGOs?
Absolutely. No matter what the outcomes of the referendum, it's really important for the global Christian community to step up and be involved in caring for refugees and building the infrastructure of southern Sudan. There's a genuine opportunity for the church to make a difference in the lives of people.
What are some of the main Christian agencies that are active in that region that North Americans might want to help?
World Vision, World Relief, Samaritan's Purse. There are scores of organizations, including some denominational structures involved. And it's not just organizations working in Sudan. Remember the surrounding countries like Uganda or Ethiopia. Groups like Compassion are not working in Sudan, but they're working in the surrounding countries that will be impacted as refugees flow across those borders.