- (Photo: Reuters/Hereward Holland)
As reports coming from Sudan paint an increasingly gruesome picture of the Khartoum government allegedly planning to wipe out the country's ethnic populations and non-Muslims in the southern region of the Nuba Mountains, local Christian missions are playing an important role, as even the United Nations has no access to the country's embattled southern regions.
Experts have been warning that Sudan's Islamist government might be planning a genocide comparable to the one conducted in the country's western region of Darfur between 2003 and 2004, when the Arab government targeted black tribes. It is estimated that 300,000 people died at the time. The government is reported to be conducting systematical killings of the people (including allegedly using air bombings) of the Nuba Mountains, a region in the south of the country that is approximately 30 percent Christian. Targeted are also the inhabitants of another southern region called the Blue Nile.
The south of overwhelmingly Muslim Sudan used to be traditionally Christian and ethnically tribal African, as opposed to the mostly Arab north. Most of the south seceded in 2011 and formed South Sudan. But many Christians and African tribes, which are being targeted, still remain north of the border, where they reportedly face a constant threat.
While the Islamist government forces were ravaging the south, including burning churches and killing pastors, foreign missionaries started entering the region. One of them was Samaritan's Purse, one of the most prominent missionary ministries in the world, administered by the Rev. Franklin Graham, his daughter, Cissie Graham Lynch told The Christian Post recently.
This mission, related to Billy Graham's Evangelistic Association (BGEA), opened a Bible school in the Nuba Mountains region in South Kordofan State in 2007, after many local pastors were killed, with the purpose of educating a new generation of Christian leaders.
"They built Bible college there because during the war the northern part of Sudan came down and burnt hundreds of churches," Graham Lynch told CP. She and her father attended the first graduation of the students there. "Samaritan's Purse built many of the churches back, but realized that many of the pastors were killed, so they built a Bible college there to be able to train pastors."
The Bible school was bombed on Feb. 1 this year by the Sudanese air force, the ministry claims. The mission also has a camp in South Sudan, which has been experiencing occasional bombings from the north through the past year. A Samaritan's Purse refugee camp there was bombed in November.
Many people of the Nuba Mountains region have been fleeing Sudan to South Sudan, and Samaritan's Purse has been the first foreign organization to establish camps able to accommodate the refugees, a source told CP recently.
"It's horrific what these Christians in southern Sudan went through," Graham Lynch told CP.
"We need to be praying for these people because this is a serious issue that cannot be ignored," she added.
Samaritan's Purse offices are in a constant state of prayer for the missionaries who risk their lives on the ground in Sudan and South Sudan, as well as other missions, Graham Lynch said. Those people are there "by God's will," she added.
"That is the major part of our ministry – praying for our staff members. Praying for the situation and praying for the people of Sudan," she said.
Another U.S.-based Christian mission with a prominent presence in Sudan is Persecution Projects Foundation. With missions in several locations across the country, Persecution Projects Foundation has been bringing relief, the Gospel and advocacy services to the persecuted people, its president told CP recently.
The presence of foreign missionaries seems particularly important given that the Khartoum government is reportedly not allowing official relief organizations, including the United Nations, into the region. The U.N., the U.S. and other world bodies and groups have condemned the attacks that are taking place against civilians.
"I recently returned from several days in South Sudan – specifically Yida refugee camp, where I encountered bone-chilling stories of the nightmare unfolding in the Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile states just north of the border in Sudan," Rep. Frank R. Wolf (R –Va.) who visited a refugee camp in southern Sudan (featuring 25,000 people at the time) wrote in a blog last week. "In speaking with the refugees in the camp, I heard echoes of Darfur – accounts of ethnic cleansing, mass murder and rape of innocent civilians in the region."
Wolf recounted stories the local Nuba people told him, including those of rape and murder, as well as soldiers saying: "We don't want anyone who says they are a Christian in this village."
A former top U.N. humanitarian official in Sudan, Mukesh Kapila, warned last week that Khartoum's military is carrying out crimes against humanity in the region that remind him of Darfur. Kapila reportedly recalled seeing military planes striking villagers, the destruction of food stocks and "literally a scorched-earth policy," upon his recent visit.
"Darfur was the first genocide of the 21st century," he told The Associated Press. "And the second genocide of the 21st century may very well be taking place now, in the Nuba Mountains."
The former U.N. official also said the Nuba Mountains region is facing an oncoming hunger crisis because the region's residents were not working the fields for fear of airstrikes.
Recently U.N. has called upon the governments of Sudan and South Sudan to pick up non-violent efforts to settle the status of an oil-rich border region called Abyei, which is a subject of dispute between the two countries, on the economic and political fronts.
But the Nuba Mountains violence seems to be inspired chiefly by ethnic and religious differences.
Sudan is ethnically 70 percent Arab, with the rest of the population being indigenous African peoples like the Fur, Zaghawa, Massalit, Beja, Nuba, and Dinka Ngok. The country had been in the state of civil war for the past two decades largely on ethnic and religious grounds, until 2005, when the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) was signed, overseen by the United States. In July 2011, the southern, mostly Christian territory seceded, establishing South Sudan. That summer, the government of Sudan, which is a country that is 70 percent Muslim, broke the peace agreement and began targeting the ethnic Nuba people in the south, as well as Christians and any apostates from Islam, according to reports. The Nuba population numbers about 500,000, of which about 30 percent are Christians of various denominations.
In 2008, the prosecution of the International Criminal Court (ICC) filed 10 charges of war crimes against Sudan's incumbent President Omar al-Bashir, three counts of genocide, five of crimes against humanity and two of murder. Al-Bashir was accused of masterminding and implementing "a plan to destroy in substantial part" three tribal groups in Darfur because of their ethnicity. Warrants for the arrest were issued by in 2009 and 2010. Nevertheless, al-Bashir remains the current president of Sudan.