(Photo: AP Images / UNMIS, Tim McKulka)
Christians around the world are being urged to join in prayer ahead of the referendum in Southern Sudan on Sunday.
Baptist World Alliance issued a call on Wednesday to its 37 million members, asking them to pray for "a safe and transparent election process with results that are respected by all parties, especially with the possibility of southern secession."
The weeklong referendum marks the culmination of a six-year process that began with the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement, which was signed to end more than two decades of civil war. The war left some 2 million people dead.
Nearly 4 million people are registered to vote beginning Sunday and it is expected that the majority Christian South will secede from the mainly Muslim North.
With the potential threat of Africa's biggest country sliding back into another war, church leaders as well as celebrities around the world are rallying for a peaceful election.
Despite the close scrutiny of the international community, there are concerns over the transparency and fairness of the referendum, and fears that the outcome will not be respected by the North.
Millius Palawiya, director of the Fellowship of Reconciliation England, commented, "From my involvement with the Sierra Leone Peace Process I know how important it is for all parties to a conflict (from bottom to the top) to be reconciled with each other for the good of all and the creation of a ‘beloved community,’ and for the regional and international organs to support and be guarantors to a peaceful resolution of a conflict.”
John Cooper, fundraiser for the fellowship’s international work, also pointed out, "Political transition can test many people’s commitment to peace as previously comfortable power structures change or move."
Hopes for peace in the South were given a boost Wednesday when a ceasefire agreement was reached between renegade General George Athor’s forces and the Southern Sudan government.
The accord signals the end of the general’s rebellion in the South. It was signed at a ceremony in capital city Juba attended by Southern Sudan Vice President Riek Machar; Abraham Thon, a representative of General Athor; David Gressly, the head of the UN in Southern Sudan; and the Most Rev. Daniel Deng, Archbishop of the Episcopal Church of the Sudan.
"This is the end of the troubles in Southern Sudan," said Thon, according to Bloomberg. "We want to tell the world that we are responsible enough to rule ourselves."
Along with a peaceful referendum, Christians are being asked to pray for full religious freedom and for the safe protection of Christian minorities in the North. Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir has warned that if the South separates, he will amend the North's constitution so that sharia (Islamic) law becomes the main source of legislation.
Christian Today Reporter Brian Hutt in London contributed to this report.