Evangelical leaders and human rights groups applauded President Barack Obama Wednesday for naming an envoy for Sudan as the violence-wracked country faces a critical time in its history.
In a statement, President Obama announced that his campaign adviser and close friend, retired Air Force Gen. J. Scott Gration, will serve as the special envoy to Sudan. Gration had lived in Africa as a child when his parents served as missionaries there.
"I believe President Obama is taking the right action by appointing retired Air Force General Scott Gration as Special Envoy to Sudan," said Rev. Franklin Graham, president and CEO of Samaritan's Purse and the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association. "This is a critical time in Sudan and it is important for the United States to do as much as possible to help the millions of people whose lives hang in the balance because of the ongoing crises there.
"My prayers go out to both the President and General Gration that God would grant them wisdom as they navigate the complexities of Africa's largest nation."
Graham, who recently returned from a trip to Sudan where he met with President Omar al-Bashir, had repeatedly called on President Obama to appoint an envoy to Sudan after the International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant for the Sudanese president earlier this month. The arrest led to the government retaliating by expelling several large relief groups from the country.
Relief groups have expressed serious concern that millions of Sudanese lives are now at risk without the aid provided by these agencies.
Samaritan's Purse, which operates several relief projects in Darfur and southern Sudan, was not ordered to leave and is still providing aid in Sudan.
The Rev. Dr. Geoff Tunnicliffe, international director and CEO of the World Evangelical Alliance, also welcomed President Obama's new appointment at "a most critical time" for Sudan.
"With the expelling of international aid agencies by the Khartoum regime, millions of lives are at great risk," wrote Tunnicliffe, who often speaks at Darfur rallies, to The Christian Post via email. "The international community must respond quickly and decisively to this crisis. It is imperative that the new U.S. envoy provide crucial diplomatic leadership at this time."
The World Evangelical Alliance is a member of the Save Darfur Coalition.
Sudan is currently in a precarious situation with its sitting president, along with other high level government officials, being charged with crimes against humanity in Darfur. The ICC has issued several arrest warrants for Sudanese government officials, but Sudan has refused to turn them over to the court.
Instead, just days after the arrest warrant was issued Sudan announced that some of the largest international aid groups, most of them operating in Darfur, must leave the country. The government accused the foreign aid groups of spying and providing the ICC with false information against President al-Bashir and his government.
Then on Tuesday, al-Bashir made what appears to be an unplanned announcement that all foreign aid groups must leave Sudan within a year. Sudanese government officials later in the day tried to downplay al-Bashir's statement, saying that not necessarily all foreign aid would have to leave and U.N. agencies would not be affected.
The Save Darfur Coalition, an alliance of more than 180 faith-based, advocacy and human rights organizations, expressed hope that Gration's experience and close relationship with President Obama "will contribute greatly to his effectiveness."
"Equally important, he must have the mandate and authority to drive U.S. policy on Sudan," said Jerry Fowler, president of the Save Darfur Coalition, in a statement.
It is estimated that about 1.1 million civilians will be without food aid, 1.5 million without health care, and over a million without potable water after the 13 international aid agencies leave Sudan due to government order.
"General Gration will need to hit the ground running and spearhead an urgent and sustained diplomatic push - involving China and key African and Arab countries - to establish unimpeded humanitarian access, hold President Bashir accountable for meeting Sudan's obligation under international law to protect the lives of Sudanese civilians and move toward lasting peace," Fowler said. "Presidential engagement and U.S. leadership are more vital than ever."