3 Christian Relief Staff Abducted by Gunmen in Sudan

Three workers for a Christian relief organization were abducted in Sudan Tuesday evening, the group reported.

The Samaritan's Purse team of two Sudanese men and a 36-year-old American woman from California was stopped by a group of armed men 25 miles southwest of Nyala, the capital of South Darfur state. Samaritan's Purse is working with the U.S. and Sudanese government to secure the safe return of its workers.

"I have visited Darfur several times and it is one of the most difficult places in the world to work," said Franklin Graham, president and CEO of Samaritan's Purse, in a statement. "I'm asking for the prayers from people around the world for a quick resolution and the safe return of our Samaritan's Purse staff."

Since 2001, Samaritan's Purse has provided $83.7 million in relief assistance to Sudan. Service and development work provided include: medical relief, clean water projects, food distributions, agricultural projects and the rebuilding of hundreds of churches destroyed in Sudan's civil war.

Graham has vowed to rebuild the estimated 500 churches destroyed during the more than 21-year civil war – the longest lasting and deadliest wars of the late 20th century. About 2 million civilians were killed in Southern Sudan and more than 4 million people displaced because of the violence.

A U.N. spokesman in Khartoum told Reuters that the armed gunmen on Tuesday stopped the two-car convoy and took the vehicles and three relief workers with them. The other three Samaritan's Purse workers were left behind.

Tuesday's abduction follows a similar incident last month involving four South Africans from the U.N.-African Union peacekeeping mission in Nyala. The Sudanese government, however, was able to reach a deal with the captors and secured their release.

Darfur is the recipient of the world's largest ongoing humanitarian effort.

Since 2003, more than 2.5 million people have been displaced and some 200,000 people killed because of the violence instigated by Arab militants known as janjaweed. The Khartoum government is widely accused by both Darfurians and the international community to unleash the pro-government janjaweed on Darfurians after rebels from the ethnic African tribes in the region rose up against the central government.

Over the past several years, other aid convoys have also been ambushed in the Darfur region, including the Christian agency World Vision International.