Franklin Graham Heads to Sudan for Peace Mission

The president of relief organization Samaritan's Purse began his trip to Sudan on Saturday to visit humanitarian projects and meet with high-level government officials to discuss a faltering peace agreement that affects Sudanese Christians.

Franklin Graham, who is also president and CEO of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association (BGEA), is taking with him leadership teams from both Samaritan's Purse and BGEA with the aim of finding new ways for the organizations to partner and help the people of Sudan.

The North African country has been wracked with violence and insecurity for decades. Most of the media coverage has focused on the Darfur genocide, which has resulted in some 200,000 deaths and the displacement of more than 2.5 million people since 2003.

But Sudan has also been torn by another conflict – a civil war that has lasted over two decades – the longest in Africa. The fighting is between the mainly Muslim north and the majority Christian and animist south and has left some 1.5 million Sudanese killed and more than 4 million displaced.

Although the civil war officially ended in 2005 with the Comprehensive Peace Agreement, there have been worrying signs that the pact is unraveling. As part of the agreement, Sudan is split between a northern state ruled by Islamic law and a southern, semiautonomous secular state.

For years, Graham has been actively engaged through Samaritan's Purse with the rebuilding of the South and assisting Sudanese Christians. Graham has vowed to rebuild the estimated 500 churches that were destroyed during the civil war. Nearly 250 churches have been completed thus far and another 22 are currently under construction.

Last month, the president of South Sudan, Salva Kiir Mayardit, visited the relief organization's headquarters in Boone, N.C., to thank them for their assistance in rebuilding and for helping to strengthen the faith of believers in the war-torn area.

"We will never forget about you," said Kiir, who is also vice president of Sudan, according to the organization. "We would like you also to keep remembering us, that you have friends in Sudan. And we will be with you in prayers all the time."

In addition to rebuilding efforts in the South, Graham has also met with the North Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir on several occasions to speak on behalf of Sudanese Christians in the South as well as on the situation in Darfur.

Next week, al-Bashir is expected to face an arrest warrant for alleged war crime in Darfur by the International Criminal Court.

Meanwhile, Graham plans to again meet with top government officials in Sudan to press for peace. The prominent American evangelist and a team of leaders will travel to Juba to meet with Kiir. The team will also meet with U.S. embassy officials and pastors in the northern capital of Khartoum and travel to an IDP (Internally Displaced People) camp in Darfur.

"This is a critical time for Sudan. In recent months, GOS (Government of Sudan) attacks in Darfur have involved civilians," Graham said, in a released statement. "I urge President Obama not to let the economic crisis distract him from working with Sudan to achieve full implementation of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement. Setbacks now could have long-term consequences."

Graham will also visit several Samaritan's Purse relief projects in southern Sudan.

Samaritan's Purse has worked in Sudan since 1993, helping hundreds of thousands of people survive regional conflicts, while advocating for peace and religious freedom in the troubled country. Some of the projects the relief group supports in Sudan include four hospitals, schools and agricultural programs and food distribution projects to displaced people in Darfur.