Hunter Williamson

Ghinwa Akiki

How two Sudanese Christians are living and spreading the Gospel amid a war largely forgotten by the world.

Editor’s Note: This article is the latest part in Thimar’s series highlighting God’s work amid conflict and war in the Middle East. Click the hyperlinks to see our previous articles on Lebanon, Syria, and Iraq. Some of the images featured in this article were generated by artificial intelligence. They are not intended to depict accurate portrayals of events highlighted in this story.

The phone line crackled, and the sound of traffic and shouting nearly drowned out Ibrahim’s* voice as he called from the Sudanese capital Khartoum.

Internet access was limited in the city, a ripple effect of a largely forgotten civil war in Sudan that has left at least 15,000 people dead, millions displaced, and the country on the brink of a famine that could kill half a million people or more. Ibrahim only had an hour to talk. Serving in a local church and youth ministry, he has been hard at work since the war began in April 2023. Many of Khartoum’s residents fled the city, but Ibrahim has chosen to stay, feeling called by God to spread the Gospel in a city and a country devastated by war. As one may imagine, it’s not easy. Conditions in Khartoum are dire.

More than a year of fighting has left the city’s health system on the verge of collapse and the economy in ruins, Ibrahim said. Hospitals are dysfunctional and specialist doctors have fled, leaving first aid workers to run emergency services. The costs of medicines have soared, and those available are sold in open-air markets under the scorch of the sun, making them unsafe for consumption. 

People also lack jobs and money. “Before the war, most families here relied on daily incomes, not stable monthly ones,” Ibrahim said. “When the war started, most people lost their jobs and hope.” A lack of jobs and money makes food unaffordable, accelerating the slide towards famine. Aid restrictions exacerbate the situation. The official Sudanese military, the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF), restricts and blocks aid from entering areas controlled by its rival, the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF). “In Khartoum, which is controlled by the RSF, no aid is allowed inside, including basic needs and food like flour, sugar, or bread,” Ibrahim said. The only way Ibrahim receives money is through a mobile banking application. Believers from other churches send him funds, which he uses to buy essential items for people.

Sudan Map, Thimar - LSESD

Witnesses of Christ in War

Throughout the war, Ibrahim has relied on his faith in God in performing his ministry duties. That faith has helped him show love to people affected by conflict. At other times, it has given him courage and peace.

In December, Ibrahim left Sudan for the first time since the start of the war to attend a basic relief training course in Ethiopia organized by Middle East Revive and Thrive (MERATH), a ministry of Thimar focused on aid and development, and the Canadian Baptist Ministries. The training marked the latest chapter in Ibrahim’s journey with Thimar, which started in 2017 when he enrolled at Arab Baptist Theological School (ABTS), a ministry of Thimar that trains and equips Christian leaders in the Middle East. Inside a hotel conference room equipped with projectors and work papers spread across white-clothed tables, Ibrahim and roughly a dozen other pastors trained to respond to humanitarian situations and assess community needs. “We learned how to provide support based on need, not religious affiliation, recognizing everyone as created in God’s image,” Ibrahim said.

On his way back from Ethiopia, Ibrahim took public transportation to Khartoum. On the final leg of his journey, he got into a taxi with other passengers, all of them women. As the car made its way towards Ibrahim’s home, RSF fighters stopped the vehicle and ordered him to get out. The fighters took Ibrahim to an abandoned building in another part of Khartoum for detainment. They accused Ibrahim of being a supporter of the SAF and then beat and interrogated him. In the face of their accusations, Ibrahim remained at peace, answering their questions honestly with a smile. 

Sudan Update - LSESD Thimar ABTS MERATH Khartoum

“I was praying the entire time, surrendering my life to Christ at that moment,” he said. “When they saw my peace, they were surprised.” 

Later, the fighters took him to their superior for further interrogation. The man took Ibrahim’s identification card and saw that he was Christian. Believing Christians to be honest, trustworthy people, the officer looked favorably on Ibrahim and ordered for him to be released.

The incident was not an isolated event. RSF fighters have assaulted and robbed Ibrahim before, and even broken into his home. He said they have also assaulted pastors and interrupted prayer meetings. But such attacks don’t seem to be a systemic targeting of Christians by the paramilitary. “These attacks happen frequently, and the reason is that the RSF often accuses people, including Christians, of supporting the SAF,” Ibrahim said. “They torture and interrogate them until proven innocent. Even RSF officials who acknowledge Christians’ honesty cannot stop the attacks on the church.”

Since the start of the war in April 2023, more than 165 churches have closed or been destroyed, according to the global Christian organization Open Doors. Both sides have reportedly targeted churches. Ibrahim said that items from churches can often be found for sale in markets. But he noted that RSF fighters also attack mosques.

“This conflict is not a Muslim-Christian conflict. It is a civil war, with both parties being Muslims,” said Joe Bridi, an ABTS-alumni closely connected to Ibrahim and other Sudanese pastors. “However, religious freedom and freedom in general have been affected (by both sides).” Bridi noted reports of the RSF burning an evangelical church in Wad Madani, the capital city of Gezira State, in January. “The (SAF) is also attacking churches, and Christians receive no protection from the police,” he added.

Such violence is not only directed at Christians. Crime in general has reportedly increased in Khartoum since the city came under RSF control. “There are frequent break-ins, thefts, assaults, and rapes,” Ibrahim said. “But despite this, the church never closed, and ministry gatherings continued. We explain to anyone who asks that we are a church, and we are worshiping God.”

While many residents fled after the start of the war, not everyone could afford to leave.  Ibrahim feels called by God to remain in Khartoum, where he said that the Gospel is spreading as people come to Christ. To facilitate more of this growth, the church where Ibrahim serves focuses on discipleship, but it doesn’t stop there. Recognizing that living the Gospel entails both words and actions, the church also provides meals whenever possible during weekly gatherings. During these difficult times, the church’s mission is to be witnesses of Christ in their communities, ones that are much in need of hope. “I feel called to remain in Khartoum and help the weary and tired,” Ibrahim said. “I plan to stay until God decides otherwise.”

Sudan Update - LSESD Thimar ABTS MERATH Khartoum

One of the worst humanitarian crises in recent history

When the war began, heavy fighting displaced residents of Khartoum. “ABTS alumni who fled to new areas started ministries there and began spreading the Gospel,” said Bridi. In northern Sudan, he continued, many people are coming to church. “Sharing the Gospel is done one-on-one, with church members visiting, supporting, and praying for people.” Though many pastors fled to Ethiopia, Uganda, and Port Sudan, Bridi said that their ministries continue.

One such ministry is that of Pastor Fadi*, another graduate of ABTS.

Two days after the war began, he fled with his family from Khartoum. At around midnight on Sunday, they loaded into their car and set off with five other families. Thinking they would be back soon, the family brought nothing except money and their passports. The children prayed constantly as the convoy made its way through the dark city. “We drove our cars, and although the area was surrounded by the RSF, they allowed us to leave,” Fadi said.

Sudan Update - LSESD Thimar ABTS MERATH Khartoum

Eventually, they reached a point that seemed relatively safe. But the fighting engulfing Khartoum expanded, and after a week the family had to flee again. They took a bus east, passing through RSF checkpoints on their way to Port Sudan.

Tensions and uncertainty were high in the city. Rent was expensive. But thankfully, a family showed kindness towards Fadi and opened their home for him and his family. The pastor still hoped he would be able to return to Khartoum, but the fighting only got worse. “Everyone was fleeing Sudan, so we had to make the decision to leave as well,” he said.

The family had several options: to stay in Sudan or go to Egypt, South Sudan, Ethiopia, or Uganda. Fadi decided on Uganda and embarked on the weeks-long journey to the East African country, getting robbed along the way. After arriving, the family was registered as refugees and received assistance from the government with rent, transportation, and services.

Today, Fadi helps pastor and teach at a church in Uganda with a large congregation of members from Sudan and South Sudan. Fadi stays in contact with members of the church he pastored in Khartoum while also running a ministry based in Port Sudan, which the SAF has turned into its de facto administrative capital. Every few months, he travels back to Port Sudan, where commercial airlines still occasionally fly. “The goal is to help in Uganda while going back and forth to Port Sudan to continue the ministry,” he said. Fadi last visited in November. He’s planning to go back in July.

In December, Fadi attended the same relief training as Ibrahim in Ethiopia. Fadi plans to implement the skills and knowledge he learned from the course when he returns to Sudan this summer. “My target is to share the Gospel, train church leaders, and reach people living in difficult conditions, who need financial, food, and basic needs,” he said. Fadi also maintains close connections with ABTS, which he graduated from in 2004. “ABTS has been a true family to me, providing financial, emotional, and encouraging support,” he said. “Even after the war started, the connection with ABTS remained strong.”

MERATH training Ethiopia

In June, a famine is expected to begin that could kill half a million people, according to a most likely case scenario forecasted by the Clingendael Institute, a Dutch think-tank. Sudanese interviewed by Thimar-LSESD noted that areas controlled by the RSF are expected to be most affected due to restrictions and blockades imposed by the SAF. Already, the World Food Programme reports that 18 million people face acute hunger, with nearly 5 million at emergency levels. All the while, credible reports of ethnic cleansing, possible genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity, and other atrocities by both sides mark the conflict. Many Sudanese feel that little attention is given to any of it. “Sudan is forgotten. This is a reality,” Fadi said.

In Khartoum, Fadi’s church continues to gather despite dangers. Fadi stays in contact with members whenever internet is available and provides financial help. Before the war, the church had 200 members. After the war, many fled. Now, only 50 to 60 attend. But despite fewer members, Fadi said people throughout Sudan are coming to Christ. “Many people who never attended church before the war started attending during the conflict,” he said. “In Port Sudan, many people are now attending church and the gospel is being shared.”

*The names of Fadi and Ibrahim were changed to protect their identities. 

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