Sudan Christians In Crossfire As Fighting Continues

Sudan, Wednesday, October 11, amid reports of ongoing attacks against churches.

The Reverend Franklin Graham, a Christian evangelist whose criticism of Islam has frequently outraged Muslims, said this week that Islam teaches its followers to "persecute" others until they convert, with the aim being "total domination."

Graham's comments, reported Monday in The News & Observer of Raleigh publication and distributed by The Associated Press (AP) news agency, came as the evangelist said he plans to rebuild hundreds of churches that have been destroyed by the Sudanese government and its allied militias.

"There's a war taking place against the church of Jesus Christ in Africa," Graham said in the publication and other venues this week, arguing that the battle pits Muslims against Christians in countries such as Ethiopia and Sudan, where fighting in the Darfur region has left at least 200,000 people killed and 2.5 million others homeless. Some Christian aid workers estimate the death toll as high as 400,000 or more.

CHURCHES DESTROYED

Graham, the son of famed evangelist Billy Graham, said he has identified 226 churches destroyed or burned in Sudan and that his group, has completed or is building 34. Graham, who is CEO of Christian Missions and the relief organization Samaritan’s Purse, said his “Hope for Sudan" project hopes to raise $1 million to build 300 churches and train 3,000 pastors to spread Christianity throughout local villages in Africa’s largest country – a country of mostly Muslims.

"People say, 'Franklin, why are you there? There are [almost] no Christians.' Well, not yet," Graham reportedly said. “But I want those Muslims to see that we love them. I want them to know there's a God in heaven that loves them."

Barnabas Fund, a group supporting Christians in especially Muslim nations and regions, also expressed concern over the situation in a message to BosNewsLife. "Among the displaced people who have fled the ongoing violence in Darfur, western Sudan is a small minority of Christians," added Barnabas Fund. But, "Christians are  often excluded from aid distribution in contexts where other faiths are a majority [and therefore] Barnabas Fund has been providing food aid for 100 Christian families since December 2004," it added.

FOOD PROGRAM

The group said Sudanese Christians organize the food distribution program, which provides sorghum, beans, lentils, rice and oil to the families. Food is usually bought in Nyala, the capital of South Darfur State. "This feeding program has enabled families to stay together, when otherwise children might have had to roam around as “street children" seeking their own support," Barnabas Fund said.

The conflict in Darfur escalated in spring 2003 as attacks from groups seeking independence drew what human rights watchers and diplomats described as "a brutal response" from the government-backed militia, known as the Janjaweed, and from the Sudanese army.

"These attacks frequently involved the mass slaughter of defenseless civilians, with the death toll estimated at over 400,000. Despite repeated attempts to enact a ceasefire in the region, the fighting has shown little sign of abating," said Barnabas Fund, which has close knowledge about the situation in the region.

MAKE-SHIFT CAMPS

"Huge numbers of displaced people are living in make-shift refugee camps, without proper shelter, healthcare or proper provision of food. They live in constant fear of attacks from the army and militia, who steal, rape and kill with impunity. The land cannot be cultivated because of the war situation." 

The United States and other countries have pressured the government of Sudan to improve the situation, but human rights workers say fighting continues.  (With reports from Sudan and the United States).

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