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Daniel of the year

"Daniel of the year" Continued...

Issue: "Mad Dash," Dec. 16, 2000

Back home, Michael was an instant anomaly: a literate Christian. Muslim converts and animists, clinging to old traditions of animal sacrifice and witchcraft, dominated the region. Although Sudan Interior Mission had a station near Wadega-a church, a clinic, and an airstrip-its evangelism efforts went notably unrewarded. Missionary Bill Rogers, who served in Wadega from 1951 until he was expelled by the Sudanese government in March 1964, told WORLD there were less than a dozen committed Jumjum Christians when he left Wadega.

Michael arrived home in time to watch government forces cement control of the region. They forced villagers to convert to Islam and imposed its strict civic code of Shariah law. They coerced them into dismantling the mission compound, brick by brick, and hauling the materials north to a government garrison. A local government commander named Taib Musba terrorized Uduk and Jumjum Christians. He ordered pastors killed in their churches, tortured prisoners by squeezing their heads between poles, killed civilians by rolling over them in a truck.

Michael became a survivor. From the rubble left by government onslaughts of the 1980s and 1990s, he rebuilt. Cement blocks from the mission compound became chairs and desks for a new school. A clinic slate was propped against the nearest tree. The government failed to provide schooling as it had promised, and so Michael's school became acceptable where his religion was not. Soon he was teaching the sons of Muslims for miles around. In addition to teaching basic literacy, "I let them pray if they are interested," he explained wryly.

The school gave Michael a wide door of ministry and respect in the community. He persisted in church planting, a quest made easier when the rebels fighting the government won control of Wadega in 1998. A grass-walled church sits nearly on top of the old Sudan Interior Mission church site. Regular attendance is 150. Johan Musman is the pastor, but Michael assists with Bible reading at all services and is the congregation's elder statesman. Like all of Michael's endeavors, its waves of growth ride in on tides of adversity.

In March of this year government forces launched a military offensive to clear oilfield regions just to the west of Wadega. It drove thousands of Mabaan tribespeople, mostly Christians, into Wadega. Soon Michael had an unmanageable number of both students and churchgoers. Worse, no one had enough food. By May malnutrition was evident among all the displaced, and children were beginning to die of starvation. A measles outbreak set in, too. Measles raged through the area because children across the region had gone at least 10 years without vaccinations. And they were weakened by persistent malnutrition. Hundreds died.

The offensive coincided with a political decision to cut off all European humanitarian aid to rebel-controlled areas. Relief groups receiving funding from European government agencies, including one group at work in Blue Nile, Church Ecumenical Action of Sudan, quickly saw resources cut. The group could no longer send enough grain and seed to Wadega or other areas of Blue Nile overrun by war victims.

American groups operating without government funds stepped up their own intervention. In June and July, teams from California-based Safe Harbor International Relief and Seattle-based Blue Nile Project delivered food to Wadega. Samaritan's Purse also flew in emergency supplies. Voice of the Martyrs already had donated blankets and other household items. To Michael fell the task of making not enough go all the way around. He prodded permanent residents to share goats with the homeless. He saw to the distribution of seeds and grain, but was harassed by locals wanting more. Church members cleared the old missionary airstrip in hopes of receiving additional aid. Having seen to the construction of a church within the displaced camp, Michael saw to its relocation before rainy season floodwaters threatened it. Despite the physical hardships, church leaders kept to a schedule of daily worship services. Blue Nile Project delivered Mabaan New Testaments and hymnals to Wadega just after the displaced began to arrive. "We are sticking together," Michael said.

Other challenges arose with the rainy season. Intense fighting erupted west and south. A Sudanese bomber flew several times a day over Wadega. The plane, a Russian-made Antonov, dropped bombs just to the south and was joined by helicopter gunships in retaking an area captured by southern rebels only months before. Local Islamic groups were more hostile toward Michael than ever. They blanketed the area with Islamic tracts and tried to undercut enthusiasm for church services. For the first time, Michael was not sure if he would be allowed to continue to teach school.

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