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Sudan: Bits of peace

"Sudan: Bits of peace" Continued...

Issue: "Troops hunt for weapons," June 14, 2003

In some ways the Islamic regime's rapprochement is working. The United States has increased its diplomatic presence in the capital. The Bush administration gave Khartoum a passing grade on progress under the first reporting phase of the Sudan Peace Act. In April, after intense lobbying by the Sudan government, the UN Commission on Human Rights voted to end a longstanding mandate for a Special Rapporteur to report to the UN on the human-rights violations in Sudan. Human-rights experts complain that the gains for Khartoum are coming despite frequent ceasefire violations and lack of progress toward self-determination or religious freedom for south Sudan, or regard for the war's 2 million casualties.

Mr. Kusunoki told WORLD he realized the personal overtures could be a new way for the Islamic regime to win points in the international community as well as among American evangelicals. "The criticism of people like me is that I have never seen the other side. I felt that was fair." He said he also had to consider his role in a church-based relief organization. "We have to come to grips with our calling. We are first and foremost a church and our calling is to share the gospel. When we have the opportunity to share the gospel, we have the responsibility and obligation to do that."

In the end, the ambassador's phone call from Khartoum was compelling enough to put Mr. Kusunoki and five members of his church on a plane last November. They spent three days in the capital, including a brief and, according to Mr. Kusunoki, "formal" meeting with Mr. Bashir.

A longer visit-five days-followed in May, included an extended, and less formal, meeting with Mr. Bashir. This time, instead of using Arabic and speaking through an interpreter, Mr. Bashir spoke directly to Mr. Kusunoki in English. When he told his guest he wanted peace in Sudan, Mr. Kusunoki said he told the president, "There is no way you can take away what I have already seen-the indiscriminate bombing and forced famine, and children suffering needlessly."

Mr. Kusunoki acknowledged that the meetings included "a lot of rhetoric and propaganda." Nevertheless, he carried along his Bible and said he took several opportunities to speak about the gospel: "I pushed them on religious-liberty questions, and what I heard from them was mixed."

On the second visit the regime granted the pastor two requests: to visit Mr. Amum in prison and to carry on regional satellite television both the Jesus film and a Safe Harbor specially made documentary about the war and relief efforts called Footsteps of Peace. Both aired on May 25.

When Mr. Kusunoki learned of Mr. Amum's imprisonment only days before his trip to Khartoum, he never imagined he could actually visit him. The trip to Soba Prison a few miles south of Khartoum happens to run within a stone's throw of what was once the main military camp for Osama bin Laden. During his trip to the prison Mr. Kusunoki saw peace camps with "horrific" conditions. At one site, 200,000 people are surviving on four water wells in 115-degree heat. The camp along the banks of the Blue Nile trained mujahideen guerrillas from all over the Islamic world. Mr. bin Laden was often found there between 1994 and 1995, before Sudanese government officials kicked him out of the country and he made his way to Afghanistan.

When the two pastors met, Mr. Amum told his American friend he did not want him to petition the government for his release. Only by paying the land fee could Mr. Amum clear his name and the church's claim to its property, he said. Already local churches had raised $1,000. Safe Harbor provided the remaining $1,700, and the judge agreed to drop the case. Churchgoers celebrated Mr. Amum's return with a five-hour worship service two days later with church attendance more than doubled.

"All the time we are working in the south we have been ignoring the church in the north and the difficulty they have been going through," said Mr. Kusunoki. "It's certainly not the same as the war and famine of the south, but there is poverty and discrimination and persecution that needs our attention."

Mindy Belz
Mindy Belz

Mindy travels to the far corners of the globe as the editor of WORLD and lives with her family in the mountains of western North Carolina. Follow Mindy on Twitter @mcbelz.

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