Episcopal Life Convention Daily
Friday, 7 July 2000  

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Candlelight vigil highlights plight of Sudanese Christians

(This story also released. with additional pictures, as ENS GC2000-012)

The Rev. Michael Kiju Paul remembers the day his classroom was bombed while he was teaching at a small Bible college in Sudan. Paul escaped, but three of his students were gunned down.
Bishop Peter Munde of the Diocese of Yambio in Sudan, left, converses with Bishop Keith Ackerman (Quincy), right, during a candlelight vigil, July 5, staged to raise awareness of human rights violations in Sudan. photo/DICK SNYDER

"That attack really scared me,'' said Paul, a priest with the Church of Sudan. He moved to neighboring Kenya but continued to sneak in and out of his native country. Today, his wife and three children remain in Nairobi, while he continues his religious studies in the United States.

On the night of July 5, Paul joined about 75 Sudanese and American Christians who walked from the Convention Center to the World Trade Center at Sixth and Broadway in a candlelight vigil. Sponsored by the Institute on Religion and Democracy (IRD) and Truro Church in Alexandria, Va., the vigil was designed to raise awareness of the fundamentalist Islamic government'spersecution of Christians in southern Sudan.

Several bishops offered their prayers; former Sen. Bill Armstrong, R-Colo., and IRD President Diane Knippers spoke briefly; and Elizabeth Viceand other members of the Pittsburgh-based Rock the Youth provided much of the music for the vigil.

Vice, an American, whose fiance decided she needed to die when she converted from Islam to Christianity, leads youth at St. John's Episcopal Church in Melbourne, Fla., in commemorating the annual International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church. She is also writing resolutions calling for the repeal of Pakistan's blasphemy law and addressing religious persecution in Indonesia.

Speaking from harsh experience

The Sudanese at General Convention have come to tell their own, true stories, says Paul. They hope they can convince doubters who have heard about the atrocities, but who can't believe they really happen. "It is my obligation to educate American society. ... I wanted this conference to take our suffering as their suffering.''

He and others urged Episcopalians to write togovernment leaders, pressing them to take action. "We are beginning with the church because the church is supposed to preach love,'' Paul said. "In spite of the killing, the church [in Sudan] is growing so tremendously,'' he noted. "People see no hope in humanity, and therefore they are turning in great numbers to the church.''

Bishop Peter Munde of the Diocese of Yambio said he came to convention and the vigil to make a personal "appeal to all of the American people, especially the believers, to speak on our behalf, to pray for us.''

He urged U.S. intervention to establish a no-fly zone to stop the bombing of southern Sudan, to bring about a permanent cease-fire and to allow the Sudanese to decide what kind of government they need.

Jimmy Mulla also urged divestiture from oil companies that do business with the Sudanese government. He would like to see the campaign for Sudan catch momentum in the United States just as the South Africa anti-apartheid movement did years ago. Mulla came to America as a refugee from Cairo after participating in student protests against the Sudanese government.

"You have all the opportunities to stop this war,'' Munde said. "You are blessed with everything.'' Munde and other participants are concerned, saying the southern Sudanese have felt like "forgotten people,'' while conflicts like that in Bosnia have drawn international attention.

Looking for American help

Senator Armstrong, a Presbyterian, echoed Munde's words as he quoted the scriptural dictum that much will be required of those to whom much is given.

"We Americans have been given everything,'' he said. "We have so much prosperity that we can't count it. We've been given every kind of freedom.'' Americans are obligated to help the Sudanese, he said. "I think what our Lord said about stewardship applies to nations.''

Vigil participant Fran Boyle of Annandale, Va., experienced first-hand some of the hardship the Sudanese face. Her group was bombed when she was helping teach a religious program in southern Sudan through Sharing Our Ministries Abroad. Shrapnel passed over the bed in the home where she was staying. "We went back to find our room in a shambles.''

One of the youngest marchers was Sadie Grubbs of Highlands Ranch, Colo., who turns 12 on July 19. Last year, her fifthgrade class raised money to redeem slaves through The Sudan Campaign. She attended the vigil with her mother, who works with the campaign, and their pet Pomeranian.

"I would hope that people would start helping as well'' after seeing the vigil, said Sadie, adding she hoped it would inspire people to seek information about Sudan.

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