Two Pastors Facing Death Sentences Freed in Sudan

Christian Solidarity Worldwide / RNS

The Rev. Michael Yat, left, and the Rev. Peter Reith. Photo via Christian Solidarity Worldwide / RNS

After international outcry, two South Sudanese Presbyterian Evangelical Church pastors who faced a possible death sentence in Sudan have been set free after a court hearing Aug. 5.

The Rev. Michael Yat and the Rev. Peter Reith were on trial in Khartoum on criminal charges of undermining the constitutional system, espionage, promoting hatred among sects, breach of public peace, and offenses relating to insulting religious beliefs. The first two charges are punishable by the death penalty or life imprisonment.

Four Places of Hope in South Sudan

Children of Gendrassa Camp

There are a lot of reasons to be concerned about the situation in South Sudan. But as I saw on my trip, there are also reasons to be hopeful. Working for a faith-based organization provides many opportunities for me to not only reflect on my faith but also put it in to action in my day-to-day work. While I grew up outside of a specific congregation, my parents instilled in me from an early age the importance of helping those in need, no matter their race, religion, or any other difference because we are all equal in the eyes of God. It’s this idea, paired with my love of learning about cultures, which put me on this path of working for an organization like Lutheran World Relief. I feel blessed because I wake up every day excited to go to work. While there are many daunting challenges in the relief field, I chose to see the good when possible because if you look closely, hope is there in even in the darkest of places.

Here are a few inspiring highlights from what I witnessed in South Sudan.

Sudan Detains Ten Women for Wearing Miniskirts and Trousers to Church

Image via Fredrick Nzwili/Religion News Service

Image via Fredrick Nzwili/Religion News Service

Sudanese authorities have detained 10 Christian students on a charge of indecent dressing, a criminal offense, after they wore miniskirts and trousers to church.

The young women were arrested last month in front of the Evangelical Baptist Church in the war-torn Nuba Mountains region in South Kordofan.

The girls, ages 17 to 23, had attended a ceremony at the church.

Police charged 12 women under Sudan’s 1991 Criminal Act, but two were released. The rest are to appear in court in coming days. If convicted, each will face 40 lashes.

One Year After Meriam Ibrahim’s Release, Two Christians Face Possible Death Penalty in Sudan

Photo via REUTERS / Mohamed Nureldin Abdallah / RNS

People from South Sudan stand near a tent in Khartoum. Photo via REUTERS / Mohamed Nureldin Abdallah / RNS

The Rev. Michael Yat and the Rev. Peter Yein Reith, both from the South Sudan Presbyterian Evangelical Church, have been charged with undermining the constitutional system and spying, offenses punishable by death or life imprisonment.

The clerics are charged with waging a war against the state and assault on religious belief.

‘Left Behind’ and ‘The Good Lie’ Face Off During Hollywood’s Year of Faith-Based Films

“Left Behind” movie poster, photo courtesy of Stoney Lake Entertainment/RNS.

Two new movies that aim to attract a faith-based crowd join a glut of biblical films for 2014, testing the limits of Hollywood’s appetite for religion.

The two films, “The Good Lie” and “Left Behind,” both opening Oct. 3, reflect two different filmmaking strategies: One is geared for a wider audience that could attract Christians, while the other produces a movie clearly made for the Christian base.

With a number of films targeting a faith audience this year, it’s unclear whether Hollywood is oversaturating the market with faith-based films — a revolutionary idea 10 years after Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ” shocked the industry by raking in $611.9 million worldwide.

“The Good Lie,” starring Reese Witherspoon helping four young “Lost Boys” from Sudan adjust to life in the U.S., has underlying faith themes. The refugees rely on their faith as they try to leave homeland strife behind, and Witherspoon’s character works closely with a faith-based agency to place refugees with families.

How to Save Each Other

via 'The Good Lie' Facebook page

via 'The Good Lie' Facebook page

As the Washington, D.C., premiere of Warner Bros.’ new movie, The Good Lie, came to a close, I could barely see the credits through my tears, but the noise of the crowd around me erupting into cheers and the standing ovation was impossible to miss. This film really touched me. I knew I had to write about it.

The Good Lie is the story of some of the "Lost Boys" of Sudan — orphans of war, who walked hundreds of miles fleeing violence, only to spend a decade in a refugee camp before finally being resettled in America. But the film is much more than that. It is a story about the power of faith and regular people who do incredible things because there is no one else who can. It is the story of immigrants — a funny and heartbreaking insight into what it is like to be a stranger in America. And it's a story and performance made all the more real because the Sudanese characters are played by actors who were child refugees and child soldiers themselves.

It stars Reese Witherspoon, whose character and role encapsulate so much of why this movie works. She's the headline draw for Warner Bros., but the movie is not about her. She helps the Lost Boys, but as is so often the case when we respond to God's call to care for our neighbor, they probably help her more. No one saves the day in this movie, but they all help save each other.

Meriam Ibrahim, Finally Freed from Sudan, Meets with Pope Francis

Meriam Ibrahim and her daughter, Maya, meet Pope Francis at the Vatican. Photo courtesy L'Osservatore Romano/RNS

Pope Francis met Meriam Ibrahim, the Christian woman spared a death sentence for apostasy in Sudan, at the Vatican on Thursday after she was flown to Rome by the Italian government following a vigorous international campaign to free her.

Ibrahim, 27, was accompanied by her husband Daniel Wani and two young children when she met Francis for nearly half an hour at his Santa Marta residence.

The audience was arranged only hours after she disembarked at Rome’s Ciampino Airport with her family on an official Italian aircraft. She was smiling as she carried baby Maya, who was born just two months ago as Ibrahim was shackled in prison.

The pope thanked her for her courage and loyalty to her Christian faith despite facing threats of execution in an ordeal that lasted nearly a year.

The Vatican’s chief spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, said Francis wanted Thursday’s meeting to be a “gesture of support for all those who suffer for their faith, or living in situations of difficulty or restraint.”

United States' National Security Council Condemns Apostasy Sentencing of Sudanese Christian Woman

Meriam Yahya Ibrahim Ishag, a Sudanese Christian woman, was sentenced to be flogged for adultery and to be hanged to death for apostasy because she married a Christian man. Ibrahim, 27, is eight months pregnant and currently in detention with her 20-month-old son, according to Fredrick Nzwili of Religion News Service.

United States' National Security Council spokesperson Caitlin Hayden released this statement in response to the sentancing.

We strongly condemn this sentence and urge the Government of Sudan to meet its obligations under international human rights law.  We call on the Government of Sudan to respect Ms. Ishag’s right to freedom of religion, a universal human right enshrined in Sudan’s own 2005 Constitution as well as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. 

Since 1999, Sudan has been designated as a Country of Particular Concern for its ongoing, egregious, and systematic violations of religious freedom.  We continue to urge Sudan to fulfill its constitutional promise of religious freedom, and to respect the fundamental freedoms and universal human rights of all its people.

Christians Condemn Death Penalty for Sudanese Doctor Accused of Apostasy

Women standing outside the All Saints Cathedral in Sudan. Religion News Service photo by Fredrick Nzwili.

Sudanese Christians have condemned the sentencing of a Christian woman to death by hanging after she married a Christian man.

Meriam Yehya Ibrahim, 27, refused to recant her Christian faith as ordered by the court.

A doctor who is eight months pregnant and currently in detention with her 20-month-old son, Ibrahim was charged with adultery last year. Recently, the court added an apostasy charge when she declared her Christian faith in court.

“This is very disturbing,” said Roman Catholic Auxiliary Bishop Daniel Adwok of Khartoum.

Struggling Alongside the People of Sudan and South Sudan

Protests against violence in Darfur, David Burrows /

Protests against violence in Darfur, David Burrows /

Americans were introduced to Sudan and what is now South Sudan by immigrants, asylum seekers, and refugees like the Lost Boys and Girls of Sudan, who sought protection from a brutal dictatorship in Khartoum. Sudanese turned to the U.S. for a better life not only for themselves but in order to support their family and friends back home, and to advocate for help in stopping genocide, mass atrocities, and human rights abuses committed by an oppressive regime. Many Sudanese captured our hearts not only because of their fight for freedom and their bravery in enduring terrible suffering, but because of their resolve to access the educational and employment opportunities available in the U.S. to prepare themselves to return and help rebuild a country destroyed by decades of state-sponsored violence.