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Interview with Ramadan Chan of the Sudan Interior Church 

Ramadan Chan is general secretary of the Sudan Interior Church which is part of the Baptist World Alliance. In this exclusive interview with The Baptist Times he talks about how they have responded to Sudan becoming two countries, the threat of war and the growth and influence of the church

Why is it called the Sudan Interior Church and not Sudan Baptist Union or something similar?
The missionaries that established the Sudan Interior Church came from evangelical denominations. For some reason their policy was to start a new congregational church in Sudan rather than start a church linked to an established denomination. Their mission was called Sudan Interior Mission so we became the Sudan Interior Church. Our teaching though is more Baptist than any other tradition.

How has the Interior Church been affected by South Sudan becoming an independent country? We have heard that the church has become much smaller in the North since it happened due to Southern Sudanese having to leave the north due to new regulations (see http://www.hrw.org/news/2012/03/02/sudan-don-t-strip-citizenship-arbitrarily) . Is that true?
Traditionally the Interior Church has operated along the borders in the north and in the south. In northern Sudan we are in the Blue Nile area (bordering South Sudan and Ethiopia) and in the capital Khartoum where we have a coordinating office. Our main office is in Renk, South Sudan close to the north east border with Sudan. Our believers from the North originate from the North so we have not seen a decrease in our congregations there.

Do you have any churches where there has been conflict? If so, what is the situation like for Christians in these areas?
In the heart of the Blue Nile in northern Sudan there is a lot of fighting between the Sudanese government and rebels. Many of our church members have been displaced. Church members have also been displaced across the border in Southern Sudan where the northern Sudanese government are fighting in a separate front over disputed areas of territory. We decided at our Baptist convention in early April to request all our churches to collect food items, medicine, clothing, for those displaced and to deliver it to our head office by 26 April. These items have been distributed to churches and refugees in the disputed areas. Evangelists are also supporting pastors and believers who are in difficulty at this time.

Are you hopeful that war can be averted between Sudan and South Sudan?
It is very difficult to predict. We have been advocating a peaceful resolution to both governments; a peaceful resolution to border demarcation, a peaceful resolution to oil revenue sharing, a peaceful resolution of issues affecting the people of the Blue Nile, Southern Kordofan and Darfur regions. Through the Sudan Council of Churches we have spoken to the South Sudanese government, the Sudan government, the African Union, United Nations and others. War can be avoided. The government of the north appear to want to resolve things by force. We have a feeling the north may try to fight the south and invade South Sudan. South Sudan will defend its territory and it could lead to all out war.

The Sudanese government has a reputation in the West for persecuting Christians. What are relations like though with ordinary Muslims?
Most Muslims don’t support us but don’t fight us. There are fundamentalists, who are demolishing and burning churches causing persecution to Christians. Recently they burnt a Presbyterian church and Episcopal church in Khartoum.

There are a number of denominations in Sudan. How do they get on? Do they work together at local, regional and national level?
The Sudan Interior Church and Sudan Council of Churches have decided to stay united across the two countries. As the church is smaller and under a lot of pressure from Islam in the north, being a united body allows us to voice concern and advocate better for them.

Are there any distinctive characteristics of Sudanese Christians and Baptists? How do you share the gospel, lead services, carry out pastoral care, fund pastors etc?
The Sudan Interior Church is a bible based church, an evangelical church. This leads us to be targeted in the north from Muslim fundamentalists.

We empower and train women, youth and others to go out to neighbours and share their faith in a way that will not affect criticism. We encourage them to build relationships by having coffee with friends or playing football. Then through personal conversation to present the Gospel message.

In the north or south if a person from a Christian background shows interest in being a Christian they are then invited to come to church. For someone from a Muslim background in the North changing your religion entitles you to be killed. We form a separate group for them where we can share with them the gospel without anyone knowing. It is the same with baptisms. In the South we would go to the river to be baptised. With Muslim based believers in the North we baptise them in the church compound where they will be safe.

In South Sudan the church is growing through people attending public rallies and preaching, and our church schools. We are ministering to Muslims there too with many of them coming to Christ.

There has been tribal conflict in South Sudan in the past. How can the church create unity in the country?
The church is involved in negotiating and peacekeeping. A peace and conciliation committee has been set up to go to the tribes to bring about talks on areas of contention, to encourage them to forgive one another for past wrongs and work together. This committee is committed to work through this process with the Sudan Council of Churches. Yesterday (7 May) there was a major meeting when the heads of all of the tribes came together and decided a memorandum of understanding on all issues affecting them.

We are happy that the Lord is using the church to help in this situation. The church in South Sudan is trusted by the people – their experience is that the church has always been with them and supported them and advocated for them – we have that trust of the people. The churches have been seen to be working for those that are suffering. Communities trust us and listen to us when we talk to them, the same with the government too so we are able to help bring peace to the south.

You said that your recent Assembly was one of the best you had had in many years. What happened?
We have had different difficulties in mobilising resources and coming together. In the past conventions have ended up with some regions not represented. This year (April 7-10) all regions were represented at our assembly. We came together with one mind, conscious of a need for the church to strategise, to embark on evangelism, church planting and empowering local churches. We decided to have a coordinating office in Khartoum so the churches in the north do not feel isolated. Good decisions were made. It was one of the best assemblies in a very long time.

What are your hopes and dreams for the Sudan Interior Church? How can we in the UK and West pray for you as a church?
Pray that the whole of Sudan and regions of the Sudan Interior Church remain faithful for the cause of the gospel, whether in war, peace or otherwise. Socially pray that in Sudan and South Sudan God’s values alone will be manifested in people’s lives. Pray for peace for all of the people in Sudan and South Sudan.
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