Sudanese Priest Released in Khartoum

>Six weeks after a Sudanese court jailed an Episcopal priest for refusing to tear down his own church, the Rev. Samuel Dobai Amum has been set free, with the legal process set in motion for his Khartoum North parish to obtain official ownership of its land.

Amum was sent to Soba Prison on April 7 for an indefinite sentence until he either demolished St. Matthew’s Parish in Takamol on the outskirts of Khartoum North or paid 7 million Sudanese dinars (about $2,700) to purchase the land on which he had built it 11 years ago. The priest said he did not have such a huge sum of money, and he could not personally destroy a house built in God’s name.

He was released on the afternoon of May 21, just after the Bahri East Harasic Court in Khartoum accepted full payment for the plot of land on which his congregation has worshipped since 1987.

The day before Amum’s release, a small Christian delegation making a five-day visit to Sudan from the United States asked their government hosts if they could meet the jailed priest. Local officials agreed to escort their visitors to the Soba Prison, where Amum was brought from his cell to meet them.

We were able to talk freely with him, said Gary Kusunoki, the senior pastor of Calvary Chapel Rancho Santa Margarita in Southern California. When they first arrived, the director of the prison admitted that he did not really know why Amum had been jailed or even that he was a priest.

In response to specific questioning, Amum told his visitors that he had been beaten while in prison. But I am being treated like every other prisoner, he said. They beat everyone. So it’s not because I’m Christian or pastor a church.

They tried to stop me from translating some things he said, the Sudanese Christian translating for the Calvary Chapel group told Compass. But I told them I can’t do that, because I am a pastor, and I have to be honest.

Through the translator, Kusunoki said he asked the priest whether he wanted them to ask the Sudanese authorities to drop the case against him so he could be released.

Absolutely not! Amum told him. Rather, Amum explained, the only way he could guarantee a place for his church to continue to worship was to pay in court for the land it was built on, and then have that purchase registered officially in the name of the church.

Even if I have to be here 10 years, Amum told Kusunoki, I’ll stay until I get it paid off.

During Amum’s first six weeks in prison, local Sudanese Christians had raised a total of 2.6 million dinars ($1,000) towards the 7 million dinar purchase price of the land demanded by the court.

The Calvary Chapel delegation promptly declared they would cover the remaining 4.4 million dinars. When they raised Amum’s case later that night with Sudanese government officials, just hours before they left the country, they were given a firm promise: If the 7 million dinars was paid in full to the court the following morning, Amum would be released the same day.

By 6 p.m. on May 21, Amum was walking through the door of his home, where he said his wife and children couldn’t stop crying and hugging him.

My children told me that because I was not with them for all this time, they had wanted to go stay in the prison, to be with me there! Amum said when reached by telephone yesterday in Khartoum.

Amum said that his congregation packed into the mudbrick St. Matthew’s Parish in Takamol for the first Friday worship service after his release. Normally we are just over 100 people, starting at 10:30 and finishing about 12:30, Amum said. But last Friday there were several hundred people and the church was packed, and they stayed until 3:30 in the afternoon to see me and hear my testimony.

The Calvary Chapel delegation’s direct intervention on Amum’s behalf is believed to have been a key factor in his prompt release. Kusunoki took the opportunity of a personal audience already arranged with Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir to inquire about the priest’s case.

But Amum himself declared, God heard the prayers everywhere, and He got me out of prison.

According to an Episcopal leader in Khartoum, the church’s lawyers have been working steadily since Amum’s release to secure the legal transition of the land ownership papers into the name of St. Matthew’s Parish. I think that things are going in the right direction, he said, and perhaps within another week we will have finally acquired our lands.