Lutheran Church Set On Fire

Khartoum, Sudan - Two weeks after a Lutheran church was torched by unknown arsonists in a Khartoum suburb, Sudan’s newly installed “government of national unity” still has not responded to church leaders requesting an investigation into the attack.

Most of the simple church structure – a traditional construction of bamboo reeds, wooden poles and mud with a straw roof – was “completely burned” shortly after midday on October 18, the Rev. Yousif El-Denger Z. Kodi told Compass by telephone from Khartoum.

“We are all very sad,” said Rev. Kodi, who is general secretary of the Lutheran Church of the Sudan (LCS), “because this is the first time for anything like this to happen.”

One of four Lutheran churches in the Sudanese capital, the El-Thawra branch has a congregation of 150 to 200 worshippers each Sunday, Rev. Kodi said. “The first Sunday [after the fire], they just came and worshipped there without any shelter,” he said.

The destroyed church was located in Block 29 of the El-Thawra district of Omdurman, part of Khartoum’s tri-city metropolitan area.

“We have been there since 1980 worshipping our Lord without any complaining or blaming from any citizens,” Rev. Kodi noted.

Since the fire had been started in broad daylight, Lutheran church leaders inquired around the neighborhood whether any suspicious persons had been seen near the church site before it was set on fire.

“But when we asked people, they were too afraid to say anything,” Rev. Kodi said.

The day after the fire, LCS leaders filed criminal case No. 821 against the unknown culprits at the police station in the west block of North Omdurman’s El-Thawra district. There has been no response from security authorities.

The following Monday, October 24, Rev. Kodi and the branch church’s secretary, Gabareil Bolus, reported the incident in detail to Dr. El-Tayib Zein Al-Abdin, general secretary of the Sudan Inter-Religious Council (SIRC). Rev. Kodi said they discussed the incident for nearly an hour with the SIRC official, who suggested they try to buy their own land elsewhere to re-establish the church.

In a written report submitted in Arabic to the SIRC, the Lutherans declared they held the national unity government sworn in six weeks ago responsible for solving this crime and providing protection to all churches in Sudan.

“It is our right under the national unity government to put this event in front of the world,” the letter noted. “We have to know what has happened. It is the responsibility of the national unity government.”

Inaugurated in the third week of September, Sudan’s first post-war government includes nine former Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) rebels with 16 other cabinet ministers of the ruling National Congress Party.

“As Sudanese, we believe that to burn a church or mosque is a strange thing,” the Lutheran leader told the daily Khartoum Monitor newspaper on Thursday (October 27).

“We want to tell the national unity government that some evil people are still working against human rights,” Rev. Kodi continued. “We feel sorry that these things have happened during the period of the peace agreement, and in the beginning of the national unity government.”

The cleric said the only political official to visit the burned church so far had been Philip Magowck, general secretary of the SPLM for the Omdurman region. Rev. Kodi has received no comment since the visit from the SPLM representative.

Nor has there been any communication from the Khartoum governor, Dr. Abdelhalim Motahfi, the official responsible for security and police investigations in the capital.

The landmark peace agreement signed between the government of Sudan and the SPLM in January declares freedom of religion a basic right, guaranteeing “to all persons equal and effective protection against discrimination on any ground,” including religion.

Religious tensions fueled by the imposition of Muslim law over the overwhelmingly Christian south by Sudan’s Islamic government in the north had played a key role in the last 21 years of civil war, which claimed at least 2 million lives and displaced another 4 million people.