- The Washington Times - Monday, January 5, 2004

January is a time of new beginnings,atime whentheworld dreams and prays for peace.These hopes and prayers are perhaps no more fervent anywhere on earth than in Sudan. For 20 years, much of the world has quietly witnessed one of the bloodiest civil wars in modern history as the Islamic government of Sudanwagedajihad against the predominately Christian south, killing 2 million people and displacing another four million. In fact, this African nation of some 40 million people has not known real peace for most of the past half-century.

Christians have suffered particular loss and discrimination in this majority Muslim nation: Thousands of churches lie destroyed and countless pastors and worshippers ruthlessly murdered. Two years ago, President Bush declared Sudan “a disaster area for human rights.”

My organization, Samaritan’s Purse, has been working in southern Sudan for years. Our hospital, the region’s largest, has served a quarter million Sudanese patients — Christian and Muslim — and has endured more than a half-dozen bombing attacks by the brutal Khartoum regime.

Publicly, I have been a harsh critic of Sudan’s government. Two years ago, I told the Associated Press, “We ought to use all of our power to topple that government and bring them down.” In another published interview I said, “This country has declared a jihad on its own people. It’s wrong. It’s wicked. And it’s evil.”

Now, as the world begins a new year, the Sudanese government appears to be on the verge of an historic peace agreement. Days before the 2000 election, in a brief meeting with Mr. Bush, and asked him not to forget the people of Sudan if he became president, and he said he would not. For the past three years, indeed, this president and his administration have worked through diplomatic channels to force this rogue nation to the peace table.

Several weeks ago, I visited the presidential palace in Khartoum as the guest of President Omar el-Bashir. Speaking to him not just about peace, but freedom —political, religious, press — I said I believe Muslims and Christians can live together peacefully and that this would please God.

After joking that he wanted freedom of religion in Sudan because he would like to convert me to Islam, Mr. Bashir made amazing promises that must go on the record. He tied the problems of religious freedom to the war. “As soon as the war ends,” he said, “the pressure against Christians will be over.” The leader of one of the earth’s most repressive Islamic regimes pledged, “We have to be sure the freedom of religion of Christians is not less than the freedom of Islam.”

Having met earlier that day with Christian and Muslim leaders to gather their views, I asked the president whether Christians would be able to build churches and worship freely. “We will take responsibility to rebuild the churches,” Mr. Bashir said. “It will be our duty, even if a blind man can’t reach a church; it will be our duty to help him reach it.”

In Khartoum, I also met with government leaders, leaders of the south’s resistance movement (permitted to enter the capital city for the first time in 20 years), religious leaders (Christian and Muslim), business leaders, and humanitarian-aid workers. All were optimistic about the prospects for a peace agreement. Invariably, however, all cautioned that “a peace agreement is just a piece of paper.”

All Sudanese know that a formal peace marks only the beginning of a long, arduous road impossible apart from freedom and personal liberty. Peace without freedom is not peace at all — and is certainly not worth the high price of human life already spilled on African soil.

Millions of Sudanese displaced by civil war will return to their hometowns to find no home, no electricity, no clean water. Many houses of worship are rubble and independent newspapers have been suspended by the government.

Who will help restore peace and order? Who will hold the government accountable for its promises? Who will help rebuild homes and churches? Who will give medical attention to broken bodies and encouragement to wounded souls?

I assured everyone I met with that we would. “We” — the world’s humanitarian organizations,including Samaritan’s Purse. “We” —the Church of Jesus Christ, extending the hand of the Good Samaritan to those in need, Christian and Muslim. And, I pray, “we”-the United States of America and every member of the international community that loves freedom.

Concluding our meeting, I presented Mr. Bashir with a bronze statue of the biblical good Samaritan with an outstretched arm, the story on which our organization was founded. “Mr. President,” I said, “you have an opportunity to be that good Samaritan, stopping to help a hurting country and reaching out to all the people of Sudan.” With God’s help, we can all be good Samaritans.

Franklin Graham is president of Samaritan’s Purseand the Billy Graham EvangelisticAssociation.He visited the capital of Sudan in early December.

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