‘Through the blood of my brother’

To understand Isaac’s motivation for reaching people for Christ in northern Sudan, you have to understand the power of grace. And you need to hear about something awful that happened in 1983.

Isaac* was 22. His brother, Kabouji, was 33. Their family was Sunni Muslim, as is most of northern Sudan. But Kabouji met a Christian pastor that year and became a follower of Christ.

At first, Isaac hated his brother for embracing Christ. Gradually, though, Kabouji talked with him and convinced him to place his faith in Christ, too. Isaac kept quiet about that at first, as Kabouji continued to boldly speak of his Christian faith among family and friends.

A month later, Kabouji paid.

Watching death, seeing Christ

“They got all of the family and the elders of the tribe to surround him — all the uncles from both my mother’s and father’s side,” Isaac remembers. “They bound him and put him in the middle of the circle and told him to deny Christ and Christianity and to turn back as a Muslim. He was an infidel because he had accepted the Lord.

“Every time they would ask him a question, and he didn’t respond, they would take a knife and stab it into his body.”

They stabbed Kabouji seven times, each in a different place. The final stab went to the neck, and proved fatal.

Isaac’s and Kabouji’s mother was one of those watching, but she saw something quite different.

“When she saw what was happening, she couldn’t see her son,” Isaac says. “She saw Christ. They were putting the knife into the neck of Christ.”

As Kabouji lay dead, his mother asked Jesus to save her. Two weeks later, Isaac’s two sisters accepted Christ. And two weeks after that, so did his father. Isaac now felt absolutely certain about his new faith, and about his eternal security. Kabouji’’s death had brought his entire family to Christ.

“This event let me be sure that my brother was holding the only truth,” Isaac says.

Instead of revenge, grace

Burj-Hammoud-WorshipFor the next 14 years, Isaac would grow in his Christian faith, eventually receiving training to become a pastor. But he also harbored deep resentment over what had happened to his brother. The men who had killed him never faced any consequences, and Isaac saw them in the neighborhood almost every day. He prayed for them,… but he also wanted revenge.

But in 1997, while Isaac was attending a prayer conference, that all changed.

“The Lord released me totally from this spirit of revenge,” he says. “When I see the people who killed my brother, I feel that I need to love them and I would do anything for them to be saved.”

It’s that kind of grace — radical forgiveness that defies explanation — that Isaac says makes people ask, “How can a person love like that?” And then he tells them about Jesus.

“The first thing I tell the Muslims is, you are beloved from God,” he says. “They need to understand this, and touch it.”

Where cultures clash

Sudan is Africa’s largest nation — one-third the size of the United States — and its sixth-most populous, at about 45 million people. The country represents a transition, from Arab culture and the Sahara Desert in the north to African culture and tropical green in the south.

Two civil wars and resulting famine killed more than 2 million Sudanese people over two decades. The primary issue: Muslim groups in the north want an Islamic government for all of Sudan. The non-Arab, southern Sudanese — a mixture of Christians and adherents to indigenous, tribal religions — have resisted. The South’s 85-percent share of the country’s oil reserves presents another point of conflict in the secession.

Now, though, after a national referendum, Southern Sudan is set to become an independent nation on July 9, 2011. Many war refugees who have been living in the north will now return south to their home villages.

Sudan has a bloody history when it comes to religious tolerance. In the past 25 years, an estimated 1.5 million Christians have been killed in Sudan by the Arab Muslim militia. Persecution of Christians decreased in recent years, though, because of talk of peace after so many years of war.

“So the system and the government were afraid to put a lot of pressure on the Christians, because they were involved in the procedures of peace,” Isaac says. “After this summer they will say that the north will be submitted to Islamic law and the south will be for the Christians.”

Starting over

That could leave northern Sudan as a dangerous place for a Christian church planter. Four churches that Isaac helped start in his northern region already have moved south, to their home areas. Isaac, however, will not go with them.

“My ministry is in the north,” he says. “So it is danger. It is a steep danger. My goal is church planting. That is what I need to do. And now we are starting again from zero, among the Muslims. So we pray even when the door is closed this summer, at least we will have one or two church groups that can continue.

“Praise the Lord, we have one group that now is growing, and we think there will be another one.”

These churches start ultra-small — sometimes with just one family and a prayer that it will grow to 10 families. One of the churches Isaac helped start is made up of people with mostly Muslim background, similar to his own family. Others contain people who had practiced paganism.

“My ministry is, I go from one church to another, encouraging them, teaching them, helping them to organize and to reach their areas,” he says.

Many Christians in the developing world are too poor to support their churches much financially, so Isaac also helps churches start businesses — grain mills, for instance — to produce income.

Isaac received his biblical education in Lebanon, and now is supported as a church planter by the Free Evangelical Church of Beirut, a key ReachGlobal partner in ministering across the Arab world.

A wise man

Today, while Isaac’s message isn’t always welcomed in his northern homeland, his love for the people there doesn’t go unreciprocated.

“The elders who were there as my brother was killed, now I have their respect and I have social communication with them,” he says. “My wife and I have a new daughter, three months old. All the houses around me are Muslim. But when she was born, the neighbors came and made tea and prayed.”

She’s their second child. Their first, a boy is 4. His name: Kabouji. In the family’s tribal language, the name means, “a wise man.”

Not that Isaac’s brother ever would have been far from his mind — especially in the uncertain days ahead for Christians in northern Sudan.

“He influenced me in that I am always becoming more committed to Christ, whatever the cost will be,” Isaac says. “I have a savior. I won’t leave him, because he is not leaving me. I came to salvation through the blood of my brother.”

*Names have been changed.

What you can do

Pray

  • The church in northern Sudan faces a difficult road. Pray that God will keep opportunities open for Christians like Isaac to plant and grow churches. He asks especially for prayer for the Muslim people in the north, before the door between north and south is closed.
  • Also pray for the churches that have moved to southern Sudan, that they will be effective and influential in their new surroundings.

Give

Isaac and his wife do all of their ministry on foot. Donate now to help them purchase a small car that can help them minister more efficiently

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