The news of the victory for the south will be welcomed by the many Christians in the country who suffered terribly in the brutal civil war which went on for more than twenty years, including the use of Russian-made combat helicopters and military cargo planes which were used as bombers to devastating effect on villages and tribal rebels alike.
Sudan’s independent history has been dominated by chronic, exceptionally cruel warfare that has starkly divided the country on racial, religious, and regional grounds; displaced an estimated four million people (of a total estimated population of thirty-two million); and killed an estimated two million people. It damaged Sudan’s economy and led to food shortages, resulting in starvation and malnutrition. The lack of investment during this time, particularly in the south, meant a generation lost access to basic health services, education and jobs
The shocking way that many Christians were treated during the long-running civil war was reported on by Michael Ireland, the ASSIST News Service Chief Reporter who, in a story that was released on Tuesday, November 9, 2004, under the headline: Sudanese Slave ‘Crucified’ By His Master Not Unusual In Central African Nation and with the sub-head: But Christian Teen Rescued, Redeemed, Still Lives With Scars; Evidence Exists Of Others Sentenced To Crucifixion By Khartoum Government, told the story of Joseph.
Ireland said that after being nailed to a board by his master and left for dead — the last in a series of torturous acts – this Sudanese Dinka boy escaped from his bondage and lived to tell his horrific story.
The story of Joseph, said Ireland, was told in a newsletter of the Persecution Project Foundation, an organization that monitors Christian persecution in Africa, by Brad Phillips who, at the time, had recently returned from visiting Joseph, who originally was sold into slavery at age 7 in 1987.
“I had the privilege of spending a day with this amazing boy who is now called Joseph,” Phillips wrote. “I spoke with him, I interviewed him, I saw his scars, and I saw his eyes. What I saw moved me, and still haunts me.”
Ireland went on to write, “Phillips explained that since the 1980s, the Muslim National Islamic Front government has sanctioned the taking of Christians and animists from the southern part of the nation to be sold to Muslims as slaves in the north. The two sides have been engaged in a civil war for several years.”
Philips wrote that as 7-year-old, Joseph, then called Santino Garang, was sold to his master, Ibrahim. Though Joseph was given an Arab name, Ibrahim referred to him only by the pejorative “Abid,” which means black slave. For ten years, Joseph remained in bondage to his master.
“During his enslavement,” Phillips wrote, “he was often beaten, tortured and abused by his Arab master. African slaves, especially Christians, are viewed as lower than animals.
“Joseph was raised Christian. His desire to worship was mocked by his master, who told him every day for 10 years that he had no business worshipping since he was of no more value than a donkey.”
“One Sunday morning, reported Ireland, “Joseph heard the hymn singing of a Christian service. He joined into the worship, remembering church services from when he was a young boy.
“While Joseph was at church, some of the camels he was in charge of escaped, and his master flew into a rage. ‘Ibrahim’, Phillips writes, ‘swore he would kill Joseph and do to him what had been done to Jesus … he would crucify him’.
“After brutally beating Joseph on the head and all over his body, the master laid him out on a wooden plank. He then nailed Joseph to the plank by driving nine-inch nails through his hands, knees and feet. He then poured acid on Joseph’s legs to inflict even greater pain, and finally left him for dead.”
Miraculously, he said, Joseph did not die, even though he lay on the plank for seven days. He survived through the kindness of his master’s son, who brought him food and water, and eventually took him to a medical facility.
“In case you are wondering,” wrote Phillips, “no criminal charges were brought against Joseph’s master, because he acted within his ‘rights’ under currently practiced ‘sharia law.’ To say that Christians are second-class citizens in much of the Islamic world (not just the Sudan) is a cruel understatement.”
After Joseph returned from the hospital, his master saw little value in him since he was crippled from the nails being driven through his knees. Joseph was “redeemed” by Christian slave redeemers who arranged his return home to his village in Bahr el Gazal.
“When he arrived back in his home village”, added Ireland, “the elders thought he should have a new name, so they named him after Joseph of the Bible, who was sold into slavery but later was used mightily by God”.
Phillips said: “Joseph still desperately needs your prayers. By God’s grace Joseph survived kidnapping, the loss of his parents, ten years of enslavement and near death by crucifixion. But while Joseph is free in body, he is still in great pain physically and emotionally. He bears the marks of his crucifixion in his body and the scars of his torment in his soul. He is wounded and broken in his spirit. And his is haunted by the memories of hundreds of other children from his community who perished or remained enslaved in the north.”
He added: “Joseph is one of a small number of people in the 21st century who knows what it means to be crucified because of his Christian faith. But the reality is that hundreds of thousands of our fellow Christians in the Sudan have been enslaved, driven from their homes, hunted and murdered by devoted followers of Islam. This war of Islamic cruelty has raged for centuries in the Sudan. Please remember our Sudanese brethren in your prayers, and do all you can to aid us in the relief of their suffering.”
Background to the Peace Talks
Peace talks between the southern rebels and the government made substantial progress in 2003 and early 2004. The peace was consolidated with the official signing by both sides of the Nairobi Comprehensive Peace Agreement 9 January 2005, granting Southern Sudan autonomy for six years, to be followed by a referendum about independence. It created a co-vice president position and allowed the north and south to split oil deposits equally, but also left both the North’s and South’s armies in place.
John Garang, the South’s peace agreement appointed co-vice president died in a helicopter crash on 1 August 1, 2005, three weeks after being sworn in. This resulted in riots, but the peace was eventually able to continue. The United Nations Mission in Sudan (UNMIS) was established under the UN Security Council Resolution 1590 of 24 March 24, 2005. Its mandate is to support implementation of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement, and to perform functions relating to humanitarian assistance, and protection and promotion of human rights.
In October 2007 the former southern rebel Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) withdrew from government in protest over slow implementation of a landmark 2005 peace deal which ended the civil war. Due to significant cultural, social, political, ethnic and economic changes in short amounts of time, conflicts were evolved in western and eastern provinces of Sudan in addition to an escalating conflict in Southern Sudan.
Since the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA), several violent struggles between the Janjaweed militia and rebel groups such as the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA), Sudanese Liberation Army (SLA) and the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) in the form of guerilla warfare in the Darfur, Red Sea and Equatoria regions have occurred, which has resulted in death tolls between 200,000 and 400,000, over 2.5 million people being displaced and the diplomatic relations between Sudan and Chad being at a crisis level
Now the people of the world’s newest country face many problems such as a new currency must be established, diplomatic missions need to be opened, and a country name must be chosen. Also critical negotiations still must be held with the north to decide on citizenship rights, oil rights and even the final border demarcation.
But for the many Christians in the south, these are small problems to deal with after the mass killings and cruelty that so many of them endured at the hands of the government based in Khartoum.