Sudanese Christians have appealed for prayers on the eve of the referendum due to start on Sunday, 9 January on whether Sudan will remain united or divide into two, North and South. Voting is restricted to Southern Sudan. It is almost universally expected that there will be a vote for Southern independence, leading to the establishment of a new state on 9 July.
This referendum will have significant implications for Christian communities, particularly in the North. Southern Sudanese living in the North, many of whom are Christians, fear they may lose some of their current residency rights in the North.
Sudan's federal government in Khartoum has stated that, should the South secede, Shari'a will be more strictly implemented in the North, potentially reducing the limited freedoms Christians, and other non-Muslims, enjoy. Further, Churches in the North are concerned about potential for further restrctions on their freedom of worship.
Fears of increased violence as the referendum approaches have not been realised. Preparations have been completed, including the simplification of the voting paper for the many illiterate people in the South.
But there remains concern about the province of Abyei. A referendum to determine whether the province should retain its semi-autonomous status within the North or become part of the South has been postponed. Sudanese Christians are concerned that instability in Abyei has the potential to provoke North-South violence.
Sudanese Christians appeal for prayers that: There will be no violence within Sudan during or after the referendum; The outcome of the referendums will be respected by all parties; The rights of all Christians, particularly those in Northern Sudan, will be respected; and that Church leaders will be guided by the Spirit as they exercise their ministries at this time
For further background information, see Middle East Concern's report published on 30 October 2010, 'Implications for the Church in Sudan of the Referendum on Independence for the South', available at: www.stfrancismagazine.info/ja/images/stories/20101030_Sudan-North-South-Referendum.pdf
Source: Middle East Concern