Pastor Michael Yat and Pastor Peter Yen Reith, members of the South Sudan Presbyterian Evangelical Church, were arrested in Sudan at the end of 2014, but released in August 2015 after thousands of people like you prayed and spoke out on their behalf. We were able to speak to them about their experiences of persecution, of leading men on death row to Christ, and the difference it made to have the prayers and support of their brothers and sisters around the world.
Michael was arrested on 21 December 2014 after a friend invited him to preach at Bahari Evangelical Church in Khartoum. Michael says:
‘I addressed the conflict in the church and taught about our God’s uniqueness and His jealousy from Nahum. What I did not know was that there were security officers secretly recording the sermon. After the service, three National Intelligence and Security Services (NISS) officers arrived and arrested me. “You are a big problem to us”, said an officer before transferring me to Kober prison. “We arrested you because you are a foreigner preaching without permission”.’
Michael’s wife, Mary, didn’t know about his arrest.
‘She and Peter searched for me in hospitals and at police stations but could not find me. They also called my phone, which went unanswered. Only after seven days did officers go to the house to tell Mary where I was and to confiscate my laptop, phones and flash disks. They questioned me about our work and why we had Muslims claiming to be Christians. They also found information about the pastors we worked with and a map of Sudan where we had indicated our work. They said it was proof I was spying for South Sudan. They also planted security training materials on my laptop and claimed it had been there since 2010.’
Peter went to the Religious Affairs office to inquire about Michael. He says:
‘Security officers found the link between us in the emails and documents on Michael’s laptop. On 11 January, I received a call from NISS agents while I was out. They were at my house and threatened to harm my family if I did not get there. So I rushed home where I found them ransacking the house. They confiscated all my documents and arrested me. Just like Michael, I was held at the NISS office overnight and then brought to Kober Prison. But we did not see each other for over three months! They held us in different cells in the maximum security section.
This was the most difficult time for me. I did not know that Michael was in the same prison. The only contact I had with anyone was when food was passed to me through a very small opening in the door. I was not allowed to read my Bible or any other books. They would blindfold me to take me to interrogations. When the blindfold was removed, I would find four soldiers with guns pointing at me. They tried to coerce me into becoming a spy.’
PREACHING TO MEN ON DEATH ROW
On 1 March they were moved to the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) office in Amarat for two months. Peter remembers:
‘The cells were only 2m by 6m and we were up to 20 people in there at times. The heat was almost unbearable. We could not sit down, because there was no room. We also had to buy our own food and were often overcharged. But we were able to talk to our loved ones occasionally. The best part about being there was that we were able to get Bibles and preach to fellow inmates.’
‘We were very happy to see each other. We also got to briefly see our families for the first time. Peter was able to secretly use a phone to get online. That is when we saw the news and the calls for prayer for us. It was amazing! We did not know that there was so much international awareness raised for us. We were really surprised and very encouraged.’
After they were officially charged, they were sent to Omduran prison, which has over 3,000 prisoners. Peter says:
‘This was our mission field! Pastor Michael and I worked out a schedule to preach with the permission of the prison officers who were very good to us. That is until a foreigner came to the prison and was caught taking pictures of the premises. After this the prison officers changed drastically. They ordered us to immediately collect all our things because we were being moved right away.’
They were then moved to Khober prison. Michael says:
‘My cell was very small, only 2m by 3m, but we were twelve people in there. We would take turns sleeping. Six would sleep for four hours, wake up and sit while the other six slept. I cannot describe the heat and horror of the hygiene situation. There were no windows in the cells, yet temperatures would normally reach 50°C. It is a true miracle that we did not get sick. It is God who protected us.’
‘The conditions were very hard. But it was the happiest phase for me because I was put in the same cell with condemned persons and had opportunity to preach to all. Most of them were Muslims. People asked me why I was there and when I told them I faced the death sentence for being a preacher, they would say, “But if they are going to kill you, why are you so happy?” It gave me the opportunity to share about heaven and about Christ. They were shocked and wanted to know more.
‘Whenever the prison officers realised we were preaching to fellow inmates, they would take us to other cells. We did not mind this because in this way we got access to almost all the condemned people! God surely has His ways of doing things, even using those who think they are punishing you.’
FREE AT LAST
‘We made peace with the reality that God would either get us released or let us be killed. The outcome was fully in His hands and we placed our faith in His ultimate purpose. When the judge read the 45-minute long ruling, we sat there in peace waiting for whatever was to be. When he declared us free, I thought I was dreaming! I could not believe my ears! I looked at Michael and asked in disbelief, “Did he just release us?” and he confirmed that I had heard correctly.The Christians who had come to the court were so happy that many burst into tears. When I was released I was so happy to see my wife and daughter.
In everything God has a reason. Through our experiences condemned people heard the gospel. Of those we led to Christ, two were hanged while we were still there. Another three were killed soon after we were released. It was comforting to know that they went to be with Christ.
Also, the situation of the church in the Sudan was highlighted and people around the world became aware of the pressures Christians face there. If our imprisonment was God’s way of exposing their suffering so that they can receive relief and prayer support, it was worth it.
The rallying together of the church on our behalf caused the Muslims in Sudan to testify that the Christian church around the world is strongly united. They wrote this in their local newspapers. This was a wonderful testimony for Christ. Our God is a hearer of prayers and proved that there is nothing too difficult for Him.’
Michael gave this advice to others who are experiencing persecution:
‘Do not be surprised by your persecution, or discouraged. Do not look for the cause of your suffering. Instead focus on the fact that Christ will never abandon you. He is called Emmanuel, God with us. Hold on to Him, and if He chooses, He will cause you to be freed from the suffering, as He did for us. Your testimony will serve to encourage other believers. Finally, may God comfort you the same way He comforted us while we were imprisoned’.
Peter wants to thank all those who supported him and Michael during their imprisonment:
‘We thank God that He heard the prayers of the saints around the world and kept us healthy throughout our jail time. We felt the prayers of the brethren and knew that we could not have been so strong just in our own strength. Every time we went to court we saw international representatives as well as many Christians who came in support. That was such a blessing. Thank you very much for your concern for us when we were in prison and even after our release.’
(Source: Open Doors)
STAND WITH YOUR CHURCH FAMILY IN SUDAN
Through our partners in Sudan, and the generosity of our supporters, Release International supports those in the Nuba mountains of Southern Kordofan who are suffering under intense and daily attacks from the government and are forced to live in the relative safety of the rocks and caves. An estimated 1.2 million persons live in the Nuba mountains area. There are only two fully functioning hospitals remaining plus numerous Primary Health Care Units. In the past our partners have been able to supply enough medicine to provide for the needs of 100 Primary Health Care areas for approximately a third of the year. They also give packs containing Bibles plus other essentials such essentials as mosquito nets, jerry cans, water guards, bed sheets, dresses, socks, shoes, bars of soap, salt, polypropylene bag, cooking pot and stick, pens, pencils, crayons, writing pads, plastic sheeting, bath towel, bucket, and t-shirts.
- Praise God for answering our prayers for Peter and Michael, and that God was able to use them to reach many in prison with the gospel
- That all the Christians imprisoned in Sudan would know God’s strength, comfort and wisdom
- For a fair judicial process, and that charges against the imprisoned Christians will be dropped
- That all those involved in the cases against these pastors would come to know and love Jesus for themselves.