“Why the hell would you go to northern Sudan, Congressman?”
“Why don’t you come to Sudan and meet President al-Bashir?”
I have to admit, I paused before replying. Making such a trip would be quite a radical move.
To say Omar Hassan Ahmad al-Bashir was not a popular man in the West would be the height of understatement.
Bashir’s government had gained a reputation as one of the worst violators of human rights and religious freedoms in the world for hosting the likes of Carlos the Jackal and Osama bin Laden. There were reports of widespread violence against the Christian community, including torture of the clergy, destruction of churches and forced mass conversions, rape of the women, enslavement of the children, and ethnic cleansing.
But if we won’t talk, I thought, what hope is there of reconciliation? How can we possibly hope to reconcile two parties when we’re only engaged in talking with one of those parties? Talking with our friends isn’t difficult. But who’s going to talk with the enemy?
A few minutes later, the president entered. He wasted no time on pleasantries and got right down to asking us why we were there.
“We have no political mission . . . and, other than forging the bonds of friendship, no particular agenda.” Actually, Doug chimed in, “we’re here to pray with you.” For the first time, I saw a crack in al-Bashir’s implacable demeanor. This was not something he had expected.
“I spoke up.
..just know that we’re going to be praying with you and for you in this process, and believing in you and in the very essence of what you call the power of Islam—being surrendered to God and in peace.”
One of my greatest regrets in this life is that Doug and I did not have a photographer with us. If we had, a photo of President Omar al-Bashir’s expression in that moment would grace the cover of this book. I’ve never seen anyone so overtaken by bafflement, so utterly at a loss for words. What was he going to say? “Sorry, I’m against peace”?
We spoke about the Qur’an and the Injil, about Jesus and how he is regarded in Islam, about the true meaning of the Aramaic words usually translated “as “convert” and why we didn’t believe Jesus ever intended to create a “religion” or for people to be told to reject their culture and traditions, but only to surrender themselves to God.
We did not speak about the war, about human rights, or anything remotely political. When we returned to the United States, I reported our trip to my friends in Congress and the State Department. The State man gazed at me with bewilderment; “Why the hell would you go to northern Sudan, Congressman?”
I smiled back. “Why wouldn’t we?
Congressman Mark Siljander recounts his spiritual odyssey from an anti-Muslim Christian conservative to a pioneer in discovering ground-breaking common roots between Islam and Christianity, while trailblazing a unique diplomatic path for bringing the two communities together on the principles of Jesus.
Available on Paperback, e-Book, and Audiobook
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