A year ago life seemed promising for Mohammed Khidir Khalil: he had obtained refugee status in Egypt after fleeing Islamic hostilities in Sudan and his unbelieving wife was attending church with him. Kahlil’s outlook was bright. But that was a year ago.
Khalil’s journey to Christ began in Egypt. He was a practicing Sufi Muslim in 1988 when he began studying at a university in Alexandria. Following graduation, he returned to Sudan as an atheist. Back in Sudan, Khalil came into contact with a U.S. pastor whose Christian faith inspired him. The pastor told him about the Nubian people of southern Egypt and northern Sudan who called themselves “sons of the Nile,” the river being considered the source of life, using that idea to illustrate the Son of God likewise coming from God as the source of all life.
References to Jesus as the Good Shepherd whose Father was the God of love also moved the former Muslim. Khalil entrusted his life to Christ in 2001 and stayed with the pastor for three months before returning to his home village. When his family realized that Khalil had embraced the Christian faith, his father threatened to shoot him. Khalil fled.
After he was baptized in a historically Nubian area near his home village, Khalil began winning friends to Christ and experiencing more intense persecution. He fled to the United Arab Emirates where he remained until the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement between north and south Sudan in 2005 at which point he returned to Sudan with the hope of serving his community. He became an English teacher as well as developing programs to promote Nobiin, one of the Nubian languages, and its cultural heritage. In addition to building a literacy program for children in Nobiin, he also wrote poetry in the language and translated several hymns and Bible verses into it.
Six years after his 2001 conversion to Christianity, Khalil met Manal Hassan. At that time, she claimed to be neither a Christian nor a Muslim. The pair married in a non-religious ceremony. Khalil reports that, though the bride’s Muslim family learned that Khalil was a Christian, they voiced no objection to the marriage. By 2010, the couple had joined an undisclosed church and become visibly active in it. Their increasingly overt Christian lifestyle sparked rapidly intensifying opposition from their families. The couple fled to Egypt in January 2011.
In Egypt, they reported their case to the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and was granted asylum. From the safety of Egypt, Khalil freely emailed friends in Sudan about his Christian experience and pointed out what he termed as contradictions in Islam.
The situation took a devastating turn in August of last year when his Muslim mother-in-law visited them in Egypt. “Without my knowledge, she took my wife and children back to Sudan,” Khalil said. After months of being unable to establish contact with his wife and sons, Khalil return to an undisclosed town in Sudan on Christmas Day 2011 to search for them. He was shocked to discover that his wife had filed for divorce on grounds that she was a Muslim and he a Christian.
A judge denied Kahlil’s appeal of the divorce ruling, instead declaring that the marriage be annulled and the children automatically placed in the custody of the spouse professing “the popular religion” – Islam, Manal Hassan’s alleged religion. The court also forbid Khalil from seeing his sons. Desperate to retain contact with his children, the distraught father is considering further appeals despite knowing such appeals could lead to a case of apostasy against him, a crime punishable by death under Sudan’s sharia (Islamic law) legal system.
Father, we bring before You Mohammed Khalil who loves You more than life itself. Guide him with Your wisdom and enable him to reunite with his sons so that he might raise them up to know and love You. If his wife is truly a believer, give her courage and opportunity to flee the bondage her family has placed on her. If she is not, we ask You to draw her to Yourself in true faith. Reunite this family, Lord, that they might serve You in unity, and that the testimony of their lives might be a beacon of light and hope to generations. In the name of Jesus who restores, Amen.