At 6:30 a.m. last Monday, John Sagherian and Elie Heneine went down to the lobby of their three-star hotel in eastern Sudan and found a crowd gathered around a TV. Filtering in, they heard the news.
The military had staged a coup in the capital, Khartoum, 90 miles to the northwest.
“Instantly, everything we planned for that day was up in the air,” said Heneine, a 27-year-old staff worker with Youth for Christ (YFC) Lebanon. “Oh well, youth work is very organic.”
Sagherian, the 74-year-old YFC regional director, had long been “dying to visit” Sudan. Two years earlier, he had identified a promising country director named Sabet, who since then had recruited seven other volunteer staff members. Sabet even ignored the capital, concentrating instead on the poorer hinterland.
The Lebanese team of two were finally scheduled to meet their new Sudanese colleagues later that day. As malaria had been among their concerns, they had taken 100 mg of medication every day for two weeks prior. The visa had also been a complication, requiring multiple layers of bureaucracy. But it was the BBC app that now troubled Joy, Heneine’s American wife of five months, as Sudan increasingly filled her news feed.
Heneine himself was at peace. Not only was he used to instability as a Lebanese Christian, but Sabet and others assured them everything was fine—despite the political tumult between the once-cooperating military and civilian leaders.
In 2019, the Sudanese army backed massive protests to overthrow 30-year dictator Omar al-Bashir. A spate of religious freedom reforms replaced his Islamist governance, normalization agreements were signed with the nation’s former enemy Israel, and the US removed Sudan from its list of state sponsors of terrorism.
The economy was struggling, but the World Bank was poised to help. Sudan was almost ready to rejoin the community of nations. But politicians were bickering, and a military coup had been suppressed only one month earlier.
In the background was disagreement over sending Bashir to the International Criminal Court to be tried for war crimes in Darfur. Deeper still were issues of army control of large sectors of the economy. And at an unspecified but fast-approaching date, the transitional Sovereign Council was supposed to switch to civilian leadership. Two days before the coup, the YFC team had traveled three hours over bumpy roads with multiple checkpoints to reach…
This article was originally published at Christianity Today, on November 3, 2021. Please click here to read the full text.