Church Worker Wonders If He Can Stay

SWEAT seeps through the Rev. Paul Boyle's faded T-shirt. It's morning, but the Roman Catholic priest from the Scottish lowlands has to squint through the glare to survey his parish, a broiling wasteland atop a desolate desert plain near Khartoum, the capital of Sudan.

Fr. Boyle is on the lookout. He isn't exactly popular with the Islamic government here.

''I don't know what their problem is. They're certainly not following the Koran,'' says Boyle. ''If they were following the Koran, they would respect our religion and respect our beliefs.''

Sudan's government has relocated some 250,000 people to these bleak desert settlements called ''peace villages.'' A handful of international agencies and churches work here, although the Sudanese regime has discouraged them from operating. Sudanese officials say they worry that Western relief groups and churches have a ''hidden agenda'' of proselytizing and spying.

Boyle says he's no enemy of Islam and isn't interested in converting Sudanese. But he complains that local authorities frequently harass him. In recent years, Sudanese officials have arrested him, searched his home, and threatened to bulldoze schools he has built here.

Bulldozing of churches and Christian schools in greater Khartoum is common. The Mission Act of 1962 declares churches to be foreign entities and forbids their construction without government authorization.

A new, revised Mission Act prohibits churches in Sudan from holding public meetings, Boyle says. It permits the government to investigate church finances and allows church staff to work only in government-authorized areas.

''Eventually, we're going to be thrown out. There's a lot of nice words taking place, 'Yes, you have your rights.' But I'm working as hard as I can because a day will come when I'm out,'' Boyle says. ''Sometimes I fear for my life. I've been chased through the streets by these security men. Being human, you're frightened. [But] then your fear is somehow lessened.''

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