The release of two Presbyterian pastors imprisoned for their Christian faith for nearly eight months in the Republic of Sudan was celebrated today, belatedly.

The Revs. Yat Michael and Peter Yen Reith of the South Sudan Presbyterian Evangelical Church (SSPEC) were officially released from a high-security prison in Khartoum on August 5. However, for reasons related to Government of Sudan procedural requirements, the pastors were not permitted to leave the country until August 19.

“Glory be to God,” wrote the Rev. Philip Akway Obang, general secretary of the SSPEC in an email to Presbyterian World Mission. His note described a brief service of prayer and thanksgiving hosted by the Atlabara congregation upon the pastors’ arrival in Juba today. Michael and Reith thanked all who prayed and advocated for their release.

The pastors were initially detained without charge by Sudan’s National Intelligence and Security Service (NISS) in December 2014 and January 2015, respectively. Several months later, May 4, the government filed serious charges against the pastors, some which could have resulted in life imprisonment or the death penalty if they had been convicted.

On June 4, they were relocated from a low-security prison to a high-security prison with no visitors allowed, including family members and their defense attorneys. On July 1, a third pastor, the Rev. Hafez of the Evangelical Church in Bahri, and attorney Mohanad Mustafa were arrested, briefly detained, and released on bail after challenging a government employee who was overseeing the destruction of parts of the church complex not included in a government order. The charges against Hafez and attorney Mustafa are still pending in the Sudanese court system.

The Rev. Debbie Braaksma, Africa area coordinator for Presbyterian World Mission, said she is thankful and relieved that pastors Michael and Reith are now home with their families.

“Presbyterian World Mission is rejoicing with the South Sudan Evangelical Presbyterian Church on the release and homecoming of Reverends Yat Michael and Peter Yen Reith,” she said. “This is what it means to be the body of Christ together (1 Corinthians 12:26). Yet at the same time we also need to remember that the situation for Christians in the Republic of Sudan has not changed; human rights violations against Christians are still continuing.”

“These pastors are coming home to a South Sudan that is being ravaged by a brutal civil war and whose leaders are having difficulties in reaching a peace agreement,” Braaksma said. “As part of Christ’s body we need to continue to stand by our partners and mission co-workers with our prayers, advocacy and generous support.”