Thursday, April 24, 2014

Guest Blog: Rev. John Chol Daau Reflections from South Sudan



Over the last six years, my husband, Bo and I have been blessed to befriend our brother in Christ, the Rev. John Chol Daau. He is a priest, teacher, and leader in South Sudan. This letter was written to Christians in the West, so we may understand what our Sudanese sisters and brothers are going through. I hope it reaches your heart, as it has mine. John is one of the many voices in the world who proclaim Christian reconciliation in the face of extreme violence, poverty, and war. He makes me want to be one too! Next week, I aim to follow up John’s post. He gives us some great ideas of how we can help South Sudan and I want to explore that further. I will address two major questions, why does the suffering and persecution of Christians in other places of the world matter? And, what we can feasibly to about it? I promise to not be gut wrenching or guilt inducing! Please, enjoy John’s thoughtful reflection:  

Dear friends,
Greetings in the name of Jesus, the Prince of Peace. You have not heard from me for days, but
this does not mean things have turned to normal in South Sudan. In fact, the situation is becoming increasingly difficult with the humanitarian crisis growing worse, and many lives being lost. Many South Sudanese Christians are hopeful and trusting God for things to turn to peace. I want to say many thanks for your kind prayers over the situation in South Sudan. Please continue to pray that the violence will stop.
I am grateful that my friends Alan and Dr. Katie were able to keep you informed of my whereabouts. I have traveled from Juba by road via Uganda to Nairobi. My cousin Lual, a lawyer, decided to drive 
 just like thousands of others who are leaving South Sudan by road.

Transport to get out of South Sudan is very limited with some airlines suspending their flights to and from Juba. I didn’t know how I would be able to leave the country, but I desperately needed to get to my wife, Sarah. At the last minute, I was able to connect with my nephew Lual and journey with him in his private car. I believe this was God giving me the opportunity and the “okay” to leave and join family in Kenya. My wife who was due to deliver our baby in the next two weeks was already frustrated and worried about me being in South Sudan as the crisis escalates. So, Lual and I, set off for a long journey, taking turns driving to complete a distance of 1400km in two days.  We arrived in Nairobi safely on Monday night, tired and exhausted.

Road Experiences

When Lual and I left Juba on Saturday morning, we quickly found ourselves in heavy traffic of several hundreds of vehicles leaving Juba and lining up at various checkpoints (about five between Juba and Nimule) manned by some officers dressed in South Sudan military uniforms Our car was searched. We answered questions of why we had to leave the country. One soldier, tired and worn out, faced me with a genuine and a troubling question, “Pastor, why do you have to abandon us at this difficult time, we need you and your prayers?  I paused, wearing a face of complete guilt. I stood there honestly lacking better words to explain my reason of abandoning them in this time of need. “Let the pastor go” ordered another officer who seemed to be in command. We drove away. I was already troubled in heart, torn between staying back in South Sudan and joining my family in Kenya!  I continued with the journey anyway, praying that all would be well and knowing that God would remain with his people in South Sudan.
 We arrived at the border town of Nimule. We had to get cleared with immigrations and customs from the border of South Sudan and Uganda. It took us 8 hrs to complete the clearance of our car and ourselves from the South Sudan-Uganda border. The crowd on the border is an evident that South Sudan is distressed.  We left Juba, with obvious conclusion that there is widespread fear.  Many prefer to leave the country in fear, despite the assurance from the government that all will be alright soon.  I saw thousands of South Sudanese and foreigners (mainly Kenyans and Ugandan) crowded at the border. One could see how overwhelmed the immigration and custom officers at Uganda-South Sudan border were!  I caught up with my brother in law and a friend, Elijah Chol who works for a micro finance program in Juba. He told me, he waited for not less than 11 hrs to clear his vehicle and to get an entry visa. Perhaps, over 2000 private vehicles were parked by the time I was at the border, all going through clearance on both side of Ugandan-South Sudan border as drivers scrambled on the long queues to clear and receive visas. It was clear that people were afraid due to the violence.
Finally, we get our turn to receive exit visas from South Sudan immigration office. Lual, my nephew, a lawyer by profession faced tough questions. His passport got detained on the South Sudan boarder, as the Immigration Officer explained to us the reason.  “Orders have come from above preventing personnel that particular professions such as lawyers and government officials cannot to leave the country.” I called out in prayer, hoping that I would not miss the birth of my son. Thank God, the next senior officer to deal with Lual’s case recognized my face. “Pastor, are you heading to Kenya to join your family, Is Lual accompanying you?  Please pray for us? He said with an easy facial expression. “Of course, I will pray for you,” I said. The officer, stamped an exit print on Lual’s passport and we were cleared.
I saw two other government officers denied exit while their families were allowed to exit the border of South Sudan. I could read in their faces the pain of being separated from their families.
We set off for our long journey. Jesus guided and protected us. We carried a family of five, distant relatives from Lual’s maternal family.
My good friend Dr. Katie Rhoads, a missionary doctor for Uganda and South Sudan, warned us that we would be stopped many times on the road by the Ugandan traffic police and we didn’t have the necessary Ugandan Insurance Certificate. However, Jesus was on our side working miracles! Only one stop out of more than seven and thank God they pardoned us and instructed us that we must buy the insurance, first thing when we arrived in Kampala.
We arrived at Kampala. Dr. Katie treated us to a wonderful breakfast at Namirembe Guest House. We had wonderful time of fellowship and prayer, the turmoil of our country very much on our hearts.  We went on with our journey. God answered our prayer. No more police stopping, but we later missed the road exit within Kenya before reaching a  Kenyan town of Eldoret, so we lost four hours tracing routes, but finally we got back to the correct route and arrived safely, tired and exhausted.

Priest Celebrates Communion in "under tree church."
Current Situation in Sudan                                                                   
While on the journey, when we arrived in Nairobi disturbing news and reports of more fighting spreading in Jonglei, Unity and Upper Niles states, kept catching up with us. As of now, many in South Sudan have no chance but to run for safety. Numbers of displaced personhave increased to more than 80, 000 according to the UN reports. Half of them are taking shelter in the UN bases across the country or remote places like Guolyar in Lakes State, just across the western side of the River Nile from Bor.
At the festive time of Christmas, more than a thousand people were feared dead due to gunshots, deliberate killing, hunger, thirst or disease. The numbers have grown now that we are celebrating Easter. Government has regained control of Bor, capital of Jonglei state but lost control of Bentiu capital of Unity State. Fierce fighting is ongoing in Malakal, the capital of Upper Nile State with both sides present in the town. I can’t get through to our Anglican Bishop Hillary Garang Deng in Malakal, but he is reported to still be in town while many civilians have sought protection in the UN base.  Stories from the villages are terrible – with many deaths and looting. Last night, my friend Abe Bol, Sudanese American lost his brother, senior rank officer of the SPLA, in a remote county of Mayom in Unity state. Many people mostly from the Dinka ethnicity are feared dead in the remote counties including Yuai, Waat, Walgak in Jonglei state.
The UN has discovered mass graves in Juba and Bentiu. It was not a surprise to me because I saw 7 or 9 trucks filled with dead bodies and dropped in the hospital last week in Juba. It would be difficult for such bodies to be identified and buried individually.
Evacuation of foreigners is ongoing.


Many thanks to God for a prayer answered as my brother Joseph was evacuated to Juba from Bor last Friday. Though he was out of danger in Bor, he is worried about the people he left behind in the UN
A Perfect Picture of God's Goodness.
compound without food and water.
What is being Done?
The UN is trying to keep people protected, and to provide some water and food. About 3000 families have received some food at the UN bases in Juba. There are voices calling for dialogue and mediation to take place, violence to stop and humanitarian situation responded to but nothing much is happening. No improvement. I spoke to my colleague, Anglican priest, Philip, he told me Archbishop Daniel Deng of  Episcopal Church of South Sudan and Sudan accompanied by  other Church leaders from various denominations visited the  displaced people in UN bases in Juba last Saturday to pray and encourage people there. Yesterday Church leaders in Kenya came together in Nairobi and released a statement calling for peace and reconciliation, adding their voices that the fight is not between the Dinka and Nuer but a political difference within the SPLM party. No doubt that the conflict is misunderstood and it is now turning into ethnic conflict.
What you can do?
Please keep this situation in prayer; that the violence must stop, that killing must stop, dialogue and mediation be given space and for the humanitarian situation to be responded to. Share the information and urge authorities within your reach to act quickly on the situation in South Sudan. I will continue to monitor the situation while in  Kenya  Please consider supporting The Christian Times, newspaper such that I will be able to support our  reporters on this crisis. For more updates, visit websites such as
www.bbc.co.uk, www.thechristiantimes.net,  www.gurtong.net
There are many things you can do to help on South Sudan situation, you can volunteer to help proof read stories or update our social media platform, or urge authorities within your reach or share information widely. Please do not forget us in your churches. We will be praying for you!

Yours in Christ,
Rev. John Chol Daau, Anglican Priest (Episcopal Church of South Sudan and Sudan) Missionary Lecturer Daystar University,  Kenya Managing Editor, The Christian Times,  newspaper, SSFounder, Dean and Founder Good Shepherd College &  Seminary, SS+254 721 304 110

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Remembering His Cry




My God, My God, Why have you Forsaken Me?

“From the sixth hour until the ninth hour darkness came over all the land. About the ninth hour Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?” which means, “My God, My God, Why have you forsaken me?” Matthew 27: 45-46 

In the final hours of Jesus crucifixion, he calls out to the Father, “My God, My God, Why have you forsaken me?” Jesus, being one with God, experiences for the first time, the pain and confusion of abandonment.
            In life, most of us, even if we are not a particularly pious have called out these words, “Why God? Why did you do this to me? How could you leave me?” We have all felt alone, abandoned. We experience the weight of human sin, our own sin and the sin of others. It is crushing.
            Jesus is without sin. He is pristine, immaculate. Think back to a time in which you felt happy. Perhaps you saw the beauty of the world around you or felt real love between people. This completeness is in Jesus all the time. Yet, Jesus on the cross calls out something so bewildering, so very human. He feels that God has left him. For that moment in history Jesus experienced something truly terrible – he was on his own.
            Jesus was abandoned so that we never will be. This precious revelation changes everything. In those times when we call out to God in hurt, frustration, and despair, Jesus understands the pain we’re going through. For although he is sinless, he understands sin better than any of us, because bore the weight of it.  He identifies with us and he died to bring us back into the loving arms of God. He did it so that we will never be forsaken, alone, or abandoned.   
  
            Tomorrow is Good Friday and Christians everywhere will remember the suffering servant. He was shrouded in darkness, covered in sin, and nailed to a tree. The God of our life, our hope, our truth, and our beauty was degraded unto his death. We will remember his cries and we can know with assurance that his love endures even to the edge of doom. Every moment of his suffering flowed from his infinite love for us. Nothing can keep us from God’s love, because of what Jesus did for us. St. Paul said it much better than I ever could, “I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love.  No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom 8:38-39). Thank you, Jesus for your suffering and your sacrifice.
            I hope everyone has a blessed Easter weekend!

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Two Religions




Two Religions

Leslie Newbigin argued that there are two world religions. One in which we laboriously ascend to God and the other, in which God descends to us (The Gospel in a Pluralistic Society). To laboriously ascend is to spend your life climbing a spiritual mountain. Picture God at the top imperiously looking down on his creation, while we climb to meet him, suitcases in hand and backpacks strapped on.
            All this sounds too religious. Surely, we have moved beyond pleasing the gods?  I think that this entire world is striving toward one big mountain top. Take some contemporary slogans, “Be all the you can be, never stop improving, helping you be the best you can be, together we can do more, get more out of now, raising the bar, forever new frontiers,  push the limits, just do it, how big can you dream?, Get more out of now.” I can see us laboring, sweating up the mountain, hoping if we work hard enough, if climb fast enough we’ll get there, wherever there is.
I once visited my local mosque where I met some lovely people, one of whom told me something I would never forget. She said, “I live my life somewhere between fear and hope.” Hope that when she meets her maker she will be found a good, acceptable Muslim woman.  Fear that she would be forever cast out. Imagine getting to the mountain top, to find that you were not invited in the first place. I think that most of us have find ourselves living between hope and fear. We want to be good, better, acceptable, but were afraid we fall short.
We could spend forever appeasing gods. They might not be carven idols, but all of us, have those things that are right up there with God, if not above him; sex, money, power, success, fame, or drugs. For a lot of us that seems pretty extreme, but there are more subtle ones; being a great Christian, a do-gooder, living for your children, your spouse, or a great cause like racial reconciliation or protecting the environment.  It’s not that these are bad, but they can turn sour, quite quickly. It depends on the motivation. St. Paul states, “If I surrender my body to the flames, and have not love, I gain nothing.” (1 Cor 13:3) He means that you can act and talk like Mother Teresa, but if you did it to appease the gods, it’s worthless. Many of you may now be thinking, “Well does she just suggest we do nothing and get all sloppy with our lives?” Striving for excellence is a holy good, but isn’t it wonderful to just sit in the reality that you don’t have to be excellent? I just want to let that sink in for a moment, before we jump into our appropriate response.
            I have known people who spend their lives climbing mountains or appeasing gods. They are on the quest to be richer, thinner, powerful, or successful.  They strive to be more important, noteworthy, celebrated, or just better all the time. This is a hell – one that I have been in. I have tried to climb the mountain many times, only to fall on my butt too many times to count. But, Jesus meets us and he does it not on the mountain top, but in the valley. This is the great miracle: Jesus comes to us. Have you fallen down too many times to number?  Well, praise God for it, because here is another great mystery:  the moment you are at your knees, you’ve reached your personal lowest, the second you feel that you can’t even look your friend, much less God in the face – that’s the moment you have never been more at the center of his love. Jesus does not require great people who do great things. He is okay with messed up people who desire greatly his great love. In other words, He comes to be with you. You don’t have to ascend to him. No sacrifices need to made, he already took care of that. God, through Jesus, is very much pleased with you and you can find him right there in the muck, disaster, and failure of your life. Think about it, where was the moment when God’s glory was most revealed? On the cross, the greatest catastrophe of all time, but through the miracle of his resurrection it became our greatest strength and his great glory.
            Even the greatest “do-gooder” of all time Mother Teresa, said, “On this earth, we cannot do great things, only little things with great love.”  When we are honest with God and ourselves we know that we couldn’t climb a spiritual mountain to save our lives, but we can let God love us and he’s always willing to share his great love.
            What does it mean for you that God meets you in the valley? Here’s what it means for me on daily basis. The other day, I said the most boneheaded, insensitive thing to my friend. I could see the hurt immediately on her face and I wished to God, I could have taken it back. I asked my friend’s forgiveness and she was gracious to me, but I could not stop obsessing about it. I thought of it for two days, wincing every time.  I called her again, just to say sorry once more, and here’s what she said, “We don’t have to be perfect all the time, Lilly. God loves us. We can just forgive each other and move forward.” That was a little thing she did, but she did it with such great love that for a moment, I felt God’s Kingdom breaking through.  We might not ever successfully, climb that mountain top, but he will always be waiting in the valley of our life.


You’ll find Him in the low places.