Saturday, May 30, 2015

In Exile and On the Move: Rev. John Chol Daau Reports from South Sudan

 I am delighted to have my brother, Rev. John Chol Daau, update us on the current situation in South Sudan. This report reminds that biblical times are present times. Jesus is alive in his people. Thanks again, John, and congratulations on the birth of your third son. Enjoy these words, friends. May they strengthen and challenge you. Blessings, Lilly

The Faith and Challenges of South Sudanese Christians

Instability and war has forced large populations of South Sudanese people to move to Kenya and other countries as refugees looking for safety, and better education and medical services.

The Church of South Sudan, however, is always encouraged by the companionship in prayers and support from our Christian brothers and sisters around the world.  I am inspired how no matter where South Sudanese refugees are, we always establish Churches and worship in our vernaculars.

A committed life of church, prayer, and bible study became a common phenomenon among  South Sudanese refugees. Our experiences  remind us of biblical times, when the children of Israel worshiped God in exile and on the move.  In Kenya alone based on the report of the peace mission to Kenya ECSS congregations in November 2014  which I was involved, there are about  fifty congregations of South Sudanese (mainly Anglicans) spread across the country, including Kakuma refugee camp, where I lived and ministered for many years. If other non-Anglican churches are added, the number will double.  In the refugee camps of Nyumanzi and Ayilo in northern Uganda, there are more than thirty Anglican congregations led by several pastors and lay leaders. These congregations have become instrumental in discipleship ministry, leadership formation, and promotion of peace, reconciliation, unity and positive values among the South Sudanese in Diasporas. Refugee Churches, such as these, helped begin a Christian awakening throughout East Africa.

The leaders for these churches, however, are desperate for skill-based training. They want to minister effectively to their congregations, who were entrusted to their leadership. They also want to return home (South Sudan) in the future with some better knowledge and skill they might have acquired from the foreign land. Due to war and lack of education opportunities in South Sudan, many of the pastors leading the churches did not have a chance to receive training before becoming leaders.

On the Ministry Call

In March and April, Dr. Katie Rhoads and I completed syllabus on pastoral care and counseling. This will enable the leaders in the camp obtain a basic certificate, with the hope to upgrade their future.  At the forefront in our mind was to provide classes relevant to the unique opportunities and challenges of refugee life. We have been placed with gifted teachers from all over the world.

Most recently, we taught in Nyumanzi refugee camp. I traveled from Nairobi by bus for two days to arrive in Adjumani at the refugee camp of Nyumanzi to start the course.  There are several refugee camps populated by South Sudanese people because of previous and current wars. These camps are located in northern Uganda. In Nyumanzi, there is a population of more than 25,000 refugees forced out from South Sudan by the current ongoing conflict of South Sudan against itself.

Rev. John as he teaches
I taught the course, the Fundamentals of Christian leadership for 6 days.  Seventy three students and participants attended. We had classes between 9am to 4pm. It was refreshing to both participants and myself.

A Joyful Celebration of Ministry

The leaders are excited that the training has started. They were happy to have me to teach, as they also want more people to come and teach.  They are hungry for knowledge and information about how to lead their congregations better.

When I reached Ayilo II, another camp populated by more than 15,000 South Sudanese. I was stunned to find myself being welcomed by a large gathering; perhaps close to 500 people (youths, women and pastors) came out on the roadside singing and processing to enter the church. This welcome is something I usually see given only to our bishops.  I complained to them and protested their decision to have arranged such a large reception and procession. I told them that I am the smallest person who does not deserve to be welcomed by hundreds of people. In their response, the leaders protested too. One of the leaders, Rev. Daniel Dau said. “We are not welcoming or receiving you. We are welcoming the knowledge you have brought to us. We want knowledge and you have it. Today, you have come to teach us.”

Another woman and Lay Reader said, “You are our child. We know you have acquired some knowledge. The white people and Kenyans have taught you so that you may also come and teach us. Why do you complain about us celebrating the opportunity to get some knowledge from you? We are your own people. We are celebrating with joy, now we shall receive the knowledge we desire.”

With her welcoming words during the launching of the training, Rev. Anna Garang said, “teach us now. We are good listeners. Talk to us. Make conversation with us. We are listening.  Our ears are open. We can hear all that you may say in Dinka and bits in English. Although we cannot write or speak the language of the white people, we do have a little lame English and a broken one. With it, we can hear. Come with others who have the knowledge to explain to us. Please talk to us until we feel we have heard something” she concluded.

Mary Aluel, a lay reader of Nyumanzi camp, also said. “We can listen and see. We have wisdom but we only lack education of white people. Nevertheless, we are not asking you to give us the education of white people. Explain to us what Jesus wants us to do as leaders. Explain to us how we can detect what the scripture says about our leadership”

Therefore, our students are not academic professionals. They are practical leaders on the ground. They have many experiences. Among them are pastors who have worked for years. Some young lay leaders and youths have good high school education level.  

Living in the camp

Life is in the camp is humble and not complicated. We would do classes during the day and have great fellowship (singing, scripture sharing and prayer) in the evening in the grass-thatched compound. The leaders in the camp have built for the facilitators two tukuls (round huts) to sleep in.  It is a very natural environment with basic living conditions. The bathroom is a plastic sheet wound, open on the top, with unpaved floor. No shower, but you bathe using a basin, drawing water by your hands and pour on your body. 

On South Sudan-security/fighting updates

South Sudan recently experienced renewed clashes in Upper Nile and Unity states, while severe economic strain is increasing and hitting the poorest South Sudanese. Towards the end of April, fighting between government troops and a previous militia broke out in Upper Nile’s state capital, Malakal, displacing several thousands of civilians from that area. A few days later, another fight broke out around Unity State’s capital Bentiu between the government and the forces of the rebel. Both Unity and Upper Nile states are on the border of South Sudan and Sudan. Sudan has been lashing out with attacks against opposition controlled areas in and around Unity state’s capital Bentiu. Recently, while campaigning, Bashir, the president of Sudan, has been lashing out with threatening statements against South Sudan.

Pray with Us

I ask that you would take a few minutes to remember us in prayer as we give services to the people of God. Supporting God's work through prayer is a vital part of the mission. We believe that when God's people pray, He listens and responds. Pray that the students and participants will be healthy. We really need finances for this kind of training. Pray for this ministry that God will provide the people and the financial resources to enable the training continue smoothly. Traveling, visas, meals for the facilitators, stationery and other important supplies, are all needs of ours. We need both English and Dinka Bibles for the participants and students. Pray for volunteer trainers to get time and be available for training as proposed. Please continue to pray for our brothers and sisters in South Sudan who are still experiencing war and heartbreak. May their faith be strengthened in this challenging time.

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