Of all the countries where Rooted in Jesus has been adopted as the primary strategy for teaching Christian discipleship, South Sudan is the most challenging in which to minister. Created only 11 years ago after more than 20 years of civil war, South Sudan is the world’s youngest country. The Episcopal Church of South Sudan (ECSS) was quick to plan for the future, and over the next couple of years Rooted in Jesus was introduced to the Anglican dioceses of Nzara, Wau and Yambio. Groups were established, and hopes were high.
The first RinJ conference in South Sudan, Diocese of Nzara, March 2012
But in 2013 a new civil war broke out, and over the next 5 years tens of thousands of people were killed or displaced. After a prolonged period of negotiation a peace agreement was signed in 2018, and whilst South Sudan remains a difficult country to visit, we have been able to continue our support for the Anglican church there. The ending of the Covid19 travel restrictions last year made it possible to accept invitations from the Dioceses of Aweil and Wanyjok, and in May this year we were able to send a team to the Dioceses of Maridi and Yambio. In October a further team led by Barry Blackford ran conferences in Wau and Tonj, and in November Mike Cotterell took a team to offer follow-up conferences in Aweil and Wanyjok, and an introductory conference in Nyamlel.
This report covers the recent conferences in the Dioceses of Wau and Tonj.
The Diocese of Wau
As we prayed for Barry, Derreck, Diana (from the UK), John and Yosefate (from Aweil and Nzara) we became increasingly aware of the difficulties posed by the lack of many of the things we take for granted. South Sudan has few roads, so internal travel has to be by air – and flights are hard to book and liable to change at short notice. Electricity is a bonus, accommodation basic, and clean drinking water not always available. Most people speak and teach in Dinka (into which the leader’s booklets had been painstakingly translated), but not all can read it. Food insecurity is a constant problem, recently exacerbated not only by the suspension of the UN food aid programme following the Russian invasion of Ukraine, but also by serious flooding which had washed away almost all locally grown crops.
Despite these difficulties, 85 people turned up to the first conference, which ran for four days. A lifetime of civil war isn’t good for morale, pastors are not paid for their ministry, and food insecurity zaps the spirit. The team sensed spiritual weariness and a sense of pervasive passivity. But by the second day something of a breakthrough had been achieved, with a powerful sense of the presence of the Holy Spirit. Barry wrote:
“As we were praying the Spirit down after the morning teaching it felt right to ask Bishop Peter to give his testimony. It was very powerful & the Spirit poured down in power. During the afternoon Workshop on prayer, a lady was given the verse about Jesus cursing the unproductive fig tree, and she was in tears because he said he wanted the tree to bear fruit – and she’s the tree, and he wanted her to bear fruit. This continued into the evening ministry session where we shared words given to Barry and Diana. People responded to both of these, and one lady was convicted by God and poured out a prayer of repentance. We told her that she is forgiven and then prayed for her deliverance and she was transformed. Most were touched by the Spirit and praised God out loud, often in tongues.”
Smiles all round as delegates receive books and certificates in Wau
At the end of the conference 79 people were commissioned to lead groups on their return home.
The Diocese of Tonj
The ECSS is experiencing a period of sustained growth and expansion, and within the Northern Province six new dioceses have been created – one of which is the mission diocese of Tonj, led by Bishop Peter Yuol Gur. The arrival of the Rooted in Jesus team marked the first time Europeans had visited the diocese to teach, and they were given a huge welcome by Bishop Peter and the diocesan leadership team. 100 people had been invited to the conference, but over 120 turned up. The conference was held in the cathedral, with group work taking place outside under the trees.
But here too, the long shadow of the civil war loomed, as the news came in that fighting had broken out in another part of the diocese. Bishop Peter’s nephew had been shot, and two of the delegates learned that family members had been killed. Meanwhile team member Yosefate received the news that back at home in Nzara two of his friends had been attacked by a man with a machete, and one had died. Barry writes:
“One of our interpreters received a message to say that her favourite uncle had been one of those killed in the conflict. She insisted on continuing to interpret for us. When she had finished her stint, I had a chat with her. She shared what had been happening in her life. She had been nursing her sick father, who had died 2 weeks earlier, and she had just been informed by her school that she could not return to complete her education because nursing her dying father was not sufficient reason for missing school. As a result, she was no longer going to be able to sit her exams and go to university. In just 2 weeks she had lost: her father; a very supportive uncle, who was taking her father’s place as head of the family; and her future aspirations of an education and career. Her response was to forgive those who had done these things to her and to say that she knew that God was there with her and would help her through it.”
The result of all this was that the times of prayer intensified. The team learned that the local custom was that people would come for prayer no matter what was happening – if the clergy were in the church, people would just walk in, come to the front and ask for prayer. And so they did – for reassurance, for physical healing, for release from oppression. Worship continued unabated – and was at times, Barry reports, difficult to stop!
“As soon as we finished some teaching, they worshipped; and before we started, they worshipped”
At the end of the conference 105 people were given certificates and commissioned as Rooted in Jesus group leaders, the team were showered with gifts, and Diocesan Secretary Zechariah Dut was appointed as diocesan coordinator. In Wau his counterpart John Awer will undertake this role, and Revd Joseph Uyu will serve as Provincial Coordinator. Archbishop Moses hopes to persist with his plan to introduce Rooted in Jesus to every diocese in the Northern Province over the next decade.
It wasn’t easy – but the team were much encouraged by their experiences:
“Going on these conferences always challenges my faith and spiritual perspective. They inevitably lead to a realigning and recalibrating of my faith as a result of being exposed to the faith of those we have the privilege to minister to. This trip as with the others will impact upon my parish ministry, and not just with a fund of new sermon illustrations! The sense I got of the South Sudanese Church being dependant upon the daily miraculous was both humbling and inspiring in equal measure.” – Derreck Lee-Philpot
“The wanderers have returned with stories to tell and blessings to share. Despite some of the problems that we faced along the way, we feel greatly blessed by what we have seen God doing in the dioceses of Wau and Tonj. The people of South Sudan are really great and it was so good to have two of the South Sudanese Coordinators with us. John and Yosefate were a great asset and up for anything. But most of all a really big ‘thank you’ to all of you for your love and prayers, especially when the times were a Iittle testing. We were really aware of your prayers when the going got tough.” – Barry Blackford
Conference participants with the bishop and team, Tonj
Finally, a request for your help
Rooted in Jesus is published and supported by The Mathetes Trust. We will not beat about the bush – ministry in South Sudan is not only challenging but expensive. If we are to continue to work there, helping Archbishop Moses fulfil his vision for growing discipleship across this needy Province, we need your support! If you would be willing to make a donation to enable us to continue this ministry, we would be immensely grateful. And if you would like to join our prayer team, we would be delighted to hear from you too. To make a donation just click the CAF button, or for other ways of giving visit our website. For more information or to join our prayer team, click here.