“The crocodile was kind to me, I stopped swimming and he continued down stream. I used to get beaten everyday for being late for school – boys were not allowed to use boats, I had to swim across the river with my books above my head… This is where I started school; we just wrote the alphabet with our fingers in the sand and the teacher would put a tick in the sand.” Bishop Joseph Mamer of the Diocese of Wanyjok had taken us to the area of his birth and early years, team leader Mike Cotterell writes; there was no bridge then, nor was there a market, nor displaced people in temporary shelters. Visits to places and stories about lives are so powerful.
Life in South Sudan has not got easier. The Rooted in Jesus team ministering in the Diocese of Nyamlel, Aweil and Wanyjok faced difficulties caused not by crocodiles but by the touch-and-go nature of local flights, by flooded roads, damaged buildings, hungry people and a lack of electric light. Many participants had walked miles through swamped fields to attend the conferences, despite the devastation caused to their homes and crops; but prayer was heartfelt and worship vibrant. One man gave thanks for the healing of his feet, which had swollen after he had spent three days walking and wading through floods; a woman who had been unable to stand found after prayer that she was able to walk alone.
One Province, two weeks, three conferences
First stop for the team – Mike Cotterell, Luka Lual, Andrew Nankivell and Leslie Siu – was the Diocese of Nyamlel, founded only three years ago and part of the Internal Province of Northern Barh El Ghazal. Bishop Peter Garang, who was present throughout the four day conference, had written: “It requires more training in order to equip and empower church leaders such as lay readers, evangelists, pastors, elders and youth who must be able to do mission and evangelism properly in their respective parishes across the Episcopal Diocese of Nyamlel.”
A hundred people attended the conference, including three women who arrived and announced “We were not selected to come to the conference, we walked all day to get here and waddled through water waist deep, we don’t want a certificate, we will eat our own food and sleep somewhere, we just want the training.” They received both the training and certificates! Afterwards Bishop Peter wrote: “It is my prayer that those participants who received the basic biblical knowledge and skills during Rooted in Jesus Conference have been touched by the power of the Holy Spirit to start Rooted in Jesus small groups in their respective parishes across the Diocese of Nyamlel.”
Next stop was the Diocese of Aweil. This was a return visit, a follow-up conference for those who were trained last year. “Our journey from Nyamlel to Aweil was uneventful in local terms,” writes team member Leslie Siu; “having to stop and weave our way through herds of cattle, long stretches of dusty tracks with bumps that mean I’m unlikely to complain about potholes in British roads ever again, and seeing many people walking for seemingly endless miles in the baking hot sun.” 84 people turned up to the conference which was hosted by Canon William Aguer and Coordinator John Akok, as Bishop Abraham was receiving medical treatment elsewhere. John reported that many of the 60 groups initially established in the parishes of Aweil town had been interrupted by the recent flooding, and the hope is that the impetus provided by the conference will help them resume once the waters go down.
John Akok with one of the Rooted in Jesus groups in Aweil
The third and final conference took place in the Diocese of Wanyjok – another newly formed diocese. This too was a return conference, providing encouragement and support to those trained last year, and offering training to 50 additional leaders. This is Luka Lual’s home diocese, and he reported that 100 groups had been established after the introductory conference last year, and all had been making good progress, with many of them working through the second book – though once again many had been forced to suspend meeting due to the long period of extensive and unusual flooding which had made roads impassable, and caused crops to fail, people to be cut off or displaced, and houses to fall down.
Lesli Siu writes: “Our time in Wanyjok was a brilliant final stop to the trip. The conference largely took place under a huge tree Christians have been gathering under for many years. Situated next to a local church school, we regularly had school children coming by to see what was happening. Once again, our gathered times of worship were punctuated by the lively demeanour of the older women who often led the way in joyful song and dance.”
Worshipping beneath the tree in Wanyjok
Afterwards Bishop Joseph Mamer, who was present throughout the conference, wrote: “Everyone was touched, I felt that the Holy Spirit was moving during the conference. I remember one woman got healed as she confessed, another woman whose six children died also gave her life to Christ after many years of following and consulting witchcraft, spearmaster, many evil things, those are very significant. Young youth were also challenged, their lives got changed. We remain grateful and it is our prayer that this program will continue, as I have realized that it’s one of the best tools to bring about transformation and change in our youngest growing diocese of Wanyjok. We pray that this program will flourish into bigger development and growth.”
Filling the gaps
In between the conference sessions, the team were able to spend time engaging with the local children, who were on holiday from school. In Nyamlel, while participants worked in small groups, Mike and Andrew played with a group which began with just a few children but soon grew into a crowd of 40. The next afternoon they ran an impromptu session of gospel teaching with actions, stories, drama and games, and in Wanyjok they led a session in the church school and visited the Bible College.On Sundays they were invited to preach at the cathedrals and in local churches. The mission concluded in Juba with a meeting with a number of bishops who were gathering for their annual conference, and a debrief session with Archbishop Moses Deng.
Luka Lual teaching the children; the Nyamlel Mothers Union; Bishop Peter Garang awarding certificates
Mike Cotterell reflects: “South Sudan is often not a comfortable place to live in. But, WOW didn’t we meet loads of people who were hungry for teaching and very welcoming! The Bishop of Aweil was not with us, due to hospitalisation abroad, but the involvement of the other Bishops at nearly everything was very valuable along with senior clergy, who were also engaged and often willing to lead small groups. The most exciting and excitable group at each conference were those from the Mother’s Union, who sang and danced the loudest and longest. The times of meditation and prayer were often extremely still and often long, as people waited on God and prayed and listened to him, often reluctant to finish.”
But perhaps the last word should go to Bishop Peter Garang, who closed the conference in Nyamlel with a powerful reminder to those joyfully receiving their certificates: “The devil is not frightened of a certificate; you need to actually do the work!”
We have committed to praying for them as they do so.
Left: The team – Andrew Nankivell, Mike Cotterell (team leader), Luka Lual and Leslie Siu
Right – click to read Leslie’s detailed report
We hope to return to South Sudan next year, but this will depend not just on the local situation but also on our financial resources. If you would like to help support the ministry of Rooted in Jesus in South Sudan you can do so by clicking on the orange CAF button in the right hand margin of this page – or just follow the link here.
Rooted in Jesus is published and supported by the Mathetes Trust, a UK Registered Charity.