Tag Archives: Ministry in South Sudan

The Crocodile was kind to me…

“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.

Rooted in Jesus returns to South Sudan

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

A bull was killed in the team’s honour

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.

In conclusion

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.