Getting a Fuller Picture of God's Mission in South Sudan
by Jeff Ritchie
Life is not easy in South Sudan. Even when there is electricity, there are frequent outages. If the institution does not have a back-up generator, the night can be miserable. That was the case for us our first full night in Juba. But it was the third night for our new Egyptian friends. So we decided to move to a hotel which had air conditioning and a back-up generator. We were again grateful to the Rev. Peter Shabak for booking the Victoria Hotel amidst all the other duties of his office.
Before we moved, however, we had the first of another marathon of meetings. Our first meeting today was with the Rev. Stephen Nyang, Director of the Department of Education for the Presbyterian Church of South Sudan. With him was Education Consultant, Leisa Wagstaff. Leisa has been a Presbyterian co-worker for over 30 years in Africa. She works alongside the Rev. Stephen as they coordinate the Education Program of the church.
The PCOSS has prioritized education for children as a way to impact the future of their new country. In support of this priority the PC(USA) appointed three mission co-workers (including Leisa) to assist the church, and The Outreach Foundation has been part of the effort from the beginning. It is one of the components of our commitment to rebuild hope in South Sudan.
We came to share with the Rev. Stephen and Leisa what we had seen in the education work in the camps in Ethiopia, and we were delighted to learn that they too were committed to this work. They think as highly of the young education coordinator, John Jock, as we did (see Day 5 blog, “Schools Where There Are No Schools”).
Following our meeting we moved to the new hotel with the assistance of our next meeting hosts, the South Sudan Presbyterian Evangelical Church. The Rev. Philip Obang, General Secretary, welcomed us to the “SSPEC” compound where we met the Moderator, the Rev. James Par Tap, and a dynamic couple, Elder Daniel who is Treasurer, and his wife Achol.
Among the programs the SSPEC highlighted were trauma healing programs carried out by the Women’s Desk and the Youth Desk. Our Egyptian participants were glad to learn that a couple of the Sudanese pastors they had met in Egypt were from SSPEC, and they asked the leaders in Juba to connect them with a third SSPEC pastor living there. They also encouraged SSPEC to start new churches as they take root in South Sudan.
Our marathon of meetings concluded over lunch with representatives of Nile Theological College, Juba Campus. NTC, as it is called, was founded over 20 years ago in Khartoum by a Presbyterian missionary, Bill Anderson. At the time of the independence of South Sudan in 2011, the school’s student body was about half from the north and half from south. So the campus split, with the southern campus starting up in Malakal in temporary quarters. The December 2013 civil war resulted in the total destruction of Malakal, including the seminary. All the students and faculty ran for their lives.
The seminary regrouped and started over a second time in Juba with five students in the spring of 2015. Now they are up to 27, and more students want to return as soon as they can leave the Internally Displaced Persons camps or the refugee camps. Students come from the PCOSS, SSPEC, and other denominations.
All this was told to us by the Rev. Tut Mai, Senior Lecturer, the Rev. Michael Aban, Registrar and Mr. Nhial, Financial Officer. They are three of the five full-time staff. They went on to share how this Christian institution has impacted people in all walks of life in present-day South Sudan. In addition to pastors and theological teachers, there are NTC-educated secondary school teachers of religion and NTC-educated persons in the Government of South Sudan. The school wants to continue that role of educating leaders for church, school and government.
As our team reflected on what we had seen and heard today, our Sudanese American participants were impressed by the proactive approach of SSPEC and NTC in such a dismal economic and political context for ministry. “They don’t wait for someone to help them; they make do with what they have,” said David. Hani, one of our Egyptian Presbyterians, shared the vision that was emerging in his heart for a long-term mission presence and participation in South Sudan. I was encouraged by the systemic approach of the PCOSS Education Department to support education in South Sudan. Training teachers, fostering community “ownership” of the education process, providing the necessary materials for students and teachers, building schools, and building the capacity of the Department leadership to administer and further develop the work of education – this is Presbyterian mission at best: comprehensive and transforming.
Associate Director for Mission