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  • Writer's pictureGrace Episcopal Church

Missio Dei- Called to serve on Mission of God. Part 1

By Bishop Patrick Augustine

“For we do not proclaim ourselves; we proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord and ourselves as your slaves for Jesus' sake.” (2 Corinthians 4:5)

It is my 20th day in Bor, South Sudan. We are in the dry season and it has been chokingly hot. Yesterday the heat was so punishing that I could not sleep in my hut. The buildings do not have electric power or air conditioning so enclosed spaces can be unbearable. I couldn’t sleep and couldn’t remain inside so I took my mosquito net and joined a group of widows who live next to me outdoors. They had built a fire to keep the mosquitos away and I joined them. In some ways, these six women are like a family to me here. They help clean my room, prepare my bed, and bring me water to wash. They also help around the compound, doing a variety of jobs, and in exchange they are given a place to live. We are all neighbors and I lead them in the Morning and the Evening Prayer. I am provided a flask full of boiled water. Every morning after prayer I invite six to eight people to drink coffee, tea, or chocolate milk in my room. Last night, they were the ones who extended the hospitality to me, preparing a bed on the floor that was covered with a mosquito net where I could sleep.

As I lay on the ground, under a mosquito net in the sweltering heat, my mind starting to wander. I thought to myself, “what on earth am I doing here, leaving the comforts of the USA”? I looked up at the stars and felt a cool breeze from the Nile River and wondered if I had a martyr’s syndrome, asking myself what I was doing here and what I was trying to prove. It wasn’t just the heat but I couldn’t sleep and kept pondering, searching my heart and soul, thinking of how I came to be here and how I ended up serving the mission of God in South Sudan.

It began with a copy of the Church Missionary Society (CMS) magazine, “Yes” in 1992. At the time I was serving as an associate rector at the Church of the Holy Comforter in Vienna, Virginia. Vienna is right next to Washington, DC and many of my parishioners worked for the government. This issue of Yes had a picture of Nathaniel Garang, the first bishop of Bor, South Sudan on the cover. The magazine featured an interview with Bishop Garang that described the tremendous growth of the church in South Sudan, despite persecution, war, and violence. I was shocked to learn about the atrocities, human rights violations, and violence that had left more than 2 million people dead and over 4 million people homeless. It was shocking. The silence also shocked me. I was at a church in a city that was right next to Washington, DC. There was no coverage of the suffering in South Sudan in the Washington Post or New York Times. When Saddam Hussein had invaded Kuwait only a short time before, the world had reacted with outrage. This time, it was me who felt outrage at the duplicity of the US foreign policy. The South Sudanese were being subjected to a modern holocaust but the media had focused instead on freeing a few rich Kuwaitis from the Iraqi invasion. The liberation of Kuwait was treated as a reflection of America’s commitment to the freedom of all people. Yet, in Sudan, the South Sudanese were suffering unbelievable genocide and the world was silent.

Later, when I arrived in Juba, South Sudan, I saw first-hand the epicenter of violence. Next to Juba University there was an army barracks that was known as “the White House”. For two decades this was the notorious headquarters of the Sudanese government forces. The government arrested anyone they believed supported the South Sudanese liberation efforts and brought them to the White House. Activistis, priests, nuns, doctors, nurses, students, and countless others were brought into the White House where they were tortured. Thousands were murdered and buried in unmarked mass graves. And while the White House might have been the violence’s center, it had spread everywhere. In Bor there is a mass grave near St. Andrews Cathedral. 20 women who were members of the Episcopal church in Bor were raped and then killed, along with two priests and evangelists who had tried to protect them. The entire country of South Sudan is filled with stories of horror and atrocities.

In these horrible conditions, Bishop Nathaniel Garang’s message to the world was that God has not abandoned the South Sudanese people. And they have not abandoned Him. Instead, they are alive, praising Him and the church is growing. His message touched my heart. I was serving as the Diocese of Virginia’s Mission Committee’s Chair and began praying for the South Sudanese people every day with my family. I kept the copy of Yes magazine, with Bishop Garang on the lamp stand next to my bed for several years, reminding me of the people in South Sudan.

I also started raising awareness. I spoke with church leaders and civic groups to be the voice of the Sudanese Church. In February 1994 I testified before the International and Foreign Affairs Committee at Capital Hill on the crisis in South Sudan. I came back to Capital Hill three more times to testify about the suffering in South Sudan. In July 1996 I began to serve as the rector of St.John’s Episcopal Church in Waynesboro, VA. While there, I was appointed as the Chair of the Link Committee of the Episcopal Church in the USA with two dioceses in the UK; the Dioceses of Salisbury and Bradford. The link committee allowed our three dioceses to partner with the Anglican Province of Sudan. In 1997 I had my first opportunity to visit Kakuma Refugee camp is in northeast of Kenya, where I traveled with Bishop Garang and Marc Nikkel, a CMS and Episcopal Church missionary in the Diocese of Bor. Kakuma had close to 100,000 refugees mostly from greater Bor area. After visiting Kakuma refugee community for ten day. We flew in a small Cessna plane into Bor area. At this time the Bor area was an active war zone. I observed the atrocities, mass killings, and the destruction of South Sudan. Peoples’ homes, animals, livelihoods were completely destroyed. I was also experiencing the living faith of the persecuted church grown under the Cross of Christ. Dinka people holding wooden crosses in their hands welcomed us in Bor area. Cross had become their proud symbol of the strength to live and die for Jesus.

While on this first trip to Bor, I began writing my diaries, which later were published as “Hear My People’s Cry—the Story of the Persecuted Church and Their Witness to Triumphant Faith”. After I returned back to the USA, I was invited to serve at the 1998 Lambeth Conference as an Advisor to the Archbishop of Canturbury. I had gotten the first version of “Hear My People’s Cry” published at Virginia Theological Seminary and I brought 800 copies with me, which I distributed to the Bishops of the Anglican Communion at Lambeth Conference 1998.

After Lambeth, I was appointed as the Canon and Commissary to the Archbishop of Sudan in 2001. I served in this role, alongside Archbishop Joseph Marona of Sudan until 2008. During this time Archbishop Marona and I would travel from Kampala, Uganda to South Sudan and visit different dioceses for six weeks at a time. When I returned home, I would write articles for papers in the US and UK, continuing to raise awareness about South Sudan.

To be continued....

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