Today (Wednesday) we flew from Maridi to what is perhaps the most important symbolic town in South Sudan: Bor, in the eastern part of the country.
It was here in 1983 that the Sudan Peoples Liberation Army (SPLA) first took up arms against those from the north that were slaughtering them, and whose success in fighting to a peace agreement in 2005 paved the way for independence. It is from this area that came South Sudan’s George Washington, John Garang, and their current Archbishop, Daniel Deng.
It was here in 1905 that the first missionary arrived, a certain Archibald from Ireland. For ten years he worked, sharing the Gospel, without one convert. He built a school for the children, but none came, until he found a way not only to have the school but pay the parents to let their children come to school. Among his students would be the first general of the SPLA, and also the current vice president of the country, and also Bishop Nathaniel Garang, retired now, who we met today in Bor.
Bishop Nathaniel is famous as “The Lost Bishop”. During the war years, when so many people were displaced due to the ethnic cleansing in the south of Sudan, he walked from village to village for 21 years across the whole country, ministering to the people, offering the sacraments, and preaching and teaching the good news of Jesus. For seven of those years no one knew where he was. He was just walking, modeling exactly what a bishop does, caring for his flock, God’s flock in fact, entrusted to his care.
It’s remarkable to think of this Archibald, Sudan’s first missionary, coming just over one hundred years ago, when there were no Christians. He labored for ten years, and not one convert. He planted a tree once, and said “If the tree grows, Christianity will grow here. If the tree does not, Christianity will not.” Today, you can see the tree, full and strong and massive, growing still in Bor in Malek.
Christianity has grown too. From that first convert in 1915 to now, when there are 6 million Christians in South Sudan. Of the 200,000 people who are contained in the Diocese of Bor, 90% of them are not only Christian, but Anglican. Thanks to God, and thanks to Archibald from Ireland.
From Bor we flew to Juba, then flew to Uganda, then overground to the border and crossed over into the Democratic Republic of Congo. We made it, into a land rich in resources and torn by violence. Since 1998, 6 million people have died here because of war.