On the feast of the Epiphany in the Diocese of Kajo Keji, Episcopal Church in the Sudan, Bishop Paul Marshall of the Pennsylvania-based Diocese of Bethlehem ordained 34 African deacons at the invitation of the diocesan bishop and the province's primate. With the assistance of Bishop Manasseh Dawidi and clergy, he also ordained three new African priests for the war-torn diocese.
Marshall and his wife, Diana Marshall, represented the northeastern Pennsylvania diocese during an early January week-long visit with the people of Kajo Keji. They addressed 17 gatherings and the bishop preached at least three times each day.
Marshall expressed his gratitude to Bishop Manasseh Dawidi of the Kajo Keji diocese and to Sudanese Primate Joseph Marona for the invitation to perform the ordinations.
"The mission trip had been in planning for more than a year," Marshall said, "but, when the Windsor Report appeared, I offered not to come, lest my presence create problems in the diocese or in any way be an embarrassment."
Bishop Manasseh not only renewed his invitation for Marshall to come to meet and speak to his people, but rescheduled the ordinations to coincide with Marshall's visit. The enhanced invitation, Marshall said, was "eloquent testimony to our essential unity in Jesus Christ."
Marshall began his 90-minute sermon (the Sudanese minimum for sermons at such an occasion) by noting that the Epiphany is a day of great importance in the Bethlehem diocese, which bears the name of the place to which the star led the magi seeking the newborn Christ. Noting the clarity and brightness of the Sudanese night sky, he added, "but this year the star has brought me from Bethlehem to find Christ in Kajo Keji, and I have found him in you."
Bishop Marshall and Mrs. Marshall are the third team to go from Bethlehem to Kajo Keji. Wartime conditions limited the first team to the relative safety of refugee camps in Uganda. The second team penetrated Sudan near the border with Uganda. The Marshalls are the first to visit Kajo Keji county extensively.
Despite the recent peace between the key southern army and the Khartoum government, other conflicts continue. At several points the Marshalls were guarded by detachments of Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA) troops because local fighting was going on among rebel sub-groups a few miles away.
The primary purpose of the visit, Marshall indicated, was to respond to what was said in the invitation: how much it will mean to the people of Kajo Keji just to know that we know they are there.
"They tell me that the war has driven the lions out of your tall grass to safety in other countries," Marshall preached at the ordination liturgy. "But I tell you that there is still one lion in Kajo-Keji. He is your bishop."
Noting Bishop Manasseh's efforts in evangelism, refugee ministry, and the social reorganization of Kajo Keji county, Marshall also expressed gratitude for Bishop Manasseh's continued practice of self-sacrifice. "Although he could live in some comfort," Marshall said directly to the ordinands, "Bishop Manasseh is a servant in the way Jesus served -- I pray that we can all have such ministries."
The Marshalls, like Bishop Manasseh, lived as the people live, in a traditional tukol (a thatched hut). Electricity and plumbing are not present.
A photographer since the 1950s, Marshall told the congregation that, although he had taken many pictures of them and their life, there were two moments when he could not bring himself to hold a camera.
The first was when his four-seat plane was greeted by hundreds of people singing, drumming, and dancing their welcome.
"Those were happy tears. But other tears kept me from taking pictures when we drove through Kajo-Keji town itself, where no building has been spared bombing, and only two have had their roofs replaced."
>From the hill overlooking Kajo Keji, one can see miles of
land. "There was once a tukol under each mango tree," said Bishop Manasseh of the devastated country, where the overwhelming majority of the people who remain practice subsistence farming.
The Diocese of Bethlehem is assisting the Kuku people (the name of their
tribe) develop a market economy. A casaba plantation and the women's sewing projects are the first steps in this development.
On January 9, Bishop and Mrs. Marshall worshiped with Sudanese refugees in Uganda while a treaty was signed ending the second of the civil wars that have devastated Kajo Keji and other southern counties since 1956. The refugee congregation broke into sustained applause, singing, and dancing as Bishop Marshall said, "You have been through the fiery furnace and God has preserved you -- we are humbled to know people of such faith and perseverance."
Bishops Marshall and Manasseh discussed issues of reconciliation in their own churches. For the Sudanese, the return of refugees and their reintegration into Kajo Keji life is a big issue. Bishop Manasseh believes that the trauma of war combined with differing decisions people made to remain in or to flee their homeland will demand much pastoral and psychological care over the next decade.
Marshall spoke of the patterns of response in the Episcopal Church in the USA regarding sexuality, but put particular emphasis on the church's repeated reluctance to enter wholeheartedly into evangelism and "our growing awareness that we may not agree about what Jesus has put the church here to do. On a daily basis our people have become hesitant to speak unashamedly of Jesus Christ, and we have much to learn from you."
Bishop Manasseh observed that evangelism exploded in southern Sudan when the Islamic government expelled the English missionaries "and the people had to take responsibility for their own church." The bishops agreed that in each of their churches the issues of the day must be met by the gospel and not take precedence over it.
As an American, Marshall had to adjust to the Sudanese expectation that a bishop would preach for at least 90 minutes and address less formal occasions for 45 minutes. Marshall observed that there is "great delight in learning to develop a biblical text with a congregation eager to explore its meaning in depth."
Each bishop expressed thanks for the many gifts God is giving the church through the ordination of women to the diaconate and priesthood. In each diocese women are increasingly present as ordained leaders, while maintaining their long tradition of lay involvement.
After Marshall concluded the priesthood ordination formula for the Rev. Joyce Doru, the large outdoor congregation broke into sustained applause and singing.
The bishops also celebrated the growing commitment in each of their dioceses to the nurture and education of the young.
Marshall expressed his conviction that his diocese is called to do more to stand beside the Sudanese as they rebuild their society. Rather than making promises from the hip, he promised to devote Lent to work with diocesan structures and groups. "It is clear that our priorities must be rearranged," he said. "I will seek God's guidance and the wisdom of God's people in shaping our shared ministry."
The Marshalls will reflect on their mission trip in local meetings in February and March.
Bishop Manasseh had visited the Diocese of Bethlehem in 2000, and had addressed a 3000-person diocesan evangelism event. His visit helped cement the relationship between the dioceses who in 2001 established an official companion diocese partnership.
Since then, local Episcopalians have raised and contributed some $250,000 to fund scholarships, buy agricultural tools and oxen, adopt schools and stave off starvation in Kajo Keji.
During August and September of 2004, in response to an emergency call to local Episcopal churches by Bishop Marshall, the diocesan community contributed $80,000 to feed some 157,000 starving refugees in Sudan. The expatriates had come back across the southern border of Sudan in May after fighting worsened in Uganda where they had lived in refugee camps. A few months later, the return of refugees combined with drought to produce a famine.
Funds from Bethlehem paid for weekly shipments of food to the refugees, some 200 tons, from August through October. "When word of this disaster reached me," Bishop Marshall told the diocesan community in October, "I knew you would respond, but I was not prepared for the depth of generosity and compassion you have shown. I do not have the words to tell you the depth of my emotions at what the people of this diocese have done to fend off death in that suffering corner of Africa. In January when I bring your regards to the Sudanese in person, it will be full of the awareness that our hearts, mouths, and money have truly met."
Bishop Marshall said he offered at that time to cancel the proposed trip and use the funds to assist with food purchases. The Sudanese clergy responded that it is very important to them that the people know that the West knows about them and continues to advocate for them with the American government.
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