Missionaries bring, receive gifts as South Sudan grows into independence[Episcopal News Service, Juba, South Sudan] Throughout several decades of civil war, the Episcopal Church of Sudan kept 2,000 schools open, mostly under trees – a testament to its commitment to educating its people.
Today, with four million members, the Episcopal Church accounts for almost half of the south's population. It is one of the biggest social service providers in the country, and as such is strategically positioned to reach deep into the hearts of local communities.
For Robin Denney, development work is about the changing of hearts and minds, and through her service as an Episcopal Church missionary in Sudan she's witnessed those transformations in abundance through the church's ministry.
"You can't just convince someone to change their behavior by telling them something or by giving them training," she said. "It's through discerning as a community where is God calling us that people's hearts and minds are changed and that is the work of the church, and the church here has such a vision for development."
Denney, of El Camino Real, and Larry Duffee, an Episcopal missionary from Virginia, have traded in their lives in the U.S. to share their gifts and play a small part in helping to rebuild South Sudan, just four months away from independence after voters in a January referendum almost unanimously chose to secede from the north.
Denney's agricultural training and Duffee's business and financial background are valuable assets for the South Sudanese, who are eager to learn the necessary skills that ultimately will lead to self-sufficiency in their nation, plagued by decades of civil war until the signing of a peace agreement in January 2005.
While serving in South Sudan, the missionaries have been teaching pastors and community leaders at Bishop Gwynne Theological College, an educational institution in Juba run by the Episcopal Church of Sudan.
A video report on the missionaries' work is here.
The bishops of the Sudan church, under the leadership of Archbishop Daniel Deng Bul, have a vision, Denney explained -- "that agriculture can really be the basis of a new economy" in South Sudan. "The land here is so fertile, it can be the breadbasket of Africa."
Denney has lived and worked in South Sudan for just over two years. She has established an agriculture department for the Episcopal Church of Sudan and she takes her expertise to almost every diocese, offering workshops and hands-on experience, especially in more rural areas of South Sudan that are not experiencing the same level of growth and development as the capital, Juba.
In her first year, she worked primarily on training and preparing communities for agricultural projects and her second year saw those plans move towards implementation. The main farming projects are located in Eastern Equatoria, Yei, and Yonglei states, where the communities are now harvesting crops such as sorghum and sesame.
Most of the workers are volunteers and are learning new skills while simultaneously experimenting with new techniques to explore the yield potential of the land, Denney explained. "We realized that farmers are really interested in trying improved techniques if they can do it in a risk-free environment," she said.
With that in mind, on one 10-acre farm in Panyikwara Abara half of the land was used to try out new techniques while the other half was cultivated with more traditional practices. "The improved techniques performed significantly better," Denney said.
Last year, nine out of 10 officers who'd been involved in the projects had already implemented mulching (a protective cover placed over soil), and seven out of 10 had begun planting crops, Denney explained. She expects that number to be higher this year.
But her ministry comes with its share of challenges. In Yonglei, there has been a problem with flooding and insects this year. "Almost the entire sorghum crop everywhere else was destroyed," she said. "Our farm was reduced in yield because of those problems, but we still produced over 107 sacks of sorghum, which is just over 10 tons, in a community that had nothing."
Most of the food supply for South Sudan has until now come from the north and from neighboring countries, said John Augustino Lumori, acting provincial secretary for the Episcopal Church of Sudan. "So work such as Robin's is essential for our agricultural sustainability to ensure we can have our own produce to provide the backbone of the country," he said. "Our partnerships will enable us to be self-sufficient."
Denney needs to ensure that when she leaves in April, there are sufficient people trained in the agricultural skills she has brought. So far, 11 diocesan agriculture officers have graduated from Bishop Gwynne Theological College and are now working in their local communities. Fifteen more graduates are expected to return to their dioceses later this year.
Denney's ministry and friendship is greatly appreciated throughout South Sudan, as evidenced recently when a family in Panyikwara Abara named their newborn child Robinsida in her honor.
The Rev. Emmanuel Lomoro Eluzai, chaplain to the bishop in the Diocese of Ibba, has been one of Denney's students at Bishop Gwynne Theological College for the past year. He said that education is critical for the stability and growth of South Sudan. Through Denney's training, he's learned valuable farming skills, such as rotating certain crops between different terrains each season to ensure that the soil is not starved of essential nutrients.
"During the war, many people did not go to school. That is why we need education now in Sudan, because without education there is no development," he said.
Duffee initially had intended to stay in South Sudan for four months but soon realized that the task he'd set out to accomplish would not be possible in that timeframe. He now has lived in Juba for almost a year. But, he says, the most important goal for missionaries is to work themselves out of a job, "to get it to a point where I am no longer needed and they have no more use for me. That's the ideal situation."
As well as providing training, Duffee brings financial skills to the provincial office, where he has set up systems to enable regular accounting to the church's international partners.
Duffee is anticipating the Episcopal Church of Sudan hiring a new person who can be trained to step into his role. "As long as I can be useful and as long as I am serving the role God called me for, then I'm glad to be here. If I'm sitting occupying a seat just because it's nice to have someone from the West … then it's time to go."
The Rev. David Copley, mission personnel officer for the U.S.-based Episcopal Church, visited Juba in February to witness firsthand the ministry of the missionaries.
"I'm always so impressed and in awe of the missionaries we have and the ones here are no exception," said Copley, who oversees the work of more than 60 missionaries currently serving throughout the world. "They're just so humble in what they say they're doing, how they're living, how they're working here, as if it's just no big deal, it's just part of ordinary life. But they're living in a community where water and electricity is limited, where resources are limited. They're doing an amazing job and having fun doing it as well."
As Denney and Duffee reflected on their ministry, they explained that the gifts they receive are just as important as those which they bring.
But, said Denney, "the two most important gifts to have as a missionary are flexibility and humor."
Also serving as Episcopal Church missionaries in Sudan are the Rev. Robert North and his wife, Karen, from Chicago, who are spending 18 months working in education in the Diocese of Nzara.
The work of Episcopal Church missionaries around the world will be the focus of the 2011 World Mission Sunday, to be observed on March 6.
Resources in English, Spanish and French for World Mission Sunday are available here and include bulletin inserts, suggested sermons and readings, and information on the Episcopal Church's missionaries.
The missionaries "serve as teachers, medical professionals, clergy, and in other important capacities in 25 countries around the world," Copley said in a letter announcing the 2011 World Mission Sunday. "They are recent college graduates and established professionals who have answered God's call to go and be in the midst of their brothers and sisters in another part of God's world. They form relationships that strengthen the personal connections within the Anglican Communion and the larger Body of Christ in the world.
"We are thankful for their presence and witness."