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Photo by Danielle Storm

The death of an archdeacon

Sudan | Militia attacks in South Sudan target churches and villages, and threaten 'peace' agreement

Issue: "Do the math," Nov. 7, 2009

Before the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) between the National Islamic Front regime and the Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM), death was a daily reality in South Sudan. Khartoum's crude but efficient anti-personnel bombs-barrels stuffed with shrapnel, dropped from aging Antonov aircraft-targeted those who opposed its forced Islamization and Arabization. Khartoum also waged war through slave raids, orchestrated famine, helicopter gunship attacks, scorched earth campaigns, displacement of people, and the killing of church leaders.

Now, despite the peace agreement, the regime's long-term agenda for South Sudan apparently has not changed. Reports claim that Khartoum recruits and arms proxy militias to destabilize the South, killing civilians and scattering its people once again. At the same time, the Islamist regime uses money and promises of power to divide Southerners against each other. In this way Khartoum may demonstrate that the South, scheduled for a secession referendum in 2011, cannot govern itself.

On Aug. 29 a militia of Lou Nuer killed 43 people and wounded 62 in Wernyol, a Dinka town. Among the dead was Episcopal Church of Sudan archdeacon Joseph Mabior Garang, killed while officiating at a morning prayer service.

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Most likely, the militia (and its sponsors) targeted Mabior because he was a prominent, beloved leader in the community. He had recently become archbishop of Twic East diocese, newly formed to accommodate the fast-growing church in Bor county, which is part of Jonglei state in South Sudan.

While the Obama administration has focused on legendary atrocities in Darfur, the western region of Sudan, the UN reports that the rate of violent deaths in South Sudan now surpasses that in Darfur. Lise Grande, UN Deputy Resident Coordinator in Southern Sudan, recently said more than 2,000 people had died and 250,000 had been displaced by inter-ethnic violence across the region.

Witnesses report that Mabior was shot twice in the legs and that his attackers may have also used a military knife called a "sonki." After the first shots, 30 men and women from the church and town, including tribal chiefs, soldiers, a university student and other youth leaders, and several of the town's oral historians, covered Mabior with their own bodies. All 30 gave their lives in their effort to protect him. Mabior died two hours later.

In the aftermath of Mabior's death the Episcopal Church of Sudan is grieving: "Everyone in the diocese of Bor and the diocese of Twic East is painfully shocked and devastated at losing Joseph. Archdeacon Mabior was a father to many and a mentor to many of us who are clergy," said John Chol Daau, a priest of Bor diocese currently studying at Trinity School for Ministry in Ambridge, Pa., and a former Lost Boy of Sudan who worked closely with Mabior.

After Mabior's death, Daau phoned Nathaniel Garang, the bishop of Bor. "Son, I lost a strong man, a follower of the living Christ who never hesitated to preach the gospel of Christ to our people," Garang said as he wept. "He was like my frontline captain as he and I preached the gospel . . . a great intercessor . . . a pastor and a leader . . . full of patience and love . . . very humble. . . . He would always want to care and serve in any circumstance."

Wernyol is home to other Sudanese in the United States. James Kuer Garang Manyok, another of the famous Lost Boys orphaned during Sudan's civil war, was Mabior's cousin and now lives in Virginia. Kuer said that although his parents were killed in the war he still had hope because "Rev. Joseph, the man of God, was still alive. And now he is gone."

He added, "all those who were murdered during that brutal attack are blood relatives to me." He had met almost all of the victims when he returned for the first time in 22 years to Wernyol in the spring of 2009. "I don't know what to say or do," he said sadly.

A number of Americans met Mabior this past June when he hosted a short-term mission team from St. Philip's Anglican Church of Moon Township, Pa. The team leader, Anglican clergywoman Elaine Storm, said, "Archdeacon Joseph was a man that passionately loved Jesus and passionately loved God's people." In a filmed interview conducted by missions team member Kathy VanDusen, Mabior thanks the Lord for protecting his life "up to now," and tells how he came to faith in Christ and began to raise churches under the trees in war-torn South Sudan.

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