The American Friends of the Episcopal Church of the Sudans, founded in 2005, is a network of individuals, churches, dioceses, and other organizations that seeks to focus attention on the needs and priorities of the Episcopal Church of South Sudan (ECSS) and enable American friends to assist the ECSS in meeting the needs of the Sudanese people.
AFRECS works to advance peace and stability in South Sudan and Sudan, seeking to amplify the voices of Sudanese Christians and, through prayer, to catch the movement of the Holy Spirit in the churches in our countries.
AFRECS works to enhance communication and synergy among Episcopal dioceses, parishes, and other organizations working in relationship with dioceses in Sudan or seeking to do so. AFRECS also promotes and facilitates the development of new relationships between U.S. and South Sudanese and Sudanese partners.
Become a member or make a donation to support the ECSS online today!
Last Friday, AFRECS and the Center for Anglican Communion Studies (CACS) hosted Bishop Grant LeMarquand at a luncheon at Virginia Seminary, giving LeMarquand the opportunity to talk of his work as the area Bishop of the Horn of Africa, Diocese of Egypt. The Bishop's work has been heavily defined largely by his responsibility for Gambella - a area of Ethiopia that has absorbed over 400,000 displaced South Sudanese who have added to an already poor, impacted area of Ethiopia. The influx of refugees has added greatly to the diversity of the region and with that diversity has come challenges that one might have expected to result in horrific violence and upheaval. The fact that that has not occurred and that diverse groups have been able to live and worship together was a key message of Bishop LeMarquand's message.
Dr. Richard Jones, a friend of the Bishop's and an AFRECS board member, has captured much of the Bishop's message and has by using as text direct commentary from the Bishop, provided an excellent account of what we heard and learned at the luncheon. This is being passed along as testimony to the fact that diverse ethnic South Sudanese tribes can live together peacefully even following the pain of displacement and upheaval. Bishop LeMarquand's remarks also give us a look at the circumstances of uprooted South Sudanese as they try to rebuild their lives in another country where they face extraordinary obstacles and yet find hospitality.
As we enter into the Lenten season, there are lessons here that might inform our Lenten reflections.
Hope from the Sudan-Ethiopia Border
By Richard J. Jones
“The sad mess of South Sudan” was the way an editorial (Washington Post, page A18, 2/9/18) characterized the lawlessness, murderous leadership, and suffering of almost four million human beings rendered homeless by four years of folly. Some American friends of the Sudans – two sovereign states, north and south, since July 9, 2011 – have wearied from the cost of friendship. Some have lost hope.
A 63-year-old Anglican bishop named Grant LeMarquand, recently returned from six years of intertribal friendship and church growth in the Gambella region of western Ethiopia, just across a river boundary from South Sudan, brought us flashes of hope.
In a place where dry season heat reaches 140 F., women carry daily water in five-gallon plastic jugs on their heads, and children die daily of diarrhea, LeMarquand observed local Anuak villagers sharing their meager supply of food with Nuer refugees who have fled from attacks on their villages in South Sudan.
“In this region,” LeMarquand explained last Friday to an audience at Virginia Theological Seminary, “some people speak Amharic, most speak Anuak, and one isolated group numbering only 5,000 speaks Opo. The new arrivals from South Sudan have doubled the population around Gambella Town, speaking either Dinka or Nuer. Nuer now form the vast majority. So at many church meetings, we read Scripture in one language, sing in another, and sermons are translated. At joint services the lesson would be read in three languages, with everyone speaking the liturgy in their own language. It’s a bit like Babel, but all are heard. For me to give greetings at large gatherings to each of ten language groups in their own language was time-consuming – and a bit taxing for my memory – but each was recognized. In recent years I noticed other conveners similarly acknowledging the diverse groups present.
“One of our best song leaders was Peter Ojullu, who is Anuak -- a head taller than me. I remember his starting a well-known Christian hymn in the Dinka language – and everyone joined. As soon as that hymn finished, Peter launched without pause into a second hymn – in Nuer. And everyone joined in. He knew what he was doing. People appreciated it.”
Protestant Christians are few in comparison with the one-third of the population in Ethiopia who belong to the ancient Ethiopian Orthodox Church founded by St. Frumentius of Tyre in the 4th century. Lutheran and Baptist churches, fully indigenized, are strong in parts of Ethiopia, including Gambella Town, reached by a two-day drive on the single paved road from Addis Ababa. Anglican congregations, once consisting only of expatriates in the capital and commercial centers, have arisen somewhat spontaneously, gathering around local leaders who had heard of Jesus Christ from various sources. These leaders adopted Anglican forms of Morning Prayer and, where possible, Holy Communion.
Prior to being sent to the Horn of Africa region six years ago by Mouneer Anis, the Anglican Bishop of Egypt, LeMarquand was told he would find 38 congregations around Gambella. By the time he arrived with his physician wife, Wendy, LeMarquand found 50. “By the time I left last October there were – I think! -- 143 congregations, probably half in villages and half in refugee camps. The Sudanese refugees may or may not ever recross the river to their homeland.”
“These multiplying congregations continually outpaced the supply of teachers about God, the Bible, worship, and Church history. I could not supply the teaching needed by so many new Christians,” said LeMarquand. “So, with support from congregations and individuals in the U.S. and Canada -- and from Anglican Relief and Development and other donors*, we built St. Frumentius Seminary in Gambella. Students are both men and women, even though the Diocese of Egypt, to my chagrin, does not ordain women. Women are layreaders vested with a preaching scarf, and many are organized into the blue-and-white uniformed Mothers Union, which has become an effective public health corps teaching hygiene and nutrition to other women. In some communities where one child died daily from starvation, diarrhea, or disease, now such unnecessary deaths are few.
“Since our departure from Gambella, dictated by my wife’s ill health,” LeMarquand explained, “the seminary has two teachers, one for Bible and one for worship and theology. A third is away doing further study in Addis Ababa. But our teaching is intense. We give instruction in English in the morning to those who are able to receive it. That same afternoon the students turn around and teach what they have just learned to students who are literate in only their own language. That’s intense.”
Bishop LeMarquand, a native of bilingual Montreal, drew for his pastoral work in the Horn of Africa on his experience as a New Testament scholar at Trinity School for Ministry and his skill at modern languages. Dr. Wendy LeMarquand, who is recuperating in Pittsburgh and did not accompany her husband on this visit to Virginia, drew on her thirty years practice of general and tropical medicine, but also on her sensitivity as a mother. She recognized red hair in African children as a sign of vitamin deficiency and distended stomach as a sign of protein deficiency. Growing in the compound of their residence in Gambella Town, Dr. Wendy, as she is known, noticed an unfamiliar, ugly tree. It turned out to be the moringa tree, which grows only in hot, dry regions of India and Africa. Dr. Wendy learned that moringa leaves eaten raw provide protein, the seeds soothe upset stomachs, and in various forms, dried or cooked, the tree supplies every vitamin the human body needs, except Vitamin D -- and the desert sun provides plenty of Vitamin D! Hearing Dr. Wendy tell of her discovery, one Sudanese refugee women recalled, “My grandmother had one of those trees in her compound. I had forgotten about it.”
Five American friends of the Episcopal Church of the Sudans, after hearing Bishop LeMarquand’s story, said to one another, “Perhaps this moringa tree of life could become our tree of hope.”