On June 22, the day he had planned to return to the Diocese of Kadugli in Southern Kordofan, Sudan, Bishop Andudu Adam Elnail was sitting wearily in a Washington, D.C., law firm conference room drinking coffee from a corporate mug.
Elnail was in D.C. to meet with U.S. Special Envoy to Sudan, Princeton N. Lyman, and other advocacy groups to ask for their help "to stop the war, give humanitarian aid to the people and to bring peace and freedom to the people of the Nuba Mountains."
South Sudan is set to become an independent nation on July 9. Southern Kordofan, an oil-producing state in mountainous central Sudan, will remain under northern control.
Several weeks ago, the Sudan Armed Forces from the north began a series of bombing raids in Southern Kordofan, targeting southern sympathizers, and are now encamped in Kadugli, the region's capital. SAF soldiers and the Sudan People's Liberation Army from the south are fighting on the ground, thousands of people have been displaced, and the United Nations is warning that a major SAF offensive is imminent.
On June 5-6, All Saints Cathedral in Kadugli, a diocesan meeting hall and guesthouse (home to eight priests, with two rooms and three shops rented out for income) and Elnail's own home were destroyed by fire during the incursion. Other churches were broken into and looted.
"My chaplain escaped through the window when they attacked my house," Elnail said. He was captured and beaten, and is now seeking treatment in Khartoum. "I do not know what would have happened if I was there. I probably would have been one of the victims."
A sound system, video projector and extra beds stored in the hall were taken during looting, along with three motorbikes, including one belonging to Elnail. "That was my means for transport, because the diocese has not yet got a car," he said.
By chance, Elnail had travelled to the United States for medical treatment before the attacks came. "I'm not saying I'm lucky," he said. "But at least I'm here now." Likewise his wife, Jaleela, and their children Elias, 16, Evans, 10, Elphas, 8, Grace, 6, and Enoch, 3, are safely in Uganda, where Jaleela is studying at the Christian University. But Elnail's sister, Siham, who is in his care, fled from Kadugli and is now missing.
"We have been asking [where she is] but nobody can tell me," he said.
Telephones in Kadugli are not working, but Elnail is in contact with six priests from his diocese who fled to Khartoum, along with the diocesan secretary and treasurer: "They're telling me the situation is still bad. They're looking for other people." He has learned that the cathedral dean and three priests from Kadugli are taking refuge in a large encampment of displaced persons near the United Nations peacekeeping base to the north of the town. The other priests in the diocese – there are 68, in total – have remained at their churches in the Nuba Mountains.
The timing of this latest round of aggression is particularly troubling, Elnail said, "because now is a time for farming. This is the season when people are beginning." If subsistence crops like sorghum, sesame and peanuts are disrupted, "people may face a big famine next year."
In these trying times, Elnail finds encouragement in the words of Jesus: "I will be with you always." (Matthew 28:20)
"The word of God does not say living the faith is something easy," he said. "Even Jesus when he was in the world faced some problems. But God is there and we can see God through these problems."
Elnail has called for Sudanese Christians and churches around the world to observe a day of prayer and fasting for Southern Kordofan on June 26.
"I believe in prayer and fasting," he said quietly. "Fasting is showing that what we're doing is more important than what we eat and what we drink; that prayer is the most important thing. The prayer is stronger."
That day, Elnail hopes to be at the Church of the Beloved in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, praying with the local Sudanese refugee community. He is unable to return home to Kadugli, and will remain in Baton Rouge indefinitely with Deacon Jim Tomkins of the Diocese of Louisiana. Tomkins has served as a liaison between Elnail and the bishop of Louisiana since 2004, when, as a newly ordained deacon, he began to minister to the Sudanese refugee community. He has spent many months in Sudan since then doing development and church work and is currently traveling with Elnail to meet with Sudanese refugees in Dallas, Denver, Nebraska and Virginia.
When Elnail is able to return to the Diocese of Kadugli, his first priority will be to visit the displaced people in the camps, he said. "Then I need to start from scratch again. I need to find a way to rebuild my offices, the houses, the cathedral. Starting fresh."
The U.S.-based Episcopal Church, which continues to partner with and advocate for the Episcopal Church of Sudan, has observed a season of prayer for Sudan since September 2010.
He invites U.S. churches to "pray for us and also to support us by any means – either financially or by encouraging us and by talking to their congressmen in their towns."
Contributions can be made to the Diocese of Kadugli via the American Friends of the Episcopal Church of Sudan. To learn more, visit www.afrecs.org.