On the feast of the Epiphany in the Diocese of Kajo Keji, Episcopal Church in the Sudan, Bishop Paul Marshall of the Diocese of Bethlehem (Pa.) ordained 34 African deacons. 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, represented the northeastern Pennsylvania diocese during a week-long visit with the people of Kajo Keji. They addressed 17 gatherings, and the bishop preached at least three times each day.
“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.”
Manasseh not only renewed his invitation for Marshall to come to meet and speak to his people, but also rescheduled the ordinations to coincide with Marshall’s visit. The enhanced invitation, Marshall said, was “eloquent testimony to our essential unity in Jesus Christ.”
It was the third diocesan team to go 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, conflicts continue. At several points the Marshalls were guarded by detachments of Sudan People’s Liberation Army troops because rebel sub-groups were fighting a few miles away.
“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 the Sudanese bishop’s efforts in evangelism, refugee ministry and the social reorganization of the region, Marshall expressed gratitude for his practice of self-sacrifice. “Although he could live in some comfort,” Marshall told the ordinands, “Bishop Manasseh is a servant in the way Jesus served -- I pray that we can all have such ministries.”
The Marshalls lived as the Sudanese live, in a traditional tukol (a thatched hut), with electricity and plumbing.
A photographer since the 1950s, Marshall said there were two moments when he could not bring himself to hold a camera. The first was when hundreds of people singing, drumming and dancing welcomed the plane.
“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.”
On Jan. 9, the Marshalls 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 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.”
Since the Sudanese bishop visited Bethlehem diocese in 2000, local Episcopalians have raised and contributed $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 Marshall, the diocesan community contributed $80,000 to feed some 157,000 starving refugees in Sudan.