When the Rev. Anderia Arok traveled to southern Sudan recently, not only did he see his mother for the first time in 23 years, but he also experienced the area's opportunities for re-building and realized the people in his village in the area known as Bor had become Christians.
Arok, priest-in-charge of the Sudanese Community Church, a special congregation of the Episcopal Diocese of Colorado housed at Saint John's Episcopal Cathedral in Denver, recently returned home after spending three months in Sudan.
Arok left Denver March 27 for vacation and also to work at his former diocese in Khartoum. His first stop was in Addis Ababa. From there he traveled to Khartoum then to Juba and then to Bor. At Bor, he took a bus to the area where his village was located. He walked the final 15 miles of the trip to his mother's village arriving at 8 p.m. one evening.
Arok had not been able to see his mother, Martha Ajak Deng, all these years, because when the war broke out, she was living in the south and he was living in the north. Three of his brothers were killed in the war. His mother moved to Kenya with other refugees during the fighting and Arok did not know where she was. In 2004, he learned his mother had been living with his brother, David Kuar, who had died of natural causes. Arok was able to meet with someone who could bring his mother back to southern Sudan to live with his great uncle.
In gratitude for Arok's return, the people of the village gathered around him and sang their praises to God. His mother said her "prodigal son" had returned. They slaughtered a lamb for the feast celebrating his visit.
Arok had a car to take him to church the next day where he was able to see more relatives in the village of Wayony. There, they sang their praises to God.
On the following Thursday, relatives brought a cow to be prepared for a feast to serve 500 relatives and friends who came for yet another celebration of Arok's return. As the only surviving brother of a family of five brothers, relatives said their thanks to God for bringing him to safety, and for leading them to Christianity. These relatives had been scattered in Kenya and Uganda and in hiding in Southern Sudan while the war raged on.
At long last, Arok's relatives and friends have been able to return to their homes where they are re-building their country, including constructing churches of grass and trees. Formerly worshipping in African traditional religion, villagers have been able to learn about Jesus and Christianity, he said.
Following the time with family, Arok traveled to Khartoum where he preached some 10 times in the Diocese of Khartoum. Preaching twice in English and the other times in Dinka, he spoke at funerals as well as Sunday services. Khartoum, the capital of Sudan, is about the size of Denver.
Back in Sudan after 23 years, Arok said he was happy to see his mother and happy to be back in his village. With 21 years being spent at war, things are now peaceful in Southern Sudan. Though there is still tension, people are able to move freely, he said.
Though most in Darfur are Muslims, they are still Sudanese, Arok said. Darfur is part of the Khartoum diocese and the diocese will reach out to those in Darfur where the fighting continues, he said.
Anderia said the Diocese of Khartoum is very happy about the Diocese of Colorado providing a home for the Sudanese in Colorado. There are almost 1,000 Sudanese living in the Denver metro area, according to the Diocese of Colorado website. Most are Christian, and have long historical ties to the Anglican Communion and the Episcopal Church in the United States. The congregation of more than 140 people, who are all survivors of the brutal civil war in Sudan, have worshiped together for the last six years at the cathedral.
For Arok, going home was not only a wonderful reunion with family, but also an opportunity to experience the growth of Christianity in his home.
More information about the Episcopal Church's relationship with the Sudan is available here.