How did St. Francis become involved with South Sudan?
In 1996, led by Assistant Rector Hentzi Elek (a former relief worker in Sudan), St. Francis collected money to buy goats for Sudanese women widowed by the civil war. The goats are a renewable source of milk, cheese, and wool for Sudanese who might otherwise have no means of support. Even today, we receive reports that those goats (and their offspring!) are helping Sudanese families thrive.
In 1997, the Rev. David Bako, a Sudanese priest from the Diocese of Ezo, came to St. Francis as part of his studies at Virginia Seminary. David's stories of his life in Sudan, his faith, and the needs of Sudanese Christians inspired St. Francis to make Sudan a vital part of our prayers and outreach ministry. St. Francis sent David back to Sudan in 1999 with the funds to start a new school. David returned to St. Francis for several months in 2001, celebrating and worshiping with us, raising additional funds, and educating Franciscans and others about the situation in Sudan. Bishop Levi Hassan of Ezo Diocese and David's wife, Lois, visited us at the end.
The War in Sudan
Since 1955, civil war and unrest have continually plagued Sudan. The conflict between the Arab, Islamic Khartoum government and the African south, where Christianity and traditional religions prevail, has destroyed villages, schools, and churches, and displaced millions of Sudanese from their homes. A 2005 peace agreement provided temporary relief, although the Khartoum government continues to persecute their citizens in various locations including Darfur and more recently Abyei and Kadugli, both of which lie on the border between north and south Sudan. On July 9, 2011 the country was partitioned into separate northern and southern sovereign states, and the new nation of South Sudan was born.
Our Covenant with the Diocese of Ezo
In February 1998, St. Francis and the Diocese of Ezo signed a formal covenant. The covenant—signed by David Bako for Ezo Diocese and by the rector, assistant rector, and senior warden for St. Francis—expresses St. Francis's thanks for the witness of Christians from Ezo and commits us to "pray, study and work to ease their suffering, to make their faithful witness widely known, and to help visit and materially assist the Church in Sudan as we are able and as its needs require."
In the covenant, we promise to:
1. Pray for peace in the Sudan, for the alleviation of suffering there, and for the Christians in Ezo Diocese
2. Study and educate our congregation about the conditions of Sudanese Christians
3. Bring the covenant before the Diocese of Virginia for prayerful consideration
4. Communicate regularly with the Reverend David Bako and others in Ezo Diocese as we come to know them
5. Send a mission trip to Ezo Diocese to learn more about conditions there, to focus on our material assistance, and to encourage them in their faith. A copy of the covenant hangs in the narthex of St. Francis.
The St. Francis Basic School in Juba
The St. Francis Basic School in Juba, South Sudan, was founded in 1997. Funds were raised by St. Francis Church to support the school. Juba was a fast growing frontier town at the time and the capital of the future country of South Sudan, full of refugees from Sudan and other east African countries, entrepreneurs, and relief and development agency personnel from all over the world. Juba's few schools were inadequate to educate its children, leaving many without hope and ill-prepared to improve their lives. Sudan still has a dismal literacy rate among its children, among the lowest in the world. The goal of the St. Francis Basic School is to educate the future leaders of South Sudan.
Beginning with 63 students taught by 4 unpaid volunteers, the school has grown to 350 students with teachers for the primary grades 1-8. The St. Francis Basic School serves a pressing need: students walk miles to reach the school, and only a fraction of applicants can be accepted.
In 2007, 116 students were turned away for lack of accommodation. The school admits Juba natives and refugees from Christian and Islamic homes alike. Instruction is in English, covering mathematics, history, music, Arabic, and more. The school gives each child a uniform, school supplies, and a daily meal—the only food that many may receive that day. St. Francis also serves as a community resource—its well supports the local community, and the school's buildings are used for adult education in the evenings.
Ezo is on the South Sudan border with The Democratic Republic of Congo and the Central African Republic. Its location makes the diocese vulnerable to the depredations of the notorious Lord's Resistance Army, which has attacked the area several times in recent years.
Despite its accomplishments, the St. Francis Basic School has an urgent need for additional resources. There is an increasing need for funds to feed, clothe, and educate the growing number of students, as well as to train teachers, build classrooms, and provide the most basic of school supplies, such as teacher textbooks and firewood for cooking.
Our Ministry Today
Every day, Franciscans in Great Falls pray for the Church in South Sudan, for the Bishop and Diocese of Ezo, and for the St. Francis Basic School in Juba, as part of Sunday worship and in private devotions.
- We provide money for capital projects at the school through parishioner donations and fundraisers. Many parishioners designate special donations for the school. Each year, the school reports to us on its accomplishments, needs and spending.
- St. Francis communicates regularly with Bishop John Zawo of Ezo, Bishop Kamani of Ibba (who visited us in 2003), and the school's development director, usually by email, to remain awaare of their personal situations, recent events in South Sudan, and the status of Sudanese Christians.
- St. Francis clergy and parishioners worked with other Episcopal churches to establish the American Friends of the Episcopal Church of Sudan (AFRECS), a nationwide network that facilitates the involvement of American dioceses and parishes in Sudanese projects. For more information see afrecs.org.
- In spring 2008 we sent two parishioners, Janet Gralley and Charlie Jackson, to Juba to join hands with the school personnel and clergy and to see first-hand the ministry and mission of the school. In spring 2013 we sent the Rector, Penny Bridges, and parishioners Stephanie Kendall and Virginia Carlson to Ezo and Juba. Over a weekend in Ezo they visited the diocesan health clinic, attended worship in the diocesan church, and viewed several projects under construction including St. David's Diocesan School and St. Paul's Cathedral. They also visited a market located on the three-way international border. While in Juba they visited the school, admiring the newly constructed classroom block, took note of the need for repair of the well, and heard from the school board about their vision for the future. Students sttend school in two shifts, attending either in the morning or the afternoon. There are plans for a new preschool and reconstruction of the parish church on the premises, as well as a need for a secure fence and improved equipment such as chairs for the classrooms. Our three missionaries also met with staff of the Diocese of Juba, which has administrative oversight of the school.
- Our future support of the Diocese of Ezo and the St. Francis Basic School will continue to focus on capital projects as well as continuing prayer and efforts to visit South Sudan or to bring South Sudanese Christians to visit us in the U.S. Possible projects include scholarship funds for both primary students and university scholars, provision of vehicles in both Ezo and Juba, and funding for construction of educational facilities.
Our 2013 Mission Trip to South Sudan
A small group of Franciscans – Stephanie Kendall, Virginia Carlson and our Rector – visited South Sudan in April, spending a few days in Ezo as the guests of the bishop and offering prayer and teaching. Stephanie is a nurse and Virginia has a teaching background, while our Rector provided the pastoral and theological dimensions. The group also visited the school in Juba and Muniki Parish, in whose grounds the school resides. This article and video are extremely enlightening about the challenges South Sudan faces.
Prayer for the Mission
Lord Jesus Christ, you stretched out your arms of love on the Cross that everyone might come within the reach of your saving embrace. So clothe us in your Spirit that we, reaching forth our hands in love, may embrace our brothers and sisters in South Sudan, may step forward boldly to proclaim the good news of the Kingdom, and may bring a new dimension of your love to your faithful people who seek freedom and peace. We ask this in the name of the Father and the Holy Spirit, with whom you live and reign in glory, one God, now and forever. Amen.