Watching over his flock
Despite the long-lasting civil war in Sudan, the faith of its people remains strong, says an Episcopal bishop from that country. "The people have nothing, yet on a Sunday they smile," says Bishop Nathaniel Garang Anyieth. "What keeps them going i...
Despite the long-lasting civil war in Sudan, the faith of its people remains strong, says an Episcopal bishop from that country.
"The people have nothing, yet on a Sunday they smile," says Bishop Nathaniel Garang Anyieth. "What keeps them going is the joy of having God."
That joy is shared by both those still in Sudan and those who left.
Anyieth visited Fargo-Moorhead recently as part of a tour of Sudanese Christian communities in the United States. His visit serves three purposes: to reconnect with a scattered Sudanese population, especially those who are former Lost Boys; to remind them of their African heritage and to bring attention to a war-torn country.
Anyieth is bishop of the Bor Diocese in southern Sudan. He became known as the "lost bishop" when the Sudanese government bombed his church in 1983, forcing him to flee and continue his ministry in refugee camps.
The country has endured almost four decades of civil war.
A spiritual leader among Sudanese Christians, Anyieth baptized and confirmed many of the young men who lived in a refugee camp in Kakuma, Kenya. The Lost Boys, who were orphaned in the war and walked more than 1,000 miles to seek refuge, see Anyieth as more than just a spiritual guide.
"He's a spiritual father as well as a personal father to them," says the Rev. Alex Lodu-Kenyi, pastor at St. John the Divine Episcopal Church in Moorhead. "When the young men didn't have parents, the church became their mother and father."
Lodu-Kenyi is a native of Sudan and has ministered to many of the former Lost Boys who live in Fargo-Moorhead. There are between 40 and 50 who live in the community.
Over the weekend dozens of Lost Boys met with Anyieth. At a church service where Anyieth preached, a group of boys sang in Dinka, their native language, and danced to demonstrate their commitment to Christ.
It's that commitment that connects Sudanese Christians in Sudan, Uganda, Kenya and the United States, Anyieth says.
"They are spread out, but they are moving with the word of God," he says. "They pray everywhere."
The bishop last visited Fargo-Moorhead in 1997. He has been impressed at how the boys he used to know have grown into young men.
Now he sees them working hard and getting an education. He smiles at the thought of some of them attending college. He thanks God for how the people of America have received the Lost Boys.
"Here they can go to school and catch up with the people who have lived here (all their lives)," Anyieth says. "That is God at work."
Reuben Panchol, 22, is one of the former Lost Boys who now attends North Dakota State University.
On Saturday he met with Anyieth to ask about conditions in Sudan. He also asked Anyieth about specific people he had met in the refugee camp.
"They are all right, but there is starvation," Panchol says. He came to the United States in 2001.
It's important for the Lost Boys and other Sudanese in the United States to remember their African traditions, Lodu-Kenyi says.
Cultural values like making the community a priority over the individual are important to maintain, he says.
"Bishop Nathaniel reminds us that we shouldn't forget those values," Lodu-Kenyi says.
Anyieth also reminded the Sudanese in Fargo-Moorhead to remember their brothers and sisters in their native country.
"While looking to the future, we need to look back as well," Lodu-Kenyi explains. "Maybe someday these boys could help rebuild their nation."
It's something Panchol, who is studying geology, is interested in doing. But not permanently.
"Maybe when there is peace (in Sudan) I'd go back to help," he says. "But then I'd come back here."
Readers can reach Forum reporter Erin Hemme Froslie at (701) 241-5534