The bishop in the refugee camp

Reuters and AfricaNews have a short profile of Emmanuel Murye, Anglican bishop of Kajo Kaji in South Sudan.

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As a result of violence in South Sudan, most of Bishop Murye’s diocese has been displaced to refugee camps in northern Uganda. Rather than stay behind in Kajo Kaji, Bishop Murye has chosen to go live in the refugee camps and minister to his people there.

This is not a new story. The Anglican Communion News Service has reported on the Diocese of Kajo Kaji over the last year, including this lengthy report, and the diocese’s own website has much helpful information. But it is always helpful when secular media report on religious stories. What is particularly devastating about this story is that prior to the current outbreak of violence, the Diocese of Kajo Kaji was one of the most successful dioceses in South Sudan. The previous bishop, Anthony Poggo (now Anglican Communion adviser to Justin Welby), built a thriving diocese with a strong Bible college and many other important institutions. One can only wonder what has happened to those in the last year.

Stories like this are an important counterpoint to many of the stories of migration and displacement that are in the news today. We often tend to think of refugees as helpless and lacking in agency, biding their time until those of us with agency and resources decide to help. What this story reminds us of, though, is that refugees and migrants are often actively working to shape their own lives. They don’t lose their agency. Rather, they seek to exercise it in different ways. Our job is to ask, “How can we assist you?”

As I watched this video, I also thought of the historical parallels. It turns out that Bishop Murye is not the first refugee bishop from South Sudan.

  • During Sudan’s first civil war in the 1960s, Bishops Elinana Ngalamu (later archbishop) and Yeremia Dotiro were forced to flee their own dioceses and ended up in northern Uganda where they lived and ministered to their people, working closely with dioceses of the Church of Uganda. There, they built a strong church that, when the civil war ended, returned to southern Sudan and made a significant contribution to the country’s recovery.
  • During Sudan’s second civil war in the 1980s and 1990s, Bishop Daniel Zindo  of Yambio followed his people to refugee camps in the Central African Republic. Bishop Seme Solomona, in a quasi-Exodus moment that is much remembered in the South Sudanese church, led his people from Yei to safety in northern Uganda. Bishop Joseph Marona for a time lived among his people in what was then called Zaire and is now the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Sadly, then, Bishop Murye is not unique. In the same way that the current violence in South Sudan has uncomfortable historical parallels, so too does the response of the church. For the most part, these important stories of Anglican history have gone mostly undocumented and unremarked upon.

Finally, I find that a story like this is, among much else, a helpful reminder of the role that bishops are called to play in the church. Being a bishop is not about having the nice house or car or cathedral but about being a beacon in the midst of one’s people, pointing the way to the kingdom of God in our midst. As Bishop Murye says in the video: “I was called to be leader of people, not a custodian of the soil, of the tree or of the houses, but I have to take care of the people.” In South Sudan, that is what being a bishop is all about.

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3 thoughts on “The bishop in the refugee camp

  1. SUE CLAYDON

    Dear Jesse I appreciate your regular updates. I had not seen this one and you are right to get it into the general media is excellent.

    While I have not heard from Bishop Hilary (Yei) for awhile I have been in touch with John Spends and they are able to get money into the Diocesan account in Arua and then on Bishop Hilary’s regular trips to visit the refugees from Yei, he is able to take it back.

    The last few days I have been in email contact with Bishop Macleord Ochola, retired from Kitgum. He is so upset about the ongoing situation in South Sudan and the apparent lack of interest from the rest of the World.

    In His peace, Sue

  2. Dear Rev Dr Zink,
    Thank you for posting this. I find the lives of these bishops very powerful and inspirational testimonies to South Sudanese people’s attempts to persevere in the most desperate times. Reading your blog, I was also reminded of the opening of a very small ECS-church that I was privileged to witness in Kiryandongo Refugee Settlement in February 2017. I posted a short video of it here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_m0VLXsF4cU .
    Yours sincerely,
    Bruno Braak

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