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Companion Relationship with the Diocese of Nzara 
in South Sudan 

Ray Gaebler, Diocesan Coordinator

Web site: http://nzara.anglican.org/index.php  


Updates on Situation in Diocese of Nzara in the South Sudan

An email from Bishop Peni that was shared by The Rev. Mary Cole-Duvall:

December 24, 2014

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ. I am so happy this evening to pass my warm greetings to you all in St. Timothy Episcopal church. It has been uneasy times for us. Some of you may remember my humble request for prayers for this new nation. It has been very hard and painful. We trust God that peace will once again prevail. Many lives indeed in Juba and other places are lost to the same kind of trouble we fought against.

Despite all our worries for those who have been killed and also being afraid that this might happen in our own state, we as the religious leaders here are doing our best to alert our soldiers not to fight here. Yesterday we hold many prayers in the freedom squares in West Equatorial State to pray for peace. This morning three bishops, including myself had a press confrence to address our nation to restrain from violence and seek a peaceful means of solving the problem. Please do earnestly pray for us to stay safe and respected. We do all we can not to take sides but to remain neutral.

I Wish you all Merry Christmas.

Bishop Samuel Peni

Ray Gaebler, our Diocesan Coordinator of Companions of Nzara sends word of his communication with Nzara's bishop, The Rt. Rev. Samuel Peni. Nzara is a good distance from Juba, where the conflict is most intensely felt; but concerns are still very real.

A few days ago, religious authorities in Sudan called for peaceful resolution to unfolding conflicts.

Mon, Dec 23, 2013

Dear Friends,

Bp. Peni called today to say all is peaceful in Nzara and nearby yambio where both his and Sentina’s families live. The mayhem is far from Nzara and moving farther away as the rebels have moved into Unity State to try to take over the oil producing areas. There are no Dinka nor Nuer tribal groups in his vicinity. They are glad to have all his children home for Christmas as they are on vacation from their school in Uganda.

Samuel has been visiting all the deaneries for confirmation, making several trips each week since the beginning of Advent. He is home now for Christmas and preparing for Christmas services. They are 9 hours ahead of Iowa so it is already Christmas eve in Nzara. He wishes us all a happy Christmas and asks that we pray for a cessation of hostilities and safe travel for all.

Samuel is chair of the Episcopal Committee of the Peace and Reconciliation Commission and hopes to travel to South Africa for a conference in this regard immediately after Holy Name Day. Presently he is booked to go to Juba on Jan. 2 then to South Africa via Entebbe on Jan. 4. Obviously the safety of traveling through Juba is a concern now and he may try to go directly to Kampala if necessary. If all goes well he will return to South Sudan on Jan. 12. The children will go back to school that week or the following.

Concern for the Diocese of Renk remains high. Bishop Joseph knows only that his brother was shot last week in Bor but was alive. There is no communication from Bor so he does not know what is happening with his brother. Joseph’s wife Rhoda and his twin daughters want to leave Renk but are afraid to go via Juba because of the large number of people trying to leave the country via that route. They will attempt to leave via Khartoum but of course that involves a whole different set of issues since relations between Sudan and South Sudan are not the best.

Joseph is also greatly concerned about the anticipated increase of internally displaced persons that may arrive in Renk as strife moves north. Fighting was reported just south of Malakal, capital of Upper Nile State this morning. Upper Nile State is a major oil producer and a prize sought by the rebels. Renk receives refugee pressure from both north and south because it is the first stop inside South Sudan for refugees returning from Sudan. The diocese is doing all it can to cope with this pressure but resources are extremely stretched.

Pray that a road to peace is found.

Ray Gaebler

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The Diocese of Iowa entered into a companion relationship with the Diocese of Nzara at the 160th Annual Diocesan Convention in October 2012. Bishop Scarfe, along with a small group, from Iowa will be traveling to Nzara in February 2013 to visit and formalize this new companion relationship.

The Nzara Diocese is one of six new Dioceses of the four million member Episcopal Church of Sudan (ECS). It was formally created in 2009-10. The boundries of the Diocese are for the most part, but not always, contiguous with Nzara County which is one of the ten counties in Western Equatoria State (WES) the capital of which is in nearby Yambio. Nzara is in the extreme southwestern section of South Sudan that is bordered by the Republic of the Congo on the South. 

Consecrated in 2010 as the first Bishop of the Diocese of Nzara, The Rt. Revd. Samuel Enosa Peni, was trained at Bishop Jeremiah Theological Institute in Yambio, Carlyle College in Nairobi and at Dubuque and Wartburg Seminarys in the US. He is married to Mama Sentina. They have six children: Natalia, Victoria, Ika, Daniel, Richard and Joseph. Bishop Samuel's father is Canon Enosa of St. John's Cathedral, Yambio.

The Structure and Mission of the Episcopal Church in Nzara
The Episcopal Diocese of Nzara is steered by Bishop Samuel Peni, who developed close relations to the Diocese of Iowa while studying at the Dubuque Theological Seminary and Wartburg College, prior to his consecration as the first Bishop of the new diocese. Bishop Peni has developed leadership "teams" during his first years, instituting five deaneries and appointing deans for each one, along with additional leaders for women, youth, and evangelism. He has also installed four archdeacons, recognizing four mother's union leaders and four corresponding youth workers. These leaders all have played a role in the brainstorming that went into the diocese's five-year plan, and they prayed particularly for someone from the U.S. to help with their emerging development plans, taking the Rev. Bob North as an answer to those prayers when he arrived in 2009 from the Diocese of Illinois on a short-term mission.

Today, the Diocesan Center in Nzara—next to a long, low Cathedral with brightly painted walls—offers a clinic plus a computer-training space, a conference room, and a new pre-school. These buildings are virtually the only substantial, new buildings in Nzara, and they have allowed for badly needed services: providing help for women in childbirth, HIV patients, people needing to communicate by internet, groups having conferences, students in need of better schooling, and diocesan staff trying to organize it all. Much of this quick and effective development work is thanks to the cooperative planning of Bishop Peni and Rev. North, who served as a visiting development officer from 2009-2012, building important relations with parishes in Illinois and Iowa, plus other American partners and donors.

Church Life
Hospitality in Nzara churches is remarkable! Visitors from outside are likely to be greeted by singing members who place flower wreaths around their necks and process with them to the church. Singing and dancing are dynamic and full of joy, accompanied by drums and locally made string instruments or electric guitars hooked up to generators. The youth involvement is large as well, with children’s choirs and substantial teen youth groups. A typical service is several hours long and includes up to 30 minutes of announcements, since the church serves as a kind of clearing house for important community information (with regard to everything from health services to voting).

And the food!! A visitor is likely to enjoy a feast of rice and cassava greens, peanut sauce and local goat meat, along with mango or pineapple, if they are in season. Great generosity characterizes the church community, along with great thanksgiving.

Quick History
The Zande people occupy the Dioceses of Yambio and Nzara. They also occupy areas across the border in the Democratic Republic of Congo and in Central African Republic, sharing a common language with their nearby relatives. Combined, the Zande people are one of the larger people groups in all of Africa, and they have a rich history as a former kingdom. In 1905, during the British Colonial era, the famous king Gubudwe, also known as Yambio, was finally defeated by the British, but he is honored today by a large memorial in the present city of Yambio.

The first Anglican missionaries to reach Yambio or Nzara arrived in 1913. Local chieftains welcomed their new faith, also welcoming Roman Catholic missionaries, which is why the Roman Catholic population in Nzara is as large as the Episcopalian. Together, the two denominations account for at least half the population.

Both Episcopalians and Catholics have been instrumental in the development of schools across the region. Since the local chieftains were receptive to western education, by 1946 over 160 local schools had been established. Many of these groups had to meet under trees or in thatched lean-tos, and they were disrupted by incursions from the North Sudanese army or the Lord’s Resistance Army, but they remain an important part of the culture today.

Basic Geography
The Episcopal Diocese of Nzara is situated in the southwest corner of the new Republic of South Sudan, bordered by the Republic of the Congo on the South and only 100 miles from the border of Central African Republic to the west. It was begun in 2010 when the larger diocese of Yambio was divided for better management. Nzara Diocese is defined, for the most part, by the boundaries of Nzara County, which is one of ten counties in Western Equatoria State, the capital of which is nearby Yambio (15 miles to the East). The new diocese is approximately 158 miles long north-to-south, and 50 miles wide. Roughly, 65,000 citizens live in the area, including 10,000 refugees from the Congo and about 11,000 internally displaced people who had to flee the Lord’s Resistance Army. Of these 65,000, about 15,000 claim membership in the Episcopal Church, which means one out of every four is Episcopalian. By comparison, Iowa is seven times larger (310 miles long and 200 miles wide) with a population of 2 million, but it has fewer Episcopalians (roughly 11,000). 

Nzara is a lush tropical area, heavily forested excerpt where people have cleared garden plots. It is a fertile area for agriculture, and in 1943, the British colonial administration began what was called the Nzara Agro-Industrial Complex with factories for cloth, oil, and sugar. This Complex offered job opportunities to over 3000 workers in its heyday. However, the North-South Sudanese Civil War brought that progress to an end. Although some of the original brick buildings still stand, impressive for their sheer size, the machinery was destroyed during the War.

Today, Nzara town has no electricity except that provided by generators, no sewage system, no post office, no gas station, and no bank. It does have three cell phone towers and a hospital run by a Roman Catholic Order of nuns (which cannot perform surgeries but offers badly needed services to leprosy, tuberculosis and AID's victims). However, Yambio, 15 miles to the east, is the nearest place to fill a gas tank or buy a car battery or even, sometimes, to find a Coke.

The people of Nzara live a near-subsistence life, highly dependent on the food they grow, not cash. They live in mud-brick, thatched houses with no running water or electricity. They do not have vehicles, other than occasional bicycles or even rarer motorcycles. They do not own much that can be purchased because they do not have much cash to do the purchasing. A cell phone perhaps. Some plastic chairs. A few dishes. Not much else. They raise crops regardless of any other type of work they do. This means that ALL clergy—who do not, typically, receive any salary—have large garden areas that they cultivate and harvest, where they grow groundnuts, maize, cassava, and greens. Even the Dean of the Nzara Cathedral and the Bishop have gardens that they personally hoe and plant.

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