Partnership with Yei Diocese, South Sudan
The Diocese of Connor and the Diocese of Yei in South Sudan, the world’s newest country, have been in partnership since 2007.
South Sudan is emerging once again from a bitter conflict which caused tens of thousands of deaths and the displacement of 3 million people. Without homes and safety, nearly 4.9 million people across the country urgently need food and security. Connor Diocese remains in contact with Yei Diocese. After 18 years, Bishop Hilary of Yei has retired, and a new bishop is in the process of being appointed. CMS Ireland, Christian Aid and the Church of Ireland Bishops’ Appeal provide regular updates on the situation in our partner diocese. Donations to alleviate suffering in South Sudan, which is now affected by famine in some areas, can be channeled through these three organisations.
Since 2007 and number of Connor teams have travelled to Yei and Bishop Hilary and his wife Mama Joyce have visited Connor on several occasions. The Diocese of Connor also donated more than £110,000 towards the building of a new primary school in the rural village of Mongo, Bishop Hilary’s birthplace, and this was opened by a Connor team in July 2010.
In October 2014 an appeal was made by CMSI and the Bishop of Connor asking parishes to support Connor’s partner diocese of Yei by contributing to initiatives identified as priorities by Bishop Hilary of Yei.
Prior to the outbreak of the current conflict, Bishop Hilary had identified education as vital for stability, and Connor Diocese had agreed that money already donated via CMSI be invested in the building of the new Imanuel Model Secondary School.
Connor had also pledged to sponsor places for students at the Bishop Allison Theological College which reopened in Yei, having been moved to Uganda during the last civil war. It will cost the equivalent of £1,500 a year to train a student, with most students following a three year course .
Parishes were offered the chance to maintain or establish a link with Yei through the introduction of Link Representatives, working through CMSI.
The diocese also considered proposals that it supports the training of clergy to degree level, or contributes further to either the building of the new secondary school or to training teachers for the school. All these plans have been affected by the new conflict, and prayers are asked to a resolution to the crisis and for peace to return to Yei and all of South Sudan.
Partnership was reaffirmed and relationships strengthened when a team from Connor Diocese visited Yei Diocese, South Sudan, in January 2013.
The team was led by David Gough of CMS Ireland and included the Bishop of Connor, the Rt Rev Alan Abernethy on his first visit to Yei; Archdeacon Stephen Forde, rector of Larne; Canon Sam Wright, rector of Lisburn Cathedral; the Rev Andrew Sweeney, rector of Ballymoney; Dr Frank Dobbs, Agherton Parish; Judith Cairns, Lisburn Cathedral, and Diocesan Communications Officer Karen Bushby.
Connor has been in partnership with Yei Diocese since 2006. This new country is emerging from decades of war. The second Sudanese civil war, which ended with the signing of a peace agreement in 2005, lasted more than 20 years, with the loss of 1.9 million civilian lives. Over four million were forced to flee their homes to bordering countries like Kenya and Uganda, while others survived in the bush.
Since 2005 many have returned to their homes and the population of Yei has rocketed from 60,000 six years ago to more than 185,000 in 2011 when the south finally achieved its independence.
The Connor team travelled to South Sudan via Entebbe, Uganda, landing on Yei’s dust airstrip in a very small plane, and members were greeted by the Bishop of Yei, the Rt Rev Hilary Luate Adeba.
Bishop Hilary led the group on a tour of the various institutions including the Martha Clinic with its new children’s ward and eye clinic, Immanuel Model Primary School, the Yei Vocational Training College and Yei Teacher Training College.
Bishop Alan preached at the service which opened the tri–annual Synod of Yei on January 17 in Emmanuel Cathedral where a new Partnership Agreement was signed by the two Bishops, formally extending the Connor Yei link for a further five years.
Bishop Alan called into the Synod when he was able, and was there to help Bishop Hilary ensure members passed a new constitution.
During the trip GP Dr Frank Dobbs held a number of meetings at Yei Hospital, and ran training sessions for local nurses and staff of the Martha Clinic. Frank said: “The visit was very fulfilling because I was able to achieve some effective teaching of small group education methods to healthcare staff and nursing students.”
Some of the team toured Yei Hospital where on first impression they found conditions poor – the wards lacked equipment including mattresses and mosquito nets, the nurses had no uniforms, the paint was peeling from the walls and the grounds were a camping ground for the families of patients who have to provide food for their sick relative.
But there were improvements. In January 2010 the hospital had no doctors. Today there are six as well as eight clinical officers and 49 nurses who despite the lack of uniforms and depressing fabric of the wards were working with dedication to look after those who needed their care.
New buildings have also sprung up housing a TB ward and a training centre. Change is happening though its progress may be slow.
A key task for the team was delivering training to pastors from parishes in and around the large Yei Diocese.
The sessions took place in the very African surroundings of a communal tukul, or payot, and around 35 local pastors attended. Sessions were led by Bishop Alan, Stephen, Andrew and Sam, while Judith, Chief Executive of the Waringstown–based Love for Life, delivered training specific to youth leaders. There was much joy, singing and dancing as well as learning and prayer over the two days.
The training was well received. “I learned more so I can deliver the original message of God to the people in my parish. If God wills it this team will come back to tell us more,” said local pastor Seme Remo Satimon.
Rev Gismala Beneth attended both the clergy training and youth leadership courses. He said:
“I learned a lot about the Book of Nehemiah which gave me courage for being faithful despite the challenges we face in the church and in ministry.
“Judith’s sessions on youth leadership will really help us to reach out to young people and make them come into our church. Our young people need to have hope in their lives”.
One evening the group had a heartening meeting with representatives of Yei Mothers Union, who spoke of the wonderful work they do caring for mothers and families.
On the Sunday of the visit team members preached in different churches. Bishop Alan was in Emmanuel Cathedral, Sam was in St Paul’s Church, Stephen was in Jigimoni Church, Andrew was in St Philip’s, Frank was in the thatched Nyogwe Church and Judith and David were in Longamere Parish, 13 miles from Yei.
On Monday January 21 the team visit Mongo village, 16 miles along a rutted dust road, where Connor Diocese funded the new primary school. At the track leading to the school pupils, teachers, clergy and elders were singing and dancing to welcome their guests. The visitors joined this musical procession as it wound its way to the school.
Deputy head Jumo outlined the success of the school, which received a 95 per cent pass rate in its exams, and three Mongo teachers whose training was funded by the parishes of Larne, Lisburn Cathedral and Agherton had the opportunity to express their thanks personally to Stephen, Sam and Frank.
On their last evening in Yei team members were asked to speak at a youth camp taking place in Yei Vocational Training College. At short notice, Bishop Alan, Judith, Andrew and Sam produced talks which enthused and inspired the 300 young people, and the team all joined in with the worship to a fantastic African beat!
Andrew said it had been a privilege to visit the people of South Sudan. “They may be impoverished physically but certainly not spiritually. Their dependence on God and their love for Jesus had much to teach me about gratitude and joy,” he said.
Judith said the people of Yei Diocese would have a special place in her heart. “People with very very little, but with everything I strive for. Smiles, joy, peace and grace. I have so much to learn from their outlook and from their utter dependence on God. People for whom our very ‘being there’ was all that mattered,” she said.
Sam said the faith of the people of Yei was an inspiration. “They are determined to build new communities with good schools, improved health care and vibrant churches and they are undertaking the great challenges they face with a depth of joy in their lives and in their worship that really did my heart good!” he said.
Bishop Alan said after the visit: “The people were beautiful, a people who have experienced indescribable pain through decades of war and mayhem.
“The amazing part was that despite their past they are determined to make a better future for their children.
“One of abiding memories for me is the sight of people who have suffered so much being so grateful for what they have and able to express this in joyful song and dance.”
© Copyright The Church of Ireland Diocese of Connor 2021