In January of this year, I travelled back to the Diocese of Kajo Keji with New Hope Chair Charlie Barebo, and with Canon Dennis Blauser from the Diocese of Northwestern Pennsylvania. But I did not return to the Kajo Keji I had known. There had been a miracle in the meantime. Let me explain.
In 2001, Bishop Paul Marshall sent a team to Kajo Keji to learn about the diocese, the church, and the life and faith of the people. He and the bishop of Kajo Keji, Manasseh Dawidi, were exploring with the World Mission Committee the possibility of entering a partner relationship between our two dioceses.
A team of four people was put together for this exploratory visit. The team included Professor Randall Fegley, an experienced Sudan scholar, Jack Moulton, an agriculturist experienced in working with African farmers, the Rev. Elizabeth Moulton a parish priest, and me, the archdeacon representing our bishop.
In those days the war between the Arab, Muslim North and the Christian black African South was still being fought, and the signs of war were everywhere. And much of the Diocese of Kajo Keji was in exile in Uganda, Kenya and other neighboring countries.
One morning Bishop Manasseh took our team to a hilltop where the village of Romogi had once been. We stepped out onto a large, beautiful grassy hill that was dotted with piles of brick rubble and the remains of bombed out buildings. Bishop Manasseh spoke movingly of the vision and the dream that God had placed in his heart that one day the community of Romogi would be restored and the Church and diocese would be returned from exile and be centered there to minster to all the people. He spoke of a diocesan ministry training center, a cathedral and schools. He wanted to bring the college that was in exile in Adjumani, Uganda to this place.
It was a powerful vision that was reminiscent of God’s Promise to bring Israel into the Promised Land. And it clearly held that same power for the bishop and his people.
I was privileged to return to Kajo Keji in 2007 when Bishop Paul asked Connie Fegley, then chair of the World Mission Committee, and me to represent the bishop and Diocese of Bethlehem at the seating of the new Bishop of Kajo Keji (actually they called it an “enthronement”), the Rt. Rev. Anthony Poggo. On the morning before the service Bishop Anthony took us to see the place where he had grown up. It was the grassy hilltop of Romogi.
Bishop Anthony had clearly received the same vision and dream from God as Bishop Manasseh. He laid out for Connie and me and Garry Ion, a building engineer who was with us, where he thought the diocesan center should be built, and then the cathedral, and the college and the primary and secondary schools, and the house for the bishop.
The vision and dream had become clear and specific – and possible! – now that the Dioceses of Bethlehem and Kajo Keji were joined in partnership, and Bethlehem had committed to raise the funds through the New Hope Campaign under the leadership of Charlie Barebo.
And so it was that in January of 2015, at the invitation of Bishop Sean and Charlie Barebo, I returned to Kajo Keji and to the hilltop of Romogi to see laid out before me and before God, the fulfillment of a dream carried out by the courage and faithfulness of the people of the Diocese of Kajo Keji and the people of the Diocese of Bethlehem.
Romogi now contains a village where people live, and a diocesan training center, and a cathedral, and a home for the bishop, and primary and secondary schools, and the Kajo Keji Christian College, which educates students to become teachers and clergy. Even though the South Sudan is threatened by fighting between President Salva Kiir forces and those loyal to former vice president Riek Machar, Kajo Keji, which is the southernmost diocese of the country and is without oil or other valuable natural resources, has been spared.
And dear people of the Diocese of Bethlehem, the miracle of our relationship with Kajo Keji is an even greater than Romogi. It is deeper and broader because it touches all the children, youth, men and women where there are New Hope schools. The miracle is that now they and we can claim the promise that God is faithful and will bring all the faithful people into God’s future.
It is my hope that before long we can bring some members of the Diocese of Kajo Keji to our diocese so we all can hear firsthand of the wonderful, miraculous things God is doing in and through our shared faith and life.