Thirteen new pastors have joined the pastoral ranks of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in South Sudan/Sudan (ELCSS/S), bringing the total to 64 pastors to serve the young church body’s 140 congregations and 40,000 members.
The seminarians graduated in November 2015 from the Concordia Lutheran Institute for the Holy Ministry (CLIHM) in Yambio, South Sudan, where they studied Lutheran theology for 3 years and spent one year as vicars in congregations throughout South Sudan.
“The students took their work very seriously,” said Rev. Dr. Bernhard Lutz, who made seven trips to the South Sudan seminary as a volunteer professor on LHF’s behalf. “They worked hard and were disciplined, and I saw several men show a special interest in the gift of translation. These new pastors are ready theologically and doctrinally; they’re ready to do the work.”
Challenges and tragedy for Class of 2015
The seminarians exhibited perseverance and dedication in their pursuit to become Lutheran pastors as their country was torn apart by civil war. Two of the main tribes in South Sudan, the Nuer and the Dinka, have been engaged in a bloody battle for leadership, resulting in more than 2.2 million people being driven from their homes and tens of thousands killed.
One of the victims included a CLIHM student, Peter Both, during the seminarians’ vicarage year. Four Nuer vicars were forced to flee their villages, leaving behind all their possessions.
During his escape, Peter was attacked and killed by soldiers from an opposing tribe. A fourth year divided Thanks be to God, the remaining three vicars and their families made it safely to a refugee camp in Gambella, Ethiopia, where they remained for their fourth year of seminary classes and where a separate graduation ceremony was conducted.
“These men and their families will stay in the Gambella camp until it is safe for them to leave,” said Rev. Lutz. “But even in the camp, the men have congregations of 200-300 members they are serving, so they’re spreading the Word in Gambella even as they’re refugees themselves.”
Rev. Nicholas Kumbo, dean of students at CLIHM, knows that challenges will remain for the new pastors – indeed, for all ELCSS/S pastors. “Illiteracy among the people and the lack of good roads and transportation are problems,” he listed, “as are the traditional religions that are still practiced by some people and the false teachings of Islam.”
But perhaps the greatest difficulty faced by ELCSS/S pastors is the poverty resulting from the civil war, said Rev. Peter Anibati Abia, an ELCSS/S pastor (now bishop of the ELCSS/S) who also teaches at CLIHM.
As villages are attacked, “the pastor either remains with the orphans and widows or they go with the internally displaced people who need to be supported by the church because they have lost everything in the war,” he said. “This causes another problem for the pastors: Many of our congregants cannot afford to put mere bread on the table for the children; as a result, they cannot also take care of the pastors serving them.”
Rev. Lutz believes the young CLIHM graduates have the tools they need to face these trials. “These pastors trust the Word of God,” he said. “Especially in wartorn times, it is all the more important that we have pastors who are faithful to the Word to bring comfort and strength to the people, to members and nonmembers.”
LCMS Fellowship Pursued
ELCSS/S leaders value the long relationship they have had with the LCMS since its inception in the mid-1990s (read more about the ELCSS/S history here).
“The ELCSS/S is a confessional Lutheran church with the mission of making disciples of all nations,” said Bishop Abia. “As a young church body, we are seeking partnership with the LCMS because they, too, are confessional and can partner with the ELCSS/S in spreading sound Biblical teaching in South Sudan, Sudan and even beyond.”
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