By Jesse Masai
After living for several years in refugee camps in Kenya, Ethiopia, and Uganda, the Rev. John Chol Daau thought his life was over.
“On one occasion, I spent three to six months along the Ethiopia-South Sudan border, before briefly returning home in 1991,” the Anglican priest from the Diocese of Bor in the Episcopal Church of South Sudan and Sudan recalled. “In 1992, I then fled to the Kakuma United Nations refugee camp in Northern Kenya. I must have been 14 years old. Some of my friends were as young as five. We were separated from our families for a long time.”
He is an heir to 1899 pioneer work by the Church Missionary Society in Omdurman, Sudan. Dauu is also the author of God’s Refugee: The Story of a Lost Boy Pastor. The Diocese of Sudan was under the Jerusalem archbishopric until 1974 and reverted to the jurisdiction of the Archbishop of Canterbury. A new province, consisting of four new dioceses, was established in 1976.
The gospel spread fast in Daau’s Southern region, which is predominantly Black and partially animist.
Civil strife and a steady flow of refugees have, however, plagued the church, despite a comprehensive peace agreement between the two Sudans.
Daau’s big break came in 2002 when he joined Daystar University, a liberal arts Christian University in Kenya’s capital, Nairobi.
“The institution was mounting short courses on conflict resolution,” he said. “My admission letter came via the United Nations’ High Commissioner for Refugees. I was penniless. An American, Dr. Tom Woness, was teaching the course. He asked me to attend anyway, assuring that he and his wife, Betty, would pay for it.”
Ordained in 2004, Daau ministered at St. Paul’s Church, Athi River, in the Anglican Church of Kenya’s Machakos Diocese, where Daystar runs its main campus.
He now holds an undergraduate degree in development and communications from the institution and a master’s degree in religion, with concentration in systematic theology, Church history, and mission from the Trinity Episcopal School for Ministry in Ambridge, Pa.
In 2011, Dauu became active in peace-building and trauma-healing in South Sudan, including under the East African nation’s former primate, Archbishop Daniel Deng Bul.
The intervention included establishing Good Shepherd Educational Foundation, a nonprofit that hosts the Good Shepherd Academy for students ages three to 14 in the South Sudanese capital, Juba; a slowly emerging Good Shepherd College and Seminary; and The Christian Times, the nation’s first Christian newspaper.
“The name Good Shepherd resonated with me not only because it is from John 10, but also because I am a pastoralist,” he said. “The idea came to me in 2004, after I had completed my diploma. I was seeing problems arising from a leadership that is not based on Christ.”
For long-term sustainability of the transformation, his wife, Sarah, advised him to make learning at the academy value-based.
“We began it on land donated by a relative as a wedding gift in 2012. We have been adding a class each year. We now have six classes, 396 learners; 16 teachers; eight supporting staff; and 176 parents. Seventy-nine of our students are orphans, either with one parent or both parents dead,” he says.
An estimated 13 tribes are represented at the school, vastly enhancing reconciliation through shared meals, play, study, and routine meetings with parents.
“We are deliberate about sound academics, character-building, and faith in Christ,” he said. “As we open and close academic terms, we host prayer days which bring the community to praise God with us. We follow the Anglican liturgical calendar, by which some have come to faith.”
A well in the school compound, which generates over 20,000 liters of water per day, has enhanced his witness as the neighboring community benefits from it.
With the support of the Anglican Relief and Development Fund, Daau has built four safe and friendly permanent classrooms.
A South Sudanese businessman is funding construction of two more classrooms.
“Flooding in neighboring South Sudanese states led many learners to us,” he said. “We have turned away several of them because of limited space and the standards we have set. We turned away a further 383 because of COVID-19.”
He seeks to build a multipurpose building comprising a library, 16 more classes, a computer center, and guest house. He wants to hire qualified teachers, buy food for children, establish a vibrant chaplaincy, and acquire a public address system.
These investments, Daau believes, will help secure the future of the Church in South Sudan by reducing ethnic conflict and enhancing the capacity of its leaders.
“For anyone who is looking at integrating Christian practice and the world, our future is bright,” he said. “But we must prepare for it now through discipleship, leadership development, and the unending task of nation- and peace-building. Liberal teachings and other secular forces may persist. However, the Church can take the space of service provision as a missional strategy.”
Opportunities abound for mission work in South Sudan through education, health services, and other forms of integrated development.