[Anglican Communion News Service] More than 2000 people in the three archdeaconries of Tonj east area in Wau diocese of South Sudan were confirmed by the bishop during his recent trip around the diocese.
The Rt. Rev. Moses Deng Bol told ACNS that the confirmations were done over eight days during a tour of his diocese that covers two out of the 10 states of South Sudan and measures more than 13,000 square kilometers (8078 square miles).
“These are very serious Christians and most of the them are adults who have became Christians for the first time in their lives,” he said. “So they’re not just children of Christian parents.”
The bishop disagreed with some religious educators who believe that by withholding confirmation until later in life, young people are kept involved in the life of the church for a longer period of time.
He equated such teaching to holding young people captive in order for them to receive grace from God. “How do we justify this? This attitude surely has a negative impact on young people and their experience of God and church,” he said. “Is this the God we want them to know? One who withholds grace until we’ve jumped through all the hoops that our church tells us we have to jump through?”
Deng said that children cannot be expected to have a positive memory or experience of the church or God later in their lives “if we keep dangling the sacrament over their heads like a carrot.”
Deng said it was crucial for the newly confirmed to have “a very intensive discipleship to really understand what being a follower of Christ means in their daily lives.”
However, he highlighted some of the challenges that the diocese faces in ministry, evangelizing and Christian teaching. “There are only 65 priests, most of whom have very little or no theological education at all,” he said. “This is the reason why my priority number one is theological training for priests and evangelists.”
Deng also said despite the large numbers, they have enough churches for the new Christians. “We have sufficient churches [but] most of them are under-tree churches and others built out of mud and grass thatch.”
The bishop also bemoaned the poor state of the roads saying it was a real challenge to access remote areas of his diocese. “The people confirmed in various parishes did not just come from that parish alone,” he revealed. “Many of them came from far away parishes and some of them had to walk for two days in order to come to the main parish where I was.”
Deng said one benefit of embarking on such diocese-wide tours was that he was also able to undertake other tasks including training clergy, lay readers, Mothers’ Union leaders and evangelists.
“During this period, I got to have meetings with the clergy because we don’t get to meet often due to long distances and lack of transport,” he said. “I also had a chance to dedicate two concrete church buildings that were constructed in partnership with Samaritan’s Purse.”
The Episcopal Church of Sudan covers the two countries of Sudan and South Sudan. It comprises 28 dioceses that stretch many thousands of miles.