Unlike other Nilotic peoples in the Upper Nile, whose economies are based on raising cattle, the Anyuak are herdsmen and farmers. Many of the Anyuak people follow Christianity as one of the first of the Nilotic groups to become almost entirely Christian.
Story and photos by Thorkild Jørgensen.
Regrettably, the Anyuak people of Pochalla, straddling the border between South Sudan and Ethiopia, experienced conflict when political administration came to Pochalla in March 2016 and division was forced on the people creating social issues within the communities.
The South Sudan Council of Churches intervened to resolve the issue and restore peace. The final part of that peace process according to tradition awaits the return of the Anyuak king. Life has returned to normal, but inner tensions remain.
There are three church denominations in Pochalla: the Presbyterian Church of South Sudan (PCOSS) came in 1995, South Sudan Presbyterian Evangelical Church (SSPEC) in 2011, and the Evangelical Lutheran Church arrived in 2013. These churches have had a role as neutral negotiators and the Anyuak have started to realise that there is no reason to fight one another.
Visiting the church in Pochalla
In January 2019, Kristi Rice and Omot Odiel from SSPEC in Juba came to visit the church in Pochalla. The road to Pochalla is very unsafe and especially the last stretch is hardly a road at all. When driving isn’t an option, flying with MAF fortunately is. A little detour was made on the way so that other passengers could be flown to another town first, bringing down the cost for all.
'With bitterness in our hearts, it is impossible to be salt and light in this world.' Kristi Rice
After a few days in Pochalla connecting with church and community, Kristi and Omot held a three day ‘Wound Healing Workshop’ for 35 pastors and church leaders. The model for the workshop had been used in Rwanda under the title, ‘Healing Hearts, Transforming Nations’. 'The workshop teaches Biblical principles of how to understand healing, forgiveness and reconciliation,' Kristi explained. 'The purpose was to train the church leaders to become agents of healing and promotors of reconciliation and peace.'
'At the end of the day, participants expressed how the workshop had transformed their mindset and that this training was important.' Omot Odiel
The Father’s heart
The first workshop day was about the Father’s heart. Dramas, reciprocal teaching and discussions showed God’s intention in creation, how division and prejudice entered the world, and how God brought humanity back to Him.
The participants acknowledged this by putting sticky notes on a white board with their own experiences regarding faulty parenting. Elderly members of the team represented fathers and mothers, and the younger participants came up and hugged and wept, feeling the sense of rejection leaving them and God himself hugging them back.
On the second day, people gave testimonies of what the first day had meant to them. drawing on the teaching of John 10:10 they talked about what the thief had taken. In this case, politicians had divided people from Pochalla south and north and families had started fighting each other over unjust rules. Land, children, freedom and even their faith had been taken.
The culmination of the day was the Cross Workshop where an opportunity was given to identify pain, anger, sin and forgiveness. The issues were written on small notes and nailed to a cross. Two by two they would pray for each other, and then the notes were taken outside and burnt. The point was that when their issues were given to Jesus (on the cross), he will exchange them with healing and love.
'With bitterness in our hearts, it is impossible to be salt and light in this world,' Kristi stated. 'We have to understand repentance and how to ask for forgiveness.'
Standing in the gap
The third day was about standing in the gap for others (Ezekiel 22:30). 'This was about corporate sin,' Omot Odiel said. 'One person could stand in the gap for a group or a person who had offended another group or person. Kristi showed the principle of this by standing in the gap as the representative of her European and American ancestors who have wronged Africans.
Then we invited others to come up and stand in the gap for other groups and those who had been wronged could come up and forgive what was recognised by the gap person. Gap people stood forth and confessed sins that their villages were responsible for and others would come up and hug and cry while forgiving the go-between.'
Finally, all the villages were invited to be part of the King’s Table as a Holy Nation. Omot facilitated this by calling the different villages that were represented at the workshop to stand before the others and be blessed with the words: ‘We bless you, we honour you, and we respect you!’
'Someone in the group said that this was the Second Heaven,' Omot recalled. 'At the end of the day, participants expressed how the workshop had transformed their mindset and that this training was important.'
After a week in Pochalla, MAF-pilot Tobias Meyer flew a small four-seater aeroplane to Pochalla to bring Kristi and Omot back to Juba. Going to Pochalla on the same aircraft was a Presbyterian pastor who is now planting churches in the Pochalla area.
'You know,' Kristi concluded, 'people in Pochalla feel isolated, and they considered it a huge blessing to be noticed by the mother church in Juba and that the Presbytery would invest in them by sending us over to visit them.'
The road to Pochalla is very unsafe and the last stretch is hardly a road at all. When driving isn’t an option, flying with MAF is.