A presidential visit, helicopter fly-by, choirs and dancing took centre stage of the celebrations to mark 100 years since the establishment of the Episcopal Church in Yei in South Sudan, the world’s newest country, by CMS missionary Paul Gibson.
In 1917, the Rev Canon Paul Gibson travelled to Yei to begin a church planting ministry. From these humble beginnings grew the present day Yei, Kajo-keji, Lainya, Morobo and Panyana dioceses of the Episcopal Church of South Sudan and Sudan. Four years in the planning, the celebrations took place in marquees especially erected outside Yei’s cathedral.
CMS pioneer, the Rev Gibson, originated from Shrewsbury and attended Cambridge University before being ordained in 1913. In 1916 Gibson travelled to Yei with Church Mission Society to begin his ministry, establishing the first ever Christian witness in the area and laying the foundations for the future Episcopal Church. Gibson’s direct involvement in Sudan continued for over 35 years. In 1954 he was awarded an OBE in the Honours List. He died in 1967.
The centenary celebrations, which took place in February 2017, were hosted by the bishop of Yei, the Rt Rev Hilary Adeba Luate, and attended by a number of other dignitaries including the archbishop of the Episcopal Church, the Most Rev Canon Dr Daniel Deng Bull, the president of South Sudan, Salva Kiir Mayardit, and several government ministers and bishops representing local dioceses.
The first day of celebrations began with a helicopter fly-by followed by the arrival of the president, accompanied by his chief of staff, ministers of defence and cabinet affairs, flanked by a number of military officials and vehicles armed with mounted machine guns.
In his address, Bishop Hilary reflected on John 10:10 – “I came so that everyone would have life and have it in its fullest” – while the Catholic bishop of Yei presented humanitarian issues in the face of the ethnic conflict, saying that “better security is more urgent than, and the precursor to, peace in the area.”
Until mid-2016 Yei had been spared much of the ethnic tensions in the country, but by August 2016 the situation reversed and Yei has been a focus of conflict, with the town largely cut off by road and with a substantial portion of the population – up to 50,000 people – migrating to refugee camps in Uganda.
The celebration closed by looking to the future and expressing hope for further growth and development in the diocese expressed adroitly by the archdeacon of Yei, the Ven Margret Jamba Luka, who asked, "Is the centenary still alive? Yes. There's much to be done!"