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From Lost Boy to Crusading Bishop

by Gerry Lynch last modified 07 Feb, 2018 03:03 PM

New BBC World Service documentary charts the story of Daniel Deng Abot, a remarkable South Sudanese churchman

From Lost Boy to Crusading Bishop

Photo Credit: Bishop Daniel Deng Abot

A new BBC World Service documentary (click here to listen or download) has told the story of a remarkable South Sudanese bishop who gave up a comfortable expatriate life to return to a homeland he had not seen since his boyhood.

The episode of The Right Thing, first broadcast this week, explores the life of the Rt Revd Daniel Deng Abot, Bishop of Duk, who was one of Southern Sudan’s ‘Lost Boys’ – one of around 20,000 boys displaced or orphaned during Sudan’s civil war. He thinks he was born in 1974 or 1975 – he isn’t sure because his mother, fearing for his life, sent him away from South Sudan at the age of around nine or ten.

Daniel spent 15 years in refugee camps in Ethiopia and Kenya, often in miserable conditions, with limited clean water and food.

“My Christian belief didn’t mean much to me”, he says of his younger days, but he came to realise, “there was something that protecting me in the [refugee camps in the] desert. There more I suffered, the more I realised that the God who protected me in the desert would protect me again.”

It was in Kenya that Bishop Daniel began to teach the bible, and then was ordained as a deacon and then a priest. It was there too that he fell in love with another refugee from South Sudan who would become his wife, Rachel.

A chance of a new life came when they won the chance to emigrate to Queensland in Australia, and established a settled a comfortable life. In South Sudan, however, circumstances were changing rapidly. The joy and hope of independence in 2011 was dashed by the outbreak of civil war in December 2013.

In 2014, in the midst of this devastation, Daniel received a call to combe back home to be Bishop of Duk. It was and is too dangerous for his family to travel with him, so this meant leaving his wife, seven children, a mortgage, and a secure jog, in the quiet Queensland town of Toowoomba.

The Diocese of Duk lies on the boundary of the traditional territory of South Sudan’s largest ethnic groups, the Dinka and the Nu’er, tensions between which have been used by powerful figures to fuel the civil war.

“This is where the rebels and the government always clash”, Bishop Daniel explains, also noting that this has driven many local inhabitants to flee, “Some are in refugee camps, some are hiding in the highlands. It’s like a battlefield in my Diocese, it’s not a good place.”

Having been a refugee himself, he has a particular call to minister to those in refugee camps, and one overriding priority is bringing peace, not least through stressing that the water of common Christian baptism is more powerful than the blood of divided ethnic groups.

To that end, he has formed a particularly strong partnership with his suffragan bishop, the Rt Revd Thomas Tut. Daniel is a Dinka and Thomas is a Nu’er.

“It was like meeting my brother”, says Thomas of his first encounters with Daniel, “God created the two tribes to live together, to co-exist together.

The two have formed a peacemaking group involving people from both tribes and, at great risk, have distributed food together. 

Daniel works in highly dangerous circumstances, and was recently caught up in an ambush that might have cost him his life. He with no regular salary, no home, and no car. It’s a long way from the life of a bishop in countries like Australia or England. His wife and family are still at the other side of the world, where Rachel must work long hours to support the family. 

The price of being a bishop has been high, and some might consider it unfair, yet Daniel is convinced that God has called him to work for peace in his homeland.

“I agree with the Bible”, he concludes, “Jesus said that you must lose your life to gain your life.”

Listen to this remarkable documentary via the BBC website, here.

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