On Sunday, January 21, 2018 the Rt. Reverend Justin Badi Arama, the Bishop of Maridi, Episcopal Church of South Sudan, was elected to be the new Archbishop of Juba and Primate of South Sudan. Archbishop and Primate-elect Arama will succeed the Most Reverend Daniel Deng Bul, who announced his retirement this past July. He will be the fifth Archbishop in the Episcopal Church of South Sudan (previously, the Episcopal Church of Sudan).
Just prior to the Provincial Synod for the election on Friday January 19, all the bishops of the Episcopal Church of South Sudan gathered in Juba for a two-day retreat with the Primate and Archbishop of the Anglican Church in North America, the Most Reverend Foley Beach. The Reverend Richard Moyabe, Secretary General of the Church Army in Kenya joined Archbishop Beach in ministry and prayer with the bishops. The Rt. Reverend Anthony Poggo, the Archbishop of Canterbury’s assistant for global affairs and Rt. Reverend Josiah Idowu-Fearon, General Secretary of the Anglican Consultative Council were also present.
When the Provincial Synod came together on Friday, January 19, there were four candidates for the office from which Deng Bul was stepping down. In addition to Arama, the candidates were the Rt. Reverend Abraham Yel Nhial, Bishop of Aweil; Rt. Reverend Francis Loyo, Bishop of Rokon and Provincial Dean; and the Rt. Reverend Monday Bismark Avokaya, Bishop of Mundri. But on the evening of the 20th, Bishops Loyo and Avokaya withdrew from the elections.
With two remaining candidates, the election was extremely close. The Bishop of Aweil is a former Lost Boy who grew to adulthood at Kakuma Refugee Camp and came to the United States where he became a U.S. citizen. Yel Nhial, the first former Lost Boy to become a bishop when he was elected in 2010, received 79 votes and Arama received 80. Bishop Yel Nhial and all the House of Bishops/Provincial Synod delegates proved a great example to the Church and to a division-wracked nation, welcoming the Archbishop-elect with grace and joy.
Archbishop-elect Arama’s Diocese of Maridi is in Western Equatoria, bordering the Congo. It includes his hometown of Maridi. During the war waged on the South by Khartoum he ministered to his fellow South Sudanese that had been displaced. Maridi is located in what is now Maridi State, under the good leadership of its Governor, Colonel Africano Mande Gedima. The Diocese has two companion dioceses: The Diocese of Albany, New York and the Diocese of Down and Dromore, Northern Ireland.
Lt. Colonel Jan Ransom (from the UK-based Christian ministry Flame International was thrilled to hear of Arama’s election, who she referred to as a “man of real integrity” and “very wise.”
Flame International, that takes volunteers into war-torn and suffering communities to minister in the love of Jesus and the power of the Holy Spirit, has worked together with Justin Badi Arama since 2005 when he was the first South Sudanese church leader to invite Flame International into the country. “He is evangelical, he stands by the Word of God, and he stands his ground” Ransom declared. She also praised the bishop’s wife, Mama Joyce.
According to Anglican Ink, in a statement to the media released after the election, “Bishop Arama said the unification of the church in the midst of a devastated political environment will be one of his top priorities.” They quoted him, “As I come, my vision is that Christians in South Sudan should see themselves as brothers and sisters.”
In their report about the election of Bishop Arama, South Sudanese blog Paanluelwel.com remembered that the Comprehensive Peace Agreement between Khartoum and South Sudan’s SPLA took place during the leadership of Sudan/South Sudan’s third archbishop, the Most Reverend Joseph Marona. The report noted that Marona “anointed John Garang the Moses of South Sudan.” And it was also Marona, they reported, who named President Salva Kiir South Sudan’s Joshua, saying:
Moses is not with us anymore, our leader who led us out of Egypt, and across the river to the Promised Land. He didn’t get the opportunity to join us there. It is Joshua who now has to take on the difficult task of leading our people in this new era, and through the difficulties that are lying ahead.
Archbishop-elect Arama has been called “an able, tested leader whose leadership accolade cut across ethnic divides” according to the South Sudanese blog. The Episcopal Church of South Sudan has played a key role for civil society in those difficult days for the nation of which the late Archbishop Marona spoke and in the difficult days in which the nation now finds itself. Let us pray for the new archbishop’s efforts to help bring unity to the Body of Christ in South Sudan that would be a catalyst for the renewal of the nation.