Students dream of new churches in South Sudan

February 5, 2024 | News | Volume 28 Issue 3
Joanne De Jong | Mennonite Church Canada International Witness
Khan (Isaac) Gatkuoth, left, at Meserete Kristos Seminary in Ethiopia. Photo by Joanne De Jong.

A recent article in Anabaptist World stated there were no known Anabaptist congregations in South Sudan. Praise God that that is no longer the case. 


Gatjiak (Simon) Tongyik, one of the new students sponsored by Mennonite Church Alberta to attend the Meserete Kristos Seminary in Bishoftu, Ethiopia, says there is now one small Mennonite church in his village in Longchuok County Centre Mathiang. He hopes this is just the beginning of church planting efforts.


“There are eight South Sudanese Mennonite churches inside the refugee camps in Ethiopia and as soon as peace comes to South Sudan, we expect each church will move back to their hometowns,” he said. “And even if there is no peace upon my graduation, I plan to be a missionary and plant more Mennonite churches.” 


Gatjiak (Simon) Tongyik, left, Werner & Joanne De Jong, and Khan (Isaac) Gatkuoth. Photo courtesy of Joanne De Jong.

Last year, the Edmonton South Sudanese Mennonite church requested help for their brothers and sisters in the refugee camps and surrounding areas in the Gambella region in West Ethiopia. MC Alberta responded by agreeing to their request to sponsor two or three South Sudanese students for a four-year theological degree program at the Meserete Kristos Seminary.


Two students were chosen and sent, but only one was able to return in fall 2023. The returning student was Khan (Isaac) Gatkuoth, an evangelist and father of three small children. This year, MC Alberta offered language and study support, which Gatkuoth was excited to receive.


He is currently a leader at Lare Mennonite Church in Gambella, but hopes to return one day to South Sudan as a pastor.  


The new student sponsored by MC Alberta was already a young leader in the regional South Sudanese Mennonite church in Ethiopia. He was chosen for sponsorship by the local church. Gatjik (Simon) Tongyik is a father of five, with kids ranging in age from 3 to 13. His family lives in South Sudan on a small farm. 


The students’ initial anxiety about how they would be treated by the Ethiopian students was quickly put to rest. “Everyone has received us. They help you even when they can’t understand you,” Gatkuoth said. 


South Sudan is one of the least developed countries in the world with a literacy rate of only 35 percent. South Sudan has not known peace since it became an independent country in 2011. Endless war and famine create a sense of hopelessness, but Tongyik and Gatkuoth have great hope for the future. There is very little Anabaptist presence, and these students are the first South Sudanese students to attend the seminary.  


“I will one day help the people with teaching,” says Tongyik. “God is good!”


In addition to being excited to plant Mennonite churches in South Sudan, Tongyik and Gatkuoth enthusiastically talked about opening a Mennonite church office in South Sudan and maybe a small school where they could offer a Bible diploma for local people. “We also want to care for the many orphans and widows,” said Tongyik. 


Receiving a theological education has allowed these students to imagine a beautiful future in their war-torn communities. 


Joanne De Jong, and her husband Werner, of Edmonton, work at the Meserete Kristos Seminary as MC Canada International Witness workers. This article first appeared as the “Menno Minute” in the January 17 MCA Communiqué.  Reprinted with permission.

Khan (Isaac) Gatkuoth, left, at Meserete Kristos Seminary in Ethiopia. Photo by Joanne De Jong.

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