A voice for peace

Reuben Tut ordained in Edmonton

June 29, 2023 | News | Volume 27 Issue 13
Emily Summach | Alberta Correspondent
Edmonton, Alberta
Pastor Reuben Tut at the 2023 Mennonite Church Alberta annual gathering. (Photo by Ruth Bergen Braun)

Pastor Reuben Tut and his church, Edmonton South Sudanese Church, celebrated God’s calling of Tut at his ordination on May 13. God’s call has pursued Tut through doubts, civil wars and across two continents. 

Tut, a member of the Nuer tribe from South Sudan, describes his journey into pastoral ministry as “a long story.” Tut spent many years following Jesus and serving others in his home country. When the topic of further Bible training would come up, Tut would refuse, saying he was not ready, or his language skills needed more work. Yet, time and time again, people saw and affirmed his gifts. 

In 1983, civil war broke out in Sudan between the predominantly Muslim northern regions and the majority-Christian regions to the south. By 1985, the war arrived in Tut’s home village. The situation grew dire. The Tut family eventually fled to Kenya as refugees in 1995.

Tut said in a phone interview that it was in Kenya that God called him more fully into ministry. His cousin said to him, “Reuben, you do not want to work for God; one day, you will work for him.”

In 2004, the Tut family arrived in Canada and settled in Edmonton. He became involved with the large South Sudanese Christian population in the city. Tut was representing a group of Nuer believers looking for a space to worship, and a larger body to connect with. After a lot of searching, someone said to Reuben: “Why haven’t you contacted the Mennonite Church?” A quick online search led Tut to First Mennonite Church in Edmonton and to the office of Tim Wiebe-Neufeld, who was pastor at the time.

“Out of the blue I get this phone call, and the person on the other side of the line asked about how to start a Mennonite church,” Wiebe-Neufeld recounts fondly via video call. “We set up a meeting and in came Reuben, along with three other church leaders.”

Wiebe-Neufeld asked why they sought out the Mennonite denomination. They gave two reasons. “They knew the Mennonite church helped people and they believed in peace,” recalls Wiebe-Neufeld. 

Mennonite World Conference is not aware of Anabaptist churches in South Sudan, though Mennonite Central Committee has personnel there.

Tut immediately stood out as a steady, central voice. His leadership style is not forceful, but more quiet, reflective.

He and the other leaders worshipped with First Mennonite Church for a year and then planted their own congregation, South Sudanese Mennonite Church.

In 2014, the church was incorporated as part of Mennonite Church Alberta. Tut has served as pastor and key leader in the congregation since then. His reputation as someone who helps and loves Jesus is known throughout the Sudanese community in Edmonton.

The congregation, which consists of about 40 people and worships in the Nuer language, currently rents space from Emmanuel Community Church, which is located in the northeast part of Edmonton, an area home to many South Sudanese people.

Wiebe-Neufeld speaks of the gift that Tut is to the broader Mennonite family. “It’s neat to see his strong commitment,” Wiebe-Neufeld says. “He helps people. He believes in peace, even through all of Sudan’s tribal conflicts, tensions. He’s always keen to think about the peace aspect.”

Wiebe-Neufeld is grateful for the witness of someone who has gone through that much personal suffering and experienced that much violence, yet still has a desire to lead.

Strong leadership and commitment are important in the case of a new church plant, which cannot rely on institutional momentum. Wiebe-Neufeld says Tut provides that leadership with great faithfulness. 

For Tut himself, his hope for the future of the church is with his sisters and brothers in South Sudan, which is again embroiled in violence and conflict. “South Sudan is [a] land where something can grow,” he says. “I want us to be one of the denominations that can change life for the people of South Sudan.”

Tut says: “We grew in war. We grew in violence. We can grow in the way [the] Mennonite church is—a peaceful denomination.”

Tut implores the greater Mennonite Church to remember the people and churches of South Sudan in their prayers. 

Do you have a story idea about Mennonites in Alberta? Send it to Emily Summach at ab@canadianmennonite.org.

Pastor Reuben Tut at the 2023 Mennonite Church Alberta annual gathering. (Photo by Ruth Bergen Braun)

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