Among the Divinity School’s partners is the Episcopal Church of the Sudan, which grew dramatically during a 20-year civil war when millions of Southern Sudanese were killed or driven into exile. In 1997, Professor Ellen Davis made a promise to Bishop Daniel Deng Bul of Renk Diocese in Sudan, who was then her student at Virginia Theological Seminary in Alexandria, Va. Once peace arrived, Davis said, she would travel to Renk to teach. The Visiting Teachers Program, with a focus on developing a curriculum in Hebrew and Greek, is the outgrowth of that promise. A public health component was added last summer by Dr. Peter Morris, M.D., M.P.H., M.Div., whose report follows.
We knew it would be wet.
We also knew about the mud. Our summer in the United States is the rainy season in Southern Sudan. We came in sandals and within days of our arrival were given high-topped Wellingtons.
The banks of the White Nile had overflowed bringing the nourishing silt that feeds the sorghum and rich plains of Southern Sudan. But the flooding of 2007, among the worst in living memory, had also collapsed the tukhls, squat mud-and-dung walled huts with peaked thatched roofs that serve as homes throughout the region.
The biblical parallels were more than poetic. As we began our six-hour drive south from Khartoum in the dim morning light, the sun slowly broke through the overcast skies. The sides of the roads shimmered with floodwaters blown choppy by the wind. The blacktop cut a path and parted the “seas.”
We came—a divinity school professor, a student and me, a recent graduate—to what is likely the poorest province of the Anglican Communion. In the midst of the flood, we brought Greek Bibles and instructional texts.
It was just what the bishop had ordered.
The Visiting Teachers Program at Renk Theological College, a collaboration between Duke Divinity and Virginia Theological Seminary (VTS), was born of a deep friendship between Ellen Davis, professor of Old Testament and practical theology at Duke, and Bishop Daniel Deng Bul of Renk Diocese.
Davis had promised the bishop she would come to teach in Sudan whenever peace came to the war-torn country. That promise was kept.
A tenuous peace came in 2004 when, after 21 years of war and the deaths of more than two million Southern Sudanese, peace agreements were signed between the Islamic Government of Sudan and the Sudanese Peoples’ Liberation Army. Davis arrived 10 days later.