Sudanese bishop visits Gilbertsville 

Sarah Eames | The Daily Star

Eight-year-old Nicholas Hall receives communion from Archbishop Justin Badi Arama of South Sudan during the Gilbertsville community worship service Sunday in Centennial Park.

GILBERTSVILLE — Justin Badi Arama, archbishop of South Sudan, preached the value of living a life of gratitude to God to an audience of Gilbertsville congregants and former Sudanese refugees who fled the violence in their home country as children and have since established lives and families in upstate New York.

The Sudanese nationals were the special guests of Christ Episcopal Church, one of three Gilbertsville congregations to host the annual community worship service Sunday in Centennial Park.

“A life well-lived is a life of gratitude and thanksgiving to God,” Arama said. “Although we live in a world that is full of misery — full of disability, full of disease, wars and terror attacks — the bible encourages all Christians to live a life of gratitude to God.”

Arama said the most important reason to be thankful to God is outlined in John 3:16: “For God so loved the world that he sent his one and only begotten son to the world.”

“The intention of God is not that he takes believers to heaven,” Arama said. “His intention is believers — he wants to help them to bring heaven on earth, so that as we live here, we can begin enjoying heaven here.”

Arama promoted the mission work of members of Christ Episcopal Church, who have traveled to Sudan on an almost annual basis since 2001 under the leadership of Mother Donna Steckline, priest in charge.

“As a South Sudanese bishop, coming to America is like heaven because I can see the environment well honored, I can see all-around green, I can see peace, good roads — so this, to me, is heaven,” Arama said. “Where I came from in South Sudan, I was born in a war. And now people are traumatized because of war — that is the saddest part of it.”

The Sudanese civil war dates back to 1956, when the country claimed independence after more than 60 years of joint British-Egyptian rule. A subsequent series of unstable parliamentary governments and military regimes deepened the divide between the Islamic north and the Christian south until 2011, when South Sudan declared its independence. 

“Now when the nation came up, ruling ourselves became a problem,” Arama said.

In 2013, the newly formed nation fell into infighting of its own, creating an estimated four million refugees worldwide, he said.

“Children are growing without their roots,” he said, describing his travels between refugee camps since becoming bishop.

“As a church, we are continuing with advocacy, trauma healing and seeing how we can reconcile the divided community,” he said.

Arama said when he and other leaders of the church were granted an audience with the Vatican, “the pope encouraged our leaders to now go the way of peace, and he kissed our feet, which is the highest diplomacy that the church gives.”

The multi-denominational, international assembly joined in traditional hymns in English and Dinka and received communion from Arama and Steckline.

Arama said in closing, “To my children, the South Sudanese who are here in America: be thankful to God because God has brought you here. But I warn you, the war has moved from the bush to the town, and now the war is on the internet. Send us messages of love, visions of unity.”

Abiei Gai, a Sudanese native and mother of five, traveled from Syracuse with fellow members of the Diangdit Episcopal Chapel of the Central New York Diocese.

“It’s nice to meet somebody who comes from South Sudan and promotes peace,” she said. “We are a tribal country, so it’s nice to have somebody to bring us together.”

Sarah Eames, staff writer, can be reached at or 607-441-7213. Follow her @DS_SarahE on Twitter.

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