– Virginia Theological Seminary has agreed to help Washington DC-based Sudan Sunrise
with the building of the Lopez Lomong Reconciliation Church
in Kimotong, South Sudan. Named after Lopez Lomong
, the most prominent Sudanese athlete at the 2008 Olympic Games, the church will be built in Lomong’s village by Darfurian Muslims, once former enemies of the Southern Sudanese.
“As violence between Sudan and South Sudan increases,” stated Tom Prichard
(VTS '78), executive director of Sudan Sunrise, “the young Muslims in this effort are all the more determined to build this church as a way to express their rejection of the call to war along the religious fault line. Virginia Seminary is helping them proclaim their choice of peace and reconciliation, and with Lopez Lomong’s involvement in the Olympics, this could be an inspiration for people around the world.”
Several years ago, when Lomong visited his native village of Kimotong, Eastern Equatoria State, Budi County in South Sudan, he viewed the devastation from the 22-year war in which Darfurians were used by the government against the Southern Sudanese. As a six-year old, Lomong himself was abducted at gunpoint while attending church. Now he wants to rebuild that church with the help of Sudan Sunrise and Darfurians. The Kimotong Reconciliation Church will also serve as a community center to provide clean water and food relief.
In an extraordinary symbol of reconciliation, members of the Darfur Students Association at the University of Juba
in the capital of South Sudan, have enthusiastically volunteered to help build the church.
“As a Muslim student,” said Rudwan Dawod, the former President of the Darfur Students Association, in a recent YouTube video
, “we heard some criticism from some radical people who said, ‘how can Muslim people help Christians to build their church?’ But we are a new generation... we used to fight our brothers in the South but now we want to change that kind of thing and bring reconciliation...”
The Sudan Sunrise movement began in 2004 when Southern Sudanese delivered aid to Darfurian refugees. This aid effort was an extraordinary act of reconciliation, noting that Darfurians had been used by the government of Sudan for decades in a war against Southerners, which left over 2 million dead and at least 4 million displaced.
Sudan Sunrise is a movement of individuals from all religious backgrounds and identities working to facilitate the reconciliation efforts of all Sudanese to ensure lasting peace and the end of oppression in Sudan and South Sudan.
“The Seminary is always interested in seeking to support the ways in which God's grace is found in the most surprising places,” said the Very Rev. Ian S. Markham, dean and president of Virginia Seminary. “Muslims building a church for Christians is one of those places.”
Founded in 1823, Virginia Theological Seminary is the largest of the 11 accredited seminaries of the Episcopal Church. The school prepares men and women, representing more than 40 different dioceses and nine different countries, for service in the Church, both as ordained and lay ministers, and offers a number of professional degree programs and diplomas.