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The Interruption of Incarnation: An Interview with Bishop Paride Taban of Sudan

November 22, 2009

Taban's daily attire

This year’s Teaching Communities Week hosted by the Duke Center for Reconciliation is An Oasis of Peace: Forgiveness, Advocacy, and Community with Angelina Atyam of Uganda, Bishop Paride Taban of Sudan, and theological narration by my colleague Emmanuel Katongole.  The previous post The Interruption of Forgiveness introduced Angelina.

The life of Bishop Paride Taban of Sudan (watch 2-minute interview) evokes the gritty journeys of a New Testament apostle of peace.  He has been jailed by both Sudanese governments—north and south.  He is a church bishop who lives in a small tent in the village he founded.  His daily exercise routine, he says, “gets the trauma out of the body.”  When chosen to be bishop he asked “Why did you choose a truck driver to be a bishop and not a theologian?”

For more than 20 years, Taban provided leadership as the Catholic bishop of Torit in the midst of the most difficult circumstances of Sudan’s civil war.  Upon “retirement” at age 68 he moved from Torit to a remote area called Kuron and founded the Holy Trinity Peace Village, a place where people of different ethnicities and faiths live together. Bishop Taban calls the village a “small oasis of peace” in a country torn by ethnic and religious violence.

To highlight Taban’s distinctive voice, I have put his words into an interview format.

“In prison I saw tribalism, hatred, not forgiving.  I decided when I was released we will start a peace village”

When did you receive the vision for the peace village? I was in prison for 100 days.  But we [Taban and a few others] were very happy not bitter.  We forgave them.  We called them friends.  In prison I saw tribalism, hatred, not forgiving.  I decided that when I was released we will start a peace village.  The Ik people are a very gentle group in Sudan who live among hostile people.  They will not survive unless they live differently.  They build two doors in their huts—at the front and back.  When someone comes up to their house angry they go out the back door.  When two or three people quarrel then the rest hold their nose at the “stink” of the anger.  I wanted to start a village of this type.

Kuron Peace Village

How have you seen people of different tribes change by living together in the village? At first they couldn’t come close to their neighbors.  Their name for neighbor was “enemy, foreigner.”  They were like dogs and cats fighting each other.  There are people who don’t know yet that they are human beings.  But they discovered neighbors could be friends.  Now they play soccer together.  They say “At last now we are a human being.”

“I am a blind man.  The one who can see is God.  I am carrying the village like a blind man”

What is your understanding of Christian leadership? For me I am a blind man.  The one who can see is God.  I am carrying the village like a blind man.  The one who sees is God not myself. Who is going to build this?  I am a blind man.  The one building is God.  God wants peace in this place.  It is the work of God.  I am just an instrument of God.  People began leaving Jesus.  If you want to go, go.  God can even raise up the rocks.  The peace village is to bring the work of God.

But you also believe in having a dream don’t you? Yes I have a dream.  Martin Luther King also said that!  It is good to have a dream, but we must put this dream in the hand of God not the hand of a human being.  You must have a dream.  God has a dream to send his son to the world and we are redeemed.  I will carry it out as far as I can and God will raise some disciples to carry it further.

Village celebration

Shouldn’t the model of the Kuron Peace Village be exported to more communities? People want me to re-create this peace village everywhere in southern Sudan.  Jesus was born in Bethlehem, a small village, and his word began to spread throughout the whole world.  Spreading this vision may not happen in my own time.  There must be a foundation, and from that it is like the fire.  Every dry season there is fire.  The fire started one small place, and burned the whole area, thousands of kilometers because the wind blows it.  We must have the foundation.  From one small parish the fire spreads.  This is how I see Kuron Peace Village spreading.

“Don’t bring the people to the town, carry the town to the people.  We are laying the foundation for a peaceful future. A star has fallen in the wilderness”

You’ve described the complex politics of Sudan–Arabs and blacks and race, Islamic law in the north the southern rebel army and civil war, the ideologies which start genocide, Darfur.  The problems are so big.  So why start a tiny peace village in the middle of nowhere? John the Baptist went to the wilderness.  He ate locusts.  People went to see him.  If you build in town, it disappears.  But when you find it in the wilderness, this becomes a place they never thought could exist.  People begin to ask “what’s happening here?”  Someone once told me, “Don’t’ bring the people to the town, but carry the town to the people.” If we took this approach there would be no street children in Nairobi, now a slum.  [After five years] people are visiting the web site, coming to visit.  To have peace in Sudan on the grassroots level, we have get at the root of conflict, tribalism.  We are laying the foundation for a peaceful future.  A star has fallen in the wilderness.

About the Author: Chris Rice is co-director of the Center for Reconciliation at Duke Divinity School.  He is author of Reconciling All Things, Grace Matters, and More Than Equals. His writes regularly at the blog Reconcilers with Chris Rice.

Related Reconcilers posts:

Also See:

Last 5 posts by Chris Rice:

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