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Aug 27, 2018 | Carol E. Barnwell

“I am a Remnant of the Atrocities” Faith Encompasses Fellow Sudanese

In 1987 Agook Kuol joined the ranks of 20,000 Lost Boys of Sudan who were displaced or orphaned during a second civil war (1983-2005). Separated from his brother in the bush, the then 14-year-old witnessed death and walked more than 1000 miles to a refugee camp in Ethiopia. An unimaginable journey, yet, today, he joins the Diocese of Texas as a church planter.

Kuol has lived enough for many lifetimes in his 42 years. Fleeing the violence and the threat of being conscripted into the rebel army, Kuol fared better than half of the children who died along a similar epic journey; victims of exhaustion, starvation, disease, killed by rebel forces or eaten by wild animals.

“I saw many people die, but we survived,” he said of the Lost Boys. “God was the only way we could live. That is the reason I am dedicated to God. I am a remnant of the atrocities.”

Kuol arrived in the refugee camp where he lived for five years before moving to another camp in Kenya in 1992. There he began ministering to people. He taught them hymns he had learned at home. Sudan’s Anglican tradition dates to 1905 and his village had been the first mission of the Anglican Communion in Southern Sudan.    

At the camp in Kenya, Kuol also taught Sunday School. Though his early education had been in Arabic, he learned English in the Ethiopian camp. “We used to write in the dirt,” he said, explaining that children tore pages from their exercise books into quarters and cut their pencils in pieces in order to share. He was able to finish high school in Kenya and continued his call to lay ministry throughout his 14 years in the refugee camps, believing that his people needed to hear “words of hope and encouragement,” he said.

In 2001, when Kuol was 26, he was one of 3,800 Lost Boys who came to the United States through a United Nations program. He was sent to Ft. Worth, and later traveled to Houston to attend a non-denominational Bible College, which was paid for by the program.

“In 2007 I returned to S. Sudan to minister to my people,” Kuol said. He was ordained in the Sudanese Episcopal Church by Bishop Nathaniel Garange. His village was much changed on his return visit. “A lot of people were gone. You don’t ask how or why,” he said. “You just know.” But, because people wanted to know about the Gospel, he continued to travel regularly to his native home until in 2009, when he founded a Sudanese church in Houston.

At first not many people attended, so Kuol began to go door to door in apartment buildings in Tomball and The Woodlands where a number of Sudanese lived. He gathered groups in friends’ homes and talked to them. “We can’t forget the difficulties,” he said. People responded to his invitation to a community of faith.  

Kuol worked as a security guard at night, and visited people during the day. Sometimes he would arrive for Sunday worship without having slept. He also served as a translator in the jail and in hospitals where he visited the sick.

His small Houston congregation met in the fellowship hall of a Presbyterian church and began with a group of Lost Boys. They were later joined by several families and soon grew to about 75 adults and 60 children.

“I’ve always been passionate to lead a church,” he said. “I never grew despondent. Even when a friend told me to give up and go to school to become an engineer. God kept pushing me. It is a joy to see you are part of God’s program of salvation.”

He met Presiding Bishop Michael Curry and Bishop Andy Doyle at a national gathering of Episcopal black clergy held in Houston in 2016. “I told Bishop Doyle, ‘This is your flock. God will move you to assist,’ and the Bishop has gracefully embraced our congregation,” he said.

“The gift of being a part of the Anglican Communion is that we are connected to broad and diverse network of Christian leaders across the globe,” said Jason Evans, diocesan missioner for missional communities. “As the Houston area becomes home for an increasing number of people whose birthplace is another country, it is important that the Diocese partner with leaders who know and understand these cultures and can provide the pastoral leadership as well as gospel announcement in ways respectful of those cultures,” he added.

Kuol is especially concerned about the children of Sudanese immigrants, who, he said, can get lost easily when their parents have a more traditional culture and yet, they are raised in the United States. “I just wanted support for our youth. God has a plan and the Bishop gracefully acknowledged God’s purpose for us when he accepted this congregation to be a part of the Diocese of Texas.”

He was delighted by Bishop Doyle’s invitation to become vicar of the Sudanese Church in Houston. “We were isolated,” Kuol said. “Now we are part of a larger church, open to a wider community.” The partnership means growth for his congregation, he said.

Life was a challenge for Kuol and other Lost Boys when they arrived in this country. They were traumatized, didn’t know how to turn on the lights or use the toilet. “We used the forest as a restroom, if we were lucky there was a dark pit called a latrine in the camps,” he laughed. “But if it wasn’t for the United States and the people here, we would not have made it” he said.

Taking nothing of his life in Houston for granted, Kuol is grateful to be able to provide a peaceful life and an education to his three daughters and one son. He was married to Grace Atong Deng in 2008 during one of his trips to S. Sudan.

He has lived God’s grace profoundly and desires only to share the Gospel message with others.

Kuol’s focus will be the many Sudanese in Southwest Houston. Of the Lost Boys who came to the United States, Kuol said about 90 percent are Anglican/Episcopalian. Ten percent are Roman Catholic. His congregation worships from the Book of Common Prayerin the Dinka dialect. And although there are two other Sudanese congregations in the Greater Houston area, “many, many Sudanese people do not attend,” he said.

Besides the new Sudanese church plant, the Diocese of Texas also seeks to serve the large Indian population of Greater Houston with a new church plant under the Rev. Roy Varghese’s leadership. The Rev. John Soard will gather members for another new church in Generation Park, a new area of development on Houston’s northeast side.

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