BUILD on a mission to Gambella, Ethiopia

Cross-cultural mission is in BUILD’s DNA. For example, an intercultural group from across Uganda began the curriculum design process. Neighbouring countries then invited teams from Uganda to visit and share our early BUILD training efforts, and leaders from those countries then joined the curriculum workshops back in Uganda. In a range of ways, BUILD has always had an emphasis on mission. It was therefore natural to respond to a recent call for BUILD training from the Diocese of Gambella in Ethiopia, a next-door neighbour to our current footprint.

Gambella lies in the west of Ethiopia. It juts out westwards into South Sudan, which serves as a reminder of some of the tension and conflict in the area – and, by extension, in its churches. Gambella has been deeply affected by long term ethnic tensions between its Anuak and Nuer communities, as well as by conflict in neighbouring South Sudan, with refugees spilling into Gambella and the neighbouring regions.

The movement of people into Gambella, however, has also brought more believers into Ethiopia, and has created the greatest concentration of Anglican Christians in the country. Gambella is part of the Province of Alexandria. Alexandria was previously a diocese of the Province of Jerusalem and the Middle East, but became an independent province in May 2020, partly due to the growth of the Anglican Church in Gambella. Alexandria’s other dioceses have fewer, more dispersed Anglican believers and churches: the Diocese of Egypt; the Diocese of the Horn of Africa (covering the rest of Ethiopia, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Djibouti and Somalia), and the Diocese of North Africa (Algeria, Tunisia, Libya, Chad, Mauritania).

Alongside this influx of believers, theological education and training in Gambella has been challenging. To date, St Frumentius’ Anglican Theological College (SFATC) in Gambella town has been the focal point of efforts, with an emphasis on relationship and bridge-building across the Nuer and Anuak communities, and on reaching out through them to others.

BUILD was initially asked to help with the training of the scattered lay-readers in the dioceses, of which there are 150 or more. Just as elsewhere in the BUILD region of Anglican churches, lay readers, catechists and senior Christians act as the de facto congregation leaders, and the health of the churches is highly dependent on their health as leaders. Having considered a number of different options for introducing training into the area, we took the decision to send a Kenyan BUILD trainer to work in Gambella.

Revd Samuel ‘Sammy’ Atsali Mangu had gone through the BUILD system in the west of Kenya, which then enabled him to study theology at Uganda Christian University, before returning to Kenya to lead a parish and head up the youth work in the western region of the Anglican Church of Kenya. When asked if he might consider moving full-time to Gambella as a BUILD mission partner, we were taken aback by his almost immediate and faith-filled response, along the lines of, “I am humbled to be asked, yes, I will go”. Since then, the model has evolved and Sammy now acts as an itinerant missionary: he has been accepted as a local partner of CMS-Africa, released to them by the Diocese of Butere as one of their ‘Missionary Clergy’. Sammy remains based in Kenya but travels up to Gambella regularly for research and sensitisation purposes. He travels again in September to help the current cohort of students at SFATC complete their studies.

SFATC is transitioning to using the BUILD curriculum as the foundation for its studies, and the college will act as a hub for local level BUILD training elsewhere in the diocese. This means that Sammy has a dual role, as reflected in his title, BUILD Programme Coordinator, Gambella Diocese, and Acting Principal, St Frumentius Anglican Theological College – something, perhaps, that he had not quite imagined when he first put his hand up for this pioneering task. For someone who had never been on an aircraft before last year, and who has now become a frequent-flyer, life is full of new surprises and challenges as Sammy continues with BUILD on a mission.


Featured picture, Revd Sammy (right) with SFATC students.