I need you. You are Here. I have Found You.
Rev. John Chol Daau is an Anglican priest, journalist, and teacher. John spent his early years in the rural and indigenous culture of the Jieng people of Baping in South Sudan. At the age of ten, John’s village was invaded by the Northern Army. He was separated from his family and forced to run and hide in the wilderness and refugee camps of East Africa. He became a refugee and “Lost Boy.” John was denied every opportunity in life: no family, no educational resources, no future, but by God’s grace, the Lord made a way for him. Miraculously, John received an education at a respected Christian institution of higher learning, Daystar University in Kenya to study Christian development and leadership. John often jokes that even if his whole community were to sell all their many heads of cattle, it would still not have been enough to cover the cost of his education – it was truly a gift and act of the Lord. As a young man, John received a call to the priesthood and began teaching and preaching the Christian faith to hundreds throughout East Africa.
John described how his early visits to the United States were formative times of learning with a culmination of call and clarity from the Lord at the New Wineskins Missionary Network conference in 2007. Encouraged by Rev. Marth Giltinan and Rt. Rev. Dr. Grant LeMarquand, John attended the conference feeling somewhat at a loss. It was one of his first experiences in the United States and he knew very few people. He was, furthermore, in a period of discernment. As an ex-refugee, who was discipled in the Kakuma refugee camp, in Northern Kenya, John developed a strong desire to bring theological education back to his Sudanese peers throughout the refugee and internally displaced camps of East Africa. His heart was with the leaders and pastors of his country.
On the first night of the New Wineskins Conference, during the hours of worship, John felt confused about his calling and path in life. He felt lost in a strange place, but in that time of worship he heard the Holy Spirit speak, “Wait, Wait, Wait.” The band was playing and the worshippers singing, but John could only hear, “Wait, Wait, Wait.”
The following day, John heard the voice of the Holy Spirit again, “I need you. You are here, and I have found you.” John was forever changed by these words. He knew he was on the right path to provide theological training to his people. John believed that through this powerful experience with the Holy Spirit a seed was planted. Before the conference ended, Martha and Grant laid hands on John and prayed that he would be strengthened in his call. A few years later, he had the opportunity to study at Trinity School for Ministry, an Anglican seminary in Ambridge, PA.
The years of building his school in South Sudan were not always easy. There were times when John felt utterly alone in his work and the spiritual opposition against him was very strong, compounded by the tenuous political situation in his country. This, however, has never deterred John from his work, but only served to strengthen his call. A true turning point came with his marriage to Sarah in 2012. She showed John that while his vision was amazing, his mission strategy was not on point. Rather than beginning with the ordained pastors, he had to start with the children. Sarah believed that it was critical to begin teaching the love of God to young children at a tender age and that this in turn would lead to greater leadership development and sustainability. She also believed these young ones would share God’s love with their siblings and parents.
Years later, John is now dean and president of Good Shepherd Academy a primary school for children in Juba, South Sudan. Just a few years ago the school was merely an idea, but the Lord has blessed this ministry with teachers, land, community, and international support. John’s ministry is so desperately needed; Good Shepherd Academy had to turn down over three hundred students last year alone. John, furthermore, founded Good Shepherd College and Seminary, with the primary focus of educating deacons and priests, who much like John himself, met Jesus in refugee camps and have been pastors for years, but have very little access to training or education.
As a friend of John’s for 10 years now, it has been encouraging to see what the Lord has done with this ministry. We believe that Good Shepherd Academy is a light to South Sudan, strengthening, encouraging, and blessing his people. The Lord’s words to John are a promise not just to him, but all of us, “I need you. You are here, and I have found you.”
For further information about John or his seminary I suggest reading our book, “God’s Refugee.” All author proceeds go to the Good Shepherd Academy.
Lilly Sanders Ubbens is a published writer and mother of two. After growing up as a missionary kid in Honduras, Lilly went on to earn a masters degree from Trinity School for Ministry in Ambridge, PA. While there, Lilly met and married the love of her life, Bo, and they now serve at Christ Church Anglican on the Mainline in Wayne, PA. You can contact Lilly here.