Most likely, the militia (and its sponsors) targeted Mabior because he was a prominent, beloved leader in the community. He had recently become archbishop of Twic East diocese, newly formed to accommodate the fast-growing church in Bor county, which is part of Jonglei state in South Sudan.
While the Obama administration has focused on legendary atrocities in Darfur, the western region of Sudan, the UN reports that the rate of violent deaths in South Sudan now surpasses that in Darfur. Lise Grande, UN Deputy Resident Coordinator in Southern Sudan, recently said more than 2,000 people had died and 250,000 had been displaced by inter-ethnic violence across the region.
Witnesses report that Mabior was shot twice in the legs and that his attackers may have also used a military knife called a “sonki.” After the first shots, 30 men and women from the church and town, including tribal chiefs, soldiers, a university student and other youth leaders, and several of the town’s oral historians, covered Mabior with their own bodies. All 30 gave their lives in their effort to protect him. Mabior died two hours later.
In the aftermath of Mabior’s death the Episcopal Church of Sudan is grieving: “Everyone in the diocese of Bor and the diocese of Twic East is painfully shocked and devastated at losing Joseph. Archdeacon Mabior was a father to many and a mentor to many of us who are clergy,” said John Chol Daau, a priest of Bor diocese currently studying at Trinity School for Ministry in Ambridge, Pa., and a former Lost Boy of Sudan who worked closely with Mabior.
After Mabior’s death, Daau phoned Nathaniel Garang, the bishop of Bor. “Son, I lost a strong man, a follower of the living Christ who never hesitated to preach the gospel of Christ to our people,” Garang said as he wept. “He was like my frontline captain as he and I preached the gospel . . . a great intercessor . . . a pastor and a leader . . . full of patience and love . . . very humble. . . . He would always want to care and serve in any circumstance.”
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