Bishop Akio Johnson Mutek
Diocese of Torit.
Bishop Akio Johnson Mutek is currently the Apostolic Administrator of the Diocese of Torit having taken over the recently retired Bishop Paride Taban.
David Alton writes on: 'The Bishop with Nine Lives'
The auxiliary bishop of Torit in Southern Sudan, Akio Johnson, is a bishop with nine lives. With engaging humour he makes light of the nine attempts that have been made on his life but he is unsure whether he will survive a tenth.
His survival in the face of assassin's bullets, ambush, and the torrent of bombs that have been unleashed by the Sudanese government is nothing short of miraculous: "God clearly put me here for a purpose" he told me.
The bishop's story is a metaphor for the suffering, resilience and the endurance of Sudanese Christians. Rarely is the good shepherd faced with the reality of having to lay down his life for his flock but Akio Johnson risks death for them daily.
I was in Southern Sudan and the neighbouring district of Turkana, in northern Kenya, with Jubilee Action. They recently built a dormitory for blind children in Kenya's Marsabit diocese. While there it provided an opportunity to travel into Sudan with the Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA) and Bishop Akio.
During twenty years of attrition Torit diocese has been pounded into the ground.
Earlier in the summer, while the two sides were engaged in hammering out the Machakos Peace Plan (which subsequently fell apart) Bishop Akio’s home and compound were destroyed by the Sudanese aerial bombardment.
In three raids on Ikotos, on June 26, June 29 and 12 of July, 72 bombs were dropped on his residence. It was obliterated. If its occupants had not scrambled into shelters there would have been a massacre.
The compound also housed a primary and secondary school. The primary school of St Teresa of the Child Jesus and the secondary school of St Augustine (where more than 200 children were being educated), were destroyed. Miraculously the prudent provision of bomb shelters (provided by funds from CAFOD) saved their lives but Bishop Akio told me many children were vomiting and crying; they were deeply traumatized.
Early years education for South Sudan's children involves learning the difference between the engines of UN relief planes and the bombers - and then running for your life. One of Bishop Akio's priests told me: "people are living like foxes in holes, just to survive."
On September 1st the SPLA liberated Torit and the scale of the destruction became apparent.
Torit has been forcibly Islamised; the Koran imposed; the road signs changed to Arabic and water and medicine only given to people who have changed their identities to Islamic names. One group of 180 children had been taken to Khartoum and radically indoctrinated, encouraging a hatred of their parents, and turning them into child soldiers.
Recently the Sudanese government intensified its attacks on areas near oilfields with the aim of depopulating those districts. Oil revenues have allowed the Khartoum government to increase military spending from £110 million to £220 million. Bishop Akio is scornful of the morality of western oil companies: "every barrel of oil they extract is half full of oil and half full of blood. When people decide where to buy their petrol they should remember that," he says. Certainly oil companies should be required to disclose the payments they make to the government of Sudan and - as the recent withdrawal of Premier Oil from Burma illustrates - they are susceptible to consumer pressure.
Sudan's best hope is the reconvening of the peace process and the construction of a civil society where human rights and religious tolerance form its basis. Then maybe Bishop Akio and his flock will no longer be in daily danger of losing their lives.
If you want to help Bishop Akio as a volunteer teacher, medic or catechist, contact:
Jubilee Action on,
David Alton is an independent Crossbench peer. He is a founder of the Jubilee Campaign and was in Kenya and Southern Sudan under their auspices. He is treasurer of the all-party CAFOD group in Parliament. He is also Professor of Citizenship at Liverpool John Moores University. This article will also be published in The Universe
LONDON – 1st October 2002 - 677 words
His Lordship Bishop Akio Johnson Mutek in his active duty as the Apostolic Administrator and at the same moment serving the people of God through the Holy Catholic Church once told a very interesting story, the story of the Magi as retold by His Lordship and Rev. Joseph Healey.
Retelling the Magi Story Around the World
By Akio Johnson Mutek and Joseph Healey, M.M.
In Matthew's Gospel (Chapter 2:1-12) the Magi (three wise men or astrologers from "the East") offer the Christ Child gold, frankincense, and myrrh, which are symbols of wealth and divine worship in the Middle East culture. Among ancient peoples gold was regarded as the king of metals and thus the ideal gift for a king. It is symbolic of the kingship of Christ. Frankincense was used in religious worship and is symbolic of the divinity of Jesus. Myrrh was used to prepare the dead for burial and is symbolic of the humanity of Jesus.
But what symbols would other cultures and peoples use. Let us start with Africa. A catechist in the Logir Ethnic Group in Isoke Parish in Torit Diocese, Sudan said that the three gifts would be a goat, a spear and a small, flexible shepherd's stick. The goat is a symbol of royalty and wealth. The spear is a symbol of defense and healing. When someone is sick the blade of the family spear is washed and the water is sprinkled on the grave of a recently deceased parent. It is hoped that this ancestor (one of the "living-dead") will bless and heal the sick person. The shepherd's stick made from the alyoto tree is a symbol of power.
The Logir people in Sudan would give a baby other gifts such as a cow who still suckles her calf. The rich fresh milk given to the mother of the baby is a symbol of wealth. Butter oil from milk is smeared on the baby. This oil is used for the installation of a king and when the rainmaker is chosen. Alyoto leaves are tied on the front of the door to show that a child has been born. These leaves are symbols of new life and fertility. When tied in a circle the leaves portray life and union with the ancestors. Eight days after the birth of the child, people in the local community bring gifts to the mother such as chickens, white millet, fruits, honey and firewood.
The Ganda people in Uganda would give the Christ Child a drum, which is a symbol of kingship and authority, a spear which is a symbol of protecting and defending the people and bark cloth which is a symbol of royal investiture. The Kuria people in Tanzania and Kenya would give a goat for the mother, flour for food and oil to shine up the baby. The Sukuma people in Tanzania would give gifts of powerful medicine to protect against witches, a cow and a leopard skin which is a symbol of royalty.
The types of gifts vary according to local customs and show the richness of different African traditions. Some ethnic groups in East Africa would distinguish carefully between the three gifts for the Christ Child and other kinds of gifts for Christ the King or Chief (symbols of power and elder hood such as a fly whisk made from tail of a particular animal). For others age doesn't matter. A person would lie prostrate in front of even a child king. In the African tradition it would be very important to give special gifts to the mother of Jesus.
Latin America has its own examples. For the Aymara and Quechua in Bolivia coca leaves would be the central offering to the Christ Child. The coca leaf signifies life in the fullest sense and all the joys and struggles surrounding life and death. It is intimately connected with divinity and worship. Other appropriate gifts would be the first fruits of the harvest and the local arts and crafts of the people. For Chilean people gifts to a newborn child would be a blanket, clothing and local handicraft.
A schoolboy in the United States of America was retelling the Christmas story and explained that the wise men gave "gifts of gold, Frankenstein and mirth." Another person said that the three most valuable things in American society were American Express, Visa and Master Card. These types of answers challenge the depth of religious values in western society. Clearly ongoing inculturation is just as important in North America as it is in Third World countries. New symbols and signs have to be found to speak to our contemporary Western culture especially modern youth.
Would the three gifts to represent the American heritage and vision include the treasures of the past -- the Declaration of Independence, a replica of the Statue of Liberty, the American flag? Or would they include gifts symbolizing the present and future -- a diamond ring, a luxury car, a spacecraft, recent amendments to the Constitution that portray freedom and equality in the present multicultural democracy? Are there any appropriate religious symbols in the American context? One teenage girl said that she would not only give the Christ Child the prized gift of a beautiful guitar but she would also write a song for him.
In China the gifts would be based on the three main values or symbols in Chinese society. The symbol of blessing would be a male child to carry on the family line. Gold is the symbol of wealth. The symbol of long life is a peach which blossoms very early in the springtime and thus signifies longevity.
So for that mysterious word "contextualization" or "inculturation" (earthing the Gospel in local culture), each people and culture have their own rich and meaningful answers. This is a challenge to the universality of the Christian Churches to be a light to the nations.
Bishop Akio Johnson Mutek
Auxiliary Bishop of Torit Diocese, Sudan
c/o Regina Pacis House, Catholic Diocese of Torit
P.O. Box 52802
Bishop Akio Johnson Mutek's, Time Line (his road to and through the Church.)