Bishop Joseph's Story

Born in 1962 in Bor, Jongeli State, in Sudan, the journey that Joseph Garang Atem began from his home in a small village to the sacred vocation as Bishop of the Diocese of Renk reveals both the passion of this man to serve Jesus Christ and his commitment to the people he serves to change their lives. 

Early Years
It took a year of discussion and debate for Joseph’s father to agree to let him leave his village and begin school, which would result in his passion for education.  At the age of 15, Joseph took off by foot and traveled 75 miles from home.  Under the supervision of his cousin, he began his journey of learning.  It was during this time that Joseph was introduced to Jesus.  Born into African Traditional Religion, he worshipped gods (small "g") represented by cattle, snakes and other idols. As his educational life unfolded, he chose Christianity over his father's religion, and Islam, which he was being taught in school.  He was baptized, taking the Christian name, Joseph (son of Jacob) for his forgiving and loving nature. From that point forward the Holy Spirit had a hold on Joseph that continues to intensify to this very day.

Education and Formation
Along came the devastating 21-year civil war that tore Sudan in two along geographic and cultural lines.  As the war between north and south unfolded, Joseph’s capacity to endure and to be formed by suffering was stretched by the death of both of his parents, as well as five of his siblings.  While his faith was tested in the painful crucible of war, his devotion to Jesus only grew stronger and resulted in a calling to serve the Anglican Church.

Over the years, he served many roles in the church, as youth leader for the Episcopal Church of Sudan, Pastoral Counselor in Khartoum prison and hospitals, parish priest for the Arabic congregation in Renk, and was part of the Bible translation team for the Bible Society.  

In 1996, Joseph was ordained deacon.  He was ordained priest in 1998 by Bishop Daniel Deng Bul (now Archbishop of the ECSSS), and went on to receive his Maters of Theological Studies in 2000 from Seabury-Western in the United States.

He returned to Renk Diocese as Principal of Renk Bible School, raising it to the level of Renk Theological College, one of five official seminaries of the Episcopal Church of Sudan.  In 2009, Joseph was awarded an honorary Doctor of Divinity degree from Seabury.

Bishop of Renk
It seemed a clear blessing of the Holy Spirit that when the people of Renk began looking for a bishop following the election of Daniel Deng Bul to be Archbishop of the Episcopal Church of Sudan, that Fr. Joseph would be placed in nomination by the people of Renk and win election as the second Bishop of Renk Diocese on the first ballot.

Since his installation as Bishop in 2008, Joseph and his people have seen many hardships.  In 2011, South Sudan won independence from Sudan, and the country has faced many challenges, including a civil war that erupted in December 2013.  Despite the violence to his people, and his own personal losses, Bishop Joseph remains steadfast in his faith, more focused than ever on the healing power of love, forgiveness, and reconciliation.

His commitment to education, that of others as well as his own, has seen a young man move from life in a small village in Sudan to Bishop of the Episcopal Church of South Sudan and Sudan, and a strong teacher of the Christian faith.  Together, with his wife, Roda, and his twin daughters, Michele and Grace, Bishop Joseph stands, humbly, as one through whom the light of Christ shines brightly.