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Nyoat after he was ordained pastor in 1958


Nyoat translating books from the New Testament in his office at Nasir in 1960

Nyoat, Moses Kuac
c. 1922 to 2008
The Presbyterian Church of the Sudan (PCOS)
South Sudan

Introduction: Family and Names

Moses Kuac Nyoat was born about 1922 in Kat Beak village near Nasir town, Nasir County, Upper Nile State, in Southern Sudan. Around 1935, having reached the age at which boys go through the rites of passage called deng-yien, he went through the rites and passed on to a new stage, becoming a man. His father, Nyoat, had two wives who together gave him five children, three sons and two daughters, and his mother's name was Nyanthou Wachawe. [1] Kuac was the fourth child, and the second oldest son. Kuac (meaning "leopard") was given this name by his father in honor of a friend of his who brought him a leopard skin on the day Kuac was born [2]. His father probably died around 1936. Kuac went to school shortly after the death of his father because he was not the only child. If he had been the only child, or the only son, he would have had to stay at home to look after the other children and the property. Also, he was not yet married at that time.

His baptismal name was Moses (although others disputed that, as they said that he adopted the name Moses while he was at Bishop Gwynne Divinity School) [3] because he admired and looked up to the Old Testament prophet Moses. His kinship name was Kuach, which has two different meanings in the Nuer language: first, Kuac (or, Kuach), is a colorful cow or colorful cattle, with mixtures of black and white, or yellow, or with red dots all over the body (this derivation is the most likely, as Nuer are known to be herders and pastoralists); secondly, it can mean "leopard," an animal from the cat family that the Nuer also call Kuac (or, Kuach). Later, some of these characteristics became associated with his name when his opponents nicknamed him, and when a book about him called "Tamed Leopard" was published. Yet other nicknames included "second god," because [it was said of him] "if he says anything it will come to pass." [4]

Moses Kuach Nyaot was from a Nilotic group, the Nuer, the second largest ethnic group in Southern Sudan. He was from an Eastern Nuer region known as Jikany. He lived along the Sobat river, which flows from Ethiopia into Southern Sudan, joining the White Nile a few miles from Dolieb Hill, the first Nyanthou Wachawe mission station of the American Presbyterian Mission. His first wife was Nyatiach Boukjoke, and he married her before she was a Christian. After their marriage he witnessed to her and brought her to Bible studies every day until she became a Christian. She began to [learn to] read after attending a communion class that he taught. [5] They had a son named John (who died at an early age), then Cuol ("in place of the one who died"), Kan ("save from danger or death"), Nyanuer, and Nyathou. In addition, from his second wife Nyachien Gatkuoth, they had Whan (waan) and a girl [6]. He was a short man, about four feet tall. The Dinka called him Raan Thoi [7] (old or big man in a small body) and the Nuer called him "small man." [8] Both of his wives are still alive (2011), and he has more than ten grandchildren.

Primary education and call to ministry

Moses attended a bush, or village school [9] at Wakrail in 1936, and proceeded to Nasir School in 1937. Following his successful education at the mission school, he became a teacher there. At the same time, he kept planting in the fields, fishing, and doing all the other traditional things that young men used to do, which included attending marriages, and dancing and singing. He was very popular among his peers because of his friendly nature and his singing ability, among other things [10]. He also became more faithful to the church and to the message of the Gospel, and believed fully that Jesus Christ was God, and that the Bible is the Word of God. While still teaching at the mission school, he was sent to Atar [11], which is in Dinka Ngok territory, to an intermediate school that required a higher level of teacher education. He then returned to Nasir to continue his work as a teacher and as an evangelist in the church.

He was baptized by sprinkling at age 18, most probably around 1939, having been persuaded by student peers and a missionary teacher. He said that he became a gentle Christian (krithien mi koc koc), [12] one who is able to learn and accept the teaching of the Bible. He also said of himself, "I grew up in a bad way. As a young man I [did] sin and sinned especially in relation to the opposite sex, but the love of God for me was not limited [and it brought] me into his ways, to serve him." [13]

He became ill at some point, and during that period of time, he began to wonder about his eternal destiny. He remembered from his Bible class teaching that no one would go to God without passing through Jesus Christ, so he committed himself to God and became interested in all things with spiritual values. He always spoke of Jesus Christ as a living being [14], which reflected his deep sense of total belief in Christ and his conviction [of the truth of] the Christian faith. He worked as an evangelist for an American mission in Nasir which later became one of the first congregations of the Presbyterian Church there.

By living with and associating with missionaries, he became accustomed to their lifestyle, and he often spoke and acted like them, all the while examining himself and the lifestyle and beliefs of the Nuer. In relation to the Christian faith, he became more of a westerner than a Nuer. Nevertheless, Kuac did not want to divorce himself from his people and their customs, and this conflict raged within him. This conflict worsened when he returned to his village to visit his mother, who had become ill. The usual assumption about illness in that context was that someone with an evil eye must have put something into the sick person's stomach, and that the only treatment was to call the Tiet, someone with special knowledge that was able to treat such things. However, Kuac's faith in Christ was in conflict with his mother's and everyone else's. He convinced her and persuaded them to believe in God only. In the end, the Tiet did not come, and she died in the hands of God. [15]

Throughout this time Kuac demonstrated his faith in Christ, and eventually his brothers and sisters were all baptized. Although Kuac acted like a white man, he remained loyal to his family and to his people [16], and he managed to balance being a proud Nuer with being a good Christian. Kuac was an African pastor who was aware of his tribal traditions even as he acquired Biblical knowledge. He did not see a problem with having a second wife, even though such women were not allowed to be baptized or to take part in Holy Communion, nor even to have their children baptized. Many missionaries failed to understand this [aspect of Nuer culture]. He became a link in this regard and educated many local missionaries about the Nuer culture and its' traditional values, values that Christianity could make good use of when reaching out to them with the Gospel. [17]

Nationality and languages

Kuac was a Sudanese national, and he lived as a refugee in Ethiopia during the first civil war in the Sudan between the North and the South. He was fluent in his mother tongue, Nuer, and also fluent in English, Arabic, Chulluk, and Dinka. He also had some familiarity with the Anuok language.

Church affiliation

From the time of his school days at the mission school until his death, Kuac was a Presbyterian. He worked as an evangelist in the congregation of Nasir, and he was a senior teacher at the Nasir government school. He had a natural linguistic ability, an aggressive spirit, an uncurbed curiosity, and limitless patience. He was also an excellent listener, was always polite, and had a sense of respect for others. [18]

He was sent to Bishop Gwynne Divinity School in Mundri [19], Equatorial Province (the present Eastern Equatorial State), to study theology in preparation for pastoral work. He finished his studies within two years, from 1956 to 1958. During the holidays he could return to Nasir and continue with evangelization work in Nasir and the surrounding village. After he married Nyatiach, but before she had her first born, Kuac was taken away one night by Arab authorities who accused him of working against the government. He was jailed for many days, and his wife was also later taken away at night by security personnel for interrogation. However, in spite of her fears about what they might do, and even the threat of death, she was faithful to her husband and denied all the accusations that were made against him. Later, they were both released. [20]

Ordination to the ministry

Moses Kuac Nyoat was ordained in 1958 and became the pastor in charge of the Nasir congregation. He was the first Nuer man to be ordained and was among the first three Sudanese pastors of the Presbyterian Church from [a group of] two tribes, a group which later grew to include four tribes, namely the Chulluk, the Nuer, the Dinka, and the Anuok. His picture appeared in the mission's magazine, The Light, with his new fellow Chulluk ordinand counterpart. The missionaries felt that what they had been waiting and praying for had arrived, and they began to call him "Pathtor Motheth." [21]

As missionaries were preparing the mission to become a church and to hand it over to indigenous Sudanese, he became a member of a newly formed Presbytery for which he was responsible. The membership of the Presbytery increased and he was among them as an ordained missionary in the executive of the Presbytery. [22] Kuac also remained pastor of the Nasir congregations, and maintained his relationship with everyone in the congregation in the town and villages as well. He gave special spiritual encouragement to the elderly women who were in his mother's age group, which was a double responsibility: first as their pastor and also as the "son" since they were his mother's age. He became well known and popular among the old and the young in the whole area until 1965. At that time, fearing for his life, he went into exile in Ethiopia, where he continued teaching in various schools.

Challenges and the ministry

His departure came amid many challenges. In the first place, on a personal level, he was frustrated and challenged by the income that he received from the church office. This was also an issue earlier, when he was paid by a missionary, before he became a pastor. The funds were not sufficient for the needs of his family, and the missionaries and the church did little to support him in this matter, so he was at odds with the mission's administration. One of the problems he faced was the question of how to reconcile his identity as a Christian pastor with being a Nuer. [23] His colleagues employed by the government received wage increases and a concomitant rise in prestige. However, he had made a commitment in his early years: money would not be a problem in his ministry as God's messenger. [24] Also problematic was the fact that in the Nuer culture, you are never alone. You always belong to your relatives and to the community as well. [At one point his frustration was such that] he refused to attend Presbytery meetings in Malakal, the headquarters of the Church, and he wanted to quit shepherding. [25]

Secondly, the security situation in the country, especially across Southern Sudan, had deteriorated. Arabs and Islamic authorities in Independent Sudan started to pressure and persecute Christians and were planning to expel missionaries from the country in order to promote Islamic ideology across the South, which had been dominated by Christianity for many years. Kuac was arrested, detained, and imprisoned many times and even his wife was detained and interrogated by the security personnel. He feared for his life and for that of his family as well. At that time even some of his own people, the Nuer, became informers, agents, and spies for the Arabs, even within the church compound. [26]

At the same time, Christian leaders were targeted by the authorities and Kuac was no exception. In relation to the first war (1955-1972), which the southern Sudanese protested to the British colonial authority and its allies, Arabs and Muslims wanted the South Sudan situation to be considered on its own and not to be part of the independent Sudan issue, or even discussion about its circumstances after the independent period.

Thirdly, as a young African man, he was faced with the dilemma of keeping his tribal traditions while he maintained the lifestyle that was required of a Christian pastor. With regard to polygamy, he knew that there should be no second wife for a Christian, and that this would be even more difficult for a pastor of a Christian church. And yet, his obligation as a tribesman was that he must have another wife, as this was a cultural demand of his tribe. This was the situation he faced with the Chulluk congregation in Dolieb Hill [27] and it was clear, later in his life, that this was one of the challenges to his Christian life and to his status as a pastor.

The situation and the struggles that Kuac were going through deepened to the point that the matter became a concern to the Presbytery in Malakal, so they visited Nasir to encourage him. They stopped the translation work he was doing to give him more time for pastoral duties, and they helped him to built his own house and compound, but even that did not solve his problems. Kuac's zeal for God's call decreased, he became increasingly discouraged and showed less and less interest in his pastoral duties, which prompted another visit from the Presbytery. Even though everyone tried their best to encourage him and keep him focused on his duties [28], it seemed that the challenges were overwhelming to him.

His influence and significance

His main influence was on various aspects of the Christian life within the Presbyterian Church of the Sudan and beyond. He built and developed a good Christian team within the Nasir congregation, and they kept up the work and the witness of the faith in that area. There were strong women's groups of believers, and these women included deaconess Man Nyagone and Man Guc, among others. The elders and evangelists he developed were Dubole Kier, Paul Gatnor Kombouke, and John Puk Deang, who remained the evangelists of the Nasir congregation for many years, until the time when Moses Kuac escaped. Nasir remained without a pastor for nearly fifteen years, until 1970, when John Joak Chuol was ordained and assigned to head that congregation. Among the believers from the working classes that Kuac developed were Gai Duyeach, who was working in the hospital, and many teachers. Others who were actively involved in the church as well as in the community were Gatluak Kuoth, Doup Year, Chot Kuach Deang, and Dhol Deng. [29]

The Arab authorities accused him of looking after his fellow southern Sudanese, bringing wounded freedom fighters into his compound, treating them, and sending them back to fight against the Arabs. [30] Since he was a pastor, people would come to his home for safety and even for help and relief from hunger. People assumed that as long as you were a pastor, they could come to you for anything you were in need of. To them, a pastor was a man for everyone, a father for everyone, regardless of one's place of origin. Even people from different tribes came to his home, and indeed, they got what they needed. However, people would also bring food and many other things to the pastor's house because they were aware that such visitors were always targeting a pastor's home.

Preacher, translator, and moderator

Kuac's preaching was exciting, and many people loved to listen to him because he was a gifted man with a natural ability, and he gave lively explanations of the Bible. In the dry season he would take a missionary out to the cattle camps to preach the Gospel to large numbers of people. This was a serious commitment on his part, and his zeal was to get his people to know Jesus and to have a relationship that leads to eternal life. Even though the missionaries commented that the exercise did not bear fruit, Kuac kept doing it from time to time. In addition, he encouraged missionaries to visit their fellow Christians in their villages, which helped to unite the missionaries and the local population through strong friendships in Jesus Christ. [31]

He pioneered the church in his area in Southern Sudan, and the present Presbyterian church of the Sudan in the whole area of the Eastern Upper Nile and beyond should be partly credited to Moses Kuac Nyoat and his diligent work in the early years of evangelization in that area. He also started the translation process and translated some books from the Old Testament, especially Genesis and Exodus. [He also translated the] Gospel of Mark, the Gospel of Luke, and some epistles, like I and II Peter, and James, into Nuer [32]. Current Nuer Bible translators have benefited from his work. He also taught the story of the creation in an impressive manner, and served as a key consultant to the missionaries from American missions.

Kuac served the church in its early years in various capacities: besides being a pastor in charge of the Nasir congregation, he served in the Presbytery, and also served as a moderator of the assembly. In 1964, he led the churches' delegation of three pastors to the All African Christians Conference (AACC) in Lagos, Nigeria in his capacity as moderator of the Presbyterian church of the Sudan.

He escaped death when the Arab and Islamic authorities in Nasir were looking for him, and he lived in a refugee camp in Ethiopia from 1965 to 1973. While there he married his second wife, Nyachien Gatkuoth, and they had two children.

Return to Sudan in 1973

After the Addis Ababa Peace Agreement in 1972 between the government in Khartoum and the Southern Movement, known as Anyanya, he waited for another year. Then, in early 1973, he returned to southern Sudan with his family. He was employed by the government in Malakal as a Christian Education teacher at the Secondary School in Nasir. Later in Malakal, before the end of the year, he wrote to the church asking if he could come back. The church leadership was lacking trained pastors, and there was no pastor in the Nasir congregation. The only pastor there, Rev. John Joak Chuol, was in Malakal town. The church agreed and brought him to Nasir. To his amazement, he found that everything was new, and that the church had grown, although most of the people were still the same. There was mature leadership, structure and order, and governing laws and rules were laid out. Formerly, he had been the only one responsible for everything, and he returned with the same idea, but he was openly opposed by the elders, a deaconess, and other church council members, and he [found that he] could not do well in that congregation.

Principal and director

The office of the Presbytery in Malakal became concerned about the situation in the Nasir congregation, so they transferred him to the Giffen Bible School in Dolieb Hill, where he became the first Sudanese principal of the school. This occurred toward the end of 1973. He disregarded the cultural practices of the Nuer, Dinka, and Shulluk tribes, and he become well known as the "anti-culture" man. He forced Nuer and Dinka students to milk cows and do many other things, because traditionally, Nuer and Dinka Men cannot milk cows, but the Shulluk do. [33] He forced everyone to do as he ordered.

In 1974 he became project director of the Churches' rehabilitation construction work, and he held that job for less than then a year. He then went back to work for the government in Malakal Province as one of the directors of the Ministry of Religious Affairs. He kept changing from one place to another, and returned to teaching. Until 1983, he was the director of Galshell Secondary School, which was later transferred to Nasir as Sobat Secondary School. [34] Kuac then returned to Malakal to [work in] the Ministry of Education. He officially retired from government work in 1995. He died on February 11, 2008, in Malakal, Upper Nile State, Southern Sudan, after a long illness. Before his death, his sight was weak, but he continued to help those who were able to write. He translated some books into Nuer, and wrote down some of his experiences as a pastor and an elderly Nuer. These works are yet to be published, but they will give more insight into his ministry and the work that he did for the church and for the community for many years. [35]

Conclusion

Moses Kuac Nyoat was a pioneer, a missionary, a pastor, a translator, a teacher, and a friend as well as a servant to the people, as well as to God. He served in various capacities in the church and in the community. He was a man with many talents and gifts who was willing to offer them for Christ's glory through his church and his people, whom he felt called to serve. Although his faith in the Lord wavered in the midst of many challenges, he remained focused. His legacy is the same wherever he worked, and the church he served remains a true and living testimony. May the glory of his labor remain a living testimony for generations.

Tut Mai Nguoth


Notes:

1. Tut Joak Duong (son-in-law), telephone interview by author, June 18, 2010, Melbourne, Australia.
2. Eleanor Vandevort, A Leopard Tamed (Indiana: Harper and Row, 1968), (no page ref.).
3. Vandevort, no p. ref.
4. Pal Puoc Mar, interview by author, June 1, 2010, Nairobi, Kenya.
5. Vandevort, 750.
6. Sarah Nyanyok Puoc Mar, telephone interview by author, June 22, 2010.
7. Pal Puoc Mar, interview cited above.
8. Vandervort, 36.
9. Roland Werner and others, Day of Devastation, Day of Contentment: the History of the Sudanese Church Across 2000 years. (Nairobi: Pauline Publication Africa, 2000), 307.
10. Vandervort, 23.
11. Werner, 344.
12. Vandervort, 22.
13. Vandervort, 22.
14. Vandervort, 38.
15. Vandervort, 38.
16. Vandervort, 55.
17. Vandervort, 104-106.
18. Vandervort, 37-38.
19. Werner, 332.
20. Franks-Wilson, Marion, Nuer Field Notes, 13 years of Missionary Life in Nasir /Southern Sudan, Indiana University. [no date] http://www.dlib.indiana.edu/collections/index.shtml
21. Vandervort, 77-78.
22. Vandervort, 79.
23. Franks-Wilson, (no p. ref.).
24. Franks-Wilson, 187.
25. Franks-Wilson, 187.
26. Franks-Wilson, (no p. ref.).
27. Werner, 333-4.
28. Vandervort, 200.
29. Rev. John Chuol Chan, interview by author, June 1, 2010, Nairobi, Kenya.
30. Pal Puoc Mar, interview cited above.
31. Vandervort, 58.
32. Franks-Wilson, (no p. ref.).
33. Rev. John Chuol Chan, interview cited above.
34. Rev. Stephen Ter Nyoun, (student in Nasir at the time of his return) interview by author, June 1, 2010, Nairobi, Kenya.
35. Tut Joak Duong (son-in-law), interview cited above.



Sources:

Eleanor Vandevort: An eyewitness who worked together with Moses Kuac and lived in Sudan while working as a missionary in Nasir. Her Book "A Leopard Tamed" is only accessible online at the Indiana University Book Collection, or in Nuer Field Notes. Kuac is the main character of her book. She is an American Presbyterian missionary who worked in Nasir for many years.
Marion Franks-Wilson: This person wrote about the work of missionaries in southern Sudan.
Pal Puoc Mar: An eyewitness to Kuac's work, he is from Nasir. Younger than Kuac, he attended the same school in Nasir and in Atar while he was in a lower class. He was in the congregation at Nasir while Kuac was a pastor there.
Sarah Nyanyok Puoc: She is Pal Puoc Mar's sister.
Rev. John Chuol Chan: Currently a principal of the Presbyterian Church of the Sudan's Bible School in Loki, Kenya, he was formerly pastor in charge of the Nasir congregation from early 1989 to 1992. He knew Moses Kuac personally, and he is also from Nasir.
Rev. Stephen Ter Nyoun: He is from Nasir, knew Kuac personally, and is currently a program officer of the Presbyterian Relief Development Agency (PRDA).
Tut Joak Duong: He is Moses Kuac's son-in-law. He married Nyathou Kuac, and currently lives in Melbourne, Australia.


This biography, received in 2011, was written by Rev. Tut Mai Nguoth, who is affiliated with the PCOS (Presbyterian Church of the Sudan) in Upper Nile State, Southern Sudan for a class in African Church history taught by Dr. Mark Shaw. He is a student in the M.Th program at AIU (Africa International University, formerly Nairobi Evangelical Graduate School of Theology) in Nairobi, Kenya.