Herbert Guy Bullen was born in 1896 in Leyton, a district in north London. He joined the British Army at the age of 19 and fought in World War I, during which he was wounded twice. He was decorated with the Military Cross (MC), one of the high awards in the British Army.
After the war, Guy Bullen,–as he came to be known,–went to Cambridge University where he studied Anglican ministry. In 1924, he joined the Church Missionary Society (CMS) “Hausa Band,” a group of missionaries recruited especially to pioneer missionary work among the Muslim population of Northern Nigeria.
Guy Bullen arrived in Nigeria in the year 1926. He was the first member of the Hausa Band to reach Nigeria. He worked in Wusasa, near the great Muslim city of Zaria. In 1928 he went back to England and married Miss May and then they returned to Wusasa. His pioneer work among the Muslim population in Nigeria made him the suitable candidate for appointment as the new assistant bishop in the Sudan.
Between 1928 and 1929, the CMS devised a plan to integrate South Sudan, a part of the Upper Nile Diocese of Uganda since 1926, into the Diocese of Egypt and the Sudan by the year 1936. As part of this plan, Guy Bullen was appointed assistant bishop in Sudan and Bishop Gwynne was left mainly responsible in Egypt.
In 1935, Guy Bullen was appointed to his new position by the Archbishop of Canterbury and was consecrated bishop in St. Paul’s Cathedral in London on St. Luke’s Day, October 18, 1935. He and his wife May then returned to Nigeria to prepare for the journey to Sudan.
In Sudan, Archdeacon Archibald Shaw, was preparing to receive the new assistant bishop to the Sudan. He went to Nairobi, Kenya, bought a new car and traveled, over rough jungle roads, the 5000 mile journey to Wusasa, Nigeria, to drive the new bishop to Sudan. Shaw arrived in Wusasa on February 7, 1936 at 8:30 a.m. and the party left Wusasa the same day for the Sudan at 6:30 p.m. After traveling through Central Africa and the Congo, they arrived in Yei in South Sudan 13 days later.
Bishop Guy Bullen spent his first year visiting all the CMS mission stations in South Sudan, even as far as Kapoeta in Equatoria, on the east bank of the River Nile near the border with Kenya, in order to visit the Bible Churchman’s Missionary Society (BCMS) stationed there. During this extensive tour of the southern part of the diocese he discovered that his main task was “bridge-building” between Roman Catholics and Protestants,–two groups with a long history of hostility and rivalry,–and between the mission and the colonial authorities, as there was little trust between them.
In May 1936 he traveled to Khartoum, and from there to Cairo, Egypt, to acquaint himself with the Egyptian part of the diocese. After leaving Cairo, he went to England to discuss the issue of the future of education in the Sudan with the CMS in London. It is worth mentioning that Guy Bullen pioneered the regular use of air travel in missionary work.
Bishop Guy Bullen was bent on promoting education, especially in South Sudan. He believed that it was the responsibility of the mission (CMS) to fully collaborate with the colonial government in promoting education and the “civilization” of the people. So in 1937 he began to revive and extend the CMS contribution in education. He was especially concerned with the recruitment of new specialist teachers, in order to develop village level education and promote girls’ education. Bishop Guy Bullen was the pioneer of what became known as village or bush schools in South Sudan, which existed up to 1973, when they were all upgraded to primary schools (elementary and middle schools combined) by the South Sudan Regional government.
Thanks to Bishop Bullen’s establishment and development of the village or bush schools and insistence on the promotion of girls’ education, the CMS became more professionally involved in education as a central commitment. In 1937, he again traveled extensively in South Sudan, to Khartoum, and again briefly to England. He flew to Uganda to discuss educational issues with the authorities there.
On December 6, 1937, Bishop Guy Bullen left Khartoum in a small plane on a journey to Juba. After taking off from Malakal on its way to Juba, the flight was diverted over the Jieng-Aliab country to observe some local disturbance there. But then, near a village called Pap, the plane crashed. Bishop Guy Bullen and the pilot were killed instantly. Bishop Bullen is buried in Lui, not far from Dr. Kenneth Fraser, the missionary in Lui, who had died two years before. Though his episcopacy was very short, Bishop Guy Bullen will be remembered for focusing the CMS’s attention on the promotion of education in South Sudan. His village or bush school system that made it possible to build schools in almost every village in South Sudan, is a landmark in the history of the church in Sudan.
James Lomole Simeon
Samuel L. Kayanga & Andrew Wheeler, eds., But God Is Not Defeated, Celebrating the Centenary of the Episcopal Church of the Sudan, 1899 - 1999, (Nairobi, Kenya: Paulines Publications Africa, 1999).
This article, received in 2003, was researched and written by Mr. James Lomole Simeon, Esq., Chancellor of the Diocese of Khartoum, Sudan, 2002-03 Project Luke Fellow.