Butrus Tia Shukai was from the Katcha tribe in the Nuba Mountains region. He was born in 1931 at the village of Tuna in the Katcha area in southern Kordofan Province (Nuba Mountains). His mother died when he was less than a year old. His father was a rich man, but abandoned him and went to live with his second wife. His aunt took care of the child and brought him up.
At the age of twelve (1943), his uncle sent him to school at Katcha Elementary School, which was one of the mission schools established by the Church Missionary Society (CMS) in the Nuba Mountains region. Butrus and his brother were the only Christians in their family. All his parents and other relatives practiced African traditional religion.
In 1947, Butrus completed his elementary education and was baptized the same year. He spent two years (1947 and 1948) in intermediate school, at the end of which he became an elementary school teacher.
On January 1, 1950 he married Roda Ali Kuku and on February 19, 1951, Nabil, their first baby boy was born. They had eight children, four sons and four daughters. That same year Butrus felt the call to serve the Lord. Mr. Roland Stevenson, his headmaster, and Bishop Morris Gelsthorpe supported Butrus and encouraged him to pursue this calling. He then had to go back to school for two more years (1951 and 1952) in order to complete his intermediate education in order to prepare and qualify him for theological training for the ordained ministry at Bishop Gwynne Theological College.
In 1953, he began his studies at Bishop Gwynne Theological College and completed the three years of theological training in 1955. Butrus was the first Nuba to be ordained as a deacon at Katcha in 1956. He was ordained to the priesthood in 1958.
Butrus was a quiet, hard working man, who loved his people. As his main concern was to take the Gospel to all the tribes in the region, he would go on journeys that would last for weeks or months, traveling long distances on foot and sometimes on a donkey. In 1960, he decided to go and work among the Moro, Leira and the Atoro tribes, leaving his home district under the care of some of the evangelists he had trained. At that time, the Sudanese Church of Christ (SCC) had established some preaching centers in some of the areas. So as to avoid duplicating evangelization efforts and stirring up rivalry, he always left such places and went to work among the unreached tribes. In so doing, he evangelized all of the Eastern Nuba Mountains region.
From the beginning of his minstry, Butrus saw the need for more evangelists, for “the harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few.” (Matt. 9: 37). The Nuba Mountains region is so vast that Butrus alone could not reach all ninety-nine tribes. As a result, he not only preached the Gospel, evangelized and baptized the people, but he also prepared and trained leaders and evangelists from among the converts. Among those he prepared and trained are Yacoub Idris Kuku from the Moru tribe, now archdeacon of Kadugli Diocese; Kurkeil Mubarak Khamis from the Atoro tribe, late bishop of Kadugli Diocese who died on September 17, 1996, and Yousif Abdalla Kuku from the Leira tribe, now bishop of Port Sudan Diocese. Butrus also encouraged and organized the revival groups in the region, kept them within the church, and harnessed their energy for the advancement of the church in the Nuba Mountains.
Given such a responsibility in a very vast and largely animistic region, Butrus had to be active and creative in order to keep the work of the church of God alive and moving. He had no money to pay his evangelists so he introduced the idea of church farms which every congregation was to have. This enterprise,–which taught the principle of collective or cooperative work,–was so successful that all the evangelists had more than enough food for their families. The spirit of collective work was further applied to the building of schools and churches, and to cultivating crops. Consequently, nobody was thinking of salaries for church workers in terms of money.
In 1964, Butrus was transferred to Khartoum to take care of the Nuba Christians who had immigrated to the city in search of education and job opportunities. Khartoum being a cosmopolitan city, Butrus found himself among Arab Muslims and Christians, Black African Christians from South Sudan, European Christians and missionaries. But he was able to fit into this society with its diverse ethnicities and religious affiliations.
Upon his arrival at Omdurman, plans were immediately put forward for his promotion, and in 1968, he was made archdeacon for the Archdeaconry of Northern Sudan. He immediately embarked on a tour of the whole archdeaconry, visiting every parish, thus acquainting and familiarizing himself with the situation of the archdeaconry and the conditions of the people put under his charge. He set up a systematic visitation program for himself. In summer when the temperatures fluctuate between 100 and 120º F in the north, Butrus would visit all the parishes in the Nuba Mountains as the weather there is cool at this time. During the winter, when it is cold in Khartoum and the rest of northern Sudan, Butrus would tour and visit the few parishes in the north, as the roads in the Nuba Mountains at this time have become impassable due to heavy rains.
In 1971, Butrus was consecrated as an assistant bishop by Bishop Oliver C. Allison in All Saints Cathedral, Khartoum. It is worth noting that by that time Bishop Allison was bishop for all of Sudan. When the Diocese of the Sudan became independent from the Church of England and was inaugurated on October 11, 1976, four dioceses were created, constituting the Province of the Episcopal Church of the Sudan, namely Juba, Yambio, Rumbek and Omdurman. Four assistant bishops were enthroned as bishops for these newly created dioceses. The Rt. Rev. Elinana J. Ngalamu became the first archbishop of the new Province of the Episcopal Church of the Sudan and bishop of Juba Diocese, the Rt. Rev. Benjamin W. Yugusuk became bishop of Rumbek Diocese, the Rt. Rev. Yeremaya K. Datiro, bishop of Yambio and the Rt. Rev. Butrus T. Shukai of Omdurman (now Khartoum) Diocese.
Of the four dioceses of the Sudan, Khartoum was the largest, in terms of area, and had a predominantly Muslim population. Christians were found in the Nuba Mountains, and in the major cities in the north, such as the tri-city capital (Khartoum, Khartoum North, and Omdurman), Wad Medani and Port Sudan, to mention only a few. And as mentioned before, people of different nationalities and cultures live in these cities,–a diversity which exists even within the Christian community. The bishop’s challenge was then to preserve the unity of this diverse Christian community living in the heart of an Arab Muslim culture. As bishop, he struggled to maintain an atmosphere of peaceful coexistence between the Muslims and his small Christian community. He had to build bridges of understanding and trust between the church and the Muslim government in Khartoum.
During the late 1960s and early 1970s, a huge movement of Christians and Muslims brought many people into the northern cities and towns from South Sudan and from the Nuba Mountains in search of employment and or education. These people lived a miserable life and Bishop Butrus had to provide relief assistance for them,–Muslims, Christians, and animists alike. Before the government confiscated the Church Missionary Society (CMS) hospital in Omdurman, Bishop Butrus opened its doors for the service of the people regardless of ethnicity, religion or race. During his time as the first bishop of this vast and ethnically, culturally, and religiously diverse diocese, Bishop Butrus confirmed large numbers of baptized Christians.
Although he could not curb the persecution of Christians which was, and continues to be, sponsored by the Arab Muslim government, the bishop managed to keep the high tension between the Muslim majority and the Christian minority at a considerably low degree. He maintained the Christian spirit of love for their enemies, and tolerance between Muslims and Christians. Among other achievements, he established the Omdurman Bible Training Institute (OBTI) before his enthronement as bishop of Omdurman Diocese. He raised up and trained leaders for the church, sending some pastors away for theological training in Kenya. He ordained Kurkeil Mubarak Khamis and Butrus Kuwa Kuku as deacons and as priests and consecrated Kurkeil Mubarak Khamis as asistant bishop. His love and vision for trained leadership was so strong that in 1977 he sent Ismail Badur Kuku to Cairo, Egypt for theological training, so that after his training, Ismail Badur could help Rev. John Barff, an English priest who was asked to promote Omdurman Bible Training Institute (OBTI). The institute is now called Shukai Bible Training Institute (SBTI), after him.
Bishop Shukai loved everyone and was loved by all who knew him even before he became a deacon. He was a quiet person who always avoided problems. He established the link between the Diocese of Khartoum in Sudan and the Diocese of Bradford in England, a relationship that has now grown to its fullness in the Christian witness of the Gospel, not only to the congregations of these two sister dioceses, but even to the whole Anglican Communion.
At the beginning of 1985, his health started to deteriorate and he died on May 11, 1985, leaving behind him his beloved wife, Roda Ali Kuku, and their four sons and four daughters.
James Lomole Simeon
Samuel E Kayanga & Andrew Wheeler, eds., But God Is Not Defeated: Celebrating the Centenary of the Episcopal Church of the Sudan, 1899 - 1999 (Nairobi, Kenya: Pauline Publications Africa, 1999).
(a) The Rt. Rev. Bulus Idris Tia, current bishop of Khartoum Diocese.
(b) Mrs. Roda B. Shukai, wife of the late bishop.
(c) Mr. Akila B. Shukai, fourth of the eight children of the Shukai family.
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.