Monday, 27 May 2013

Joseph Taban

Joseph Taban Lasuba - died 20th May 2013

It is with real sadness that we have to let Joseph go.  He has been such a blessing to us all, and is so important to his family.

Sarah Goldsmith recalls his funeral at All Saint's Cathedral on 24th May:
The burial service for Joseph Taban took place on Friday 24th May at 9am at all Saints Cathedral Juba.  Hundreds of mourners gathered to pay their respects - many people had to stand outside the church for lack of space.
Dean Jackson led the service and Bishop Enock Tombe gave the sermon.Joseph's body was laid to rest at BGC afterwards - the procession of mourners was so large that it closed the roads and needed an escort to clear the way.  It was clear from the range of ages and people present that Joseph had touched many many people's lives in a very direct way.  Young and old from all walks of life wept for his loss. 
Bishop Enock gave a very thought provoking address, speaking about the deaths of three people.  He spoke about the deaths of Lazarus, Jesus and finally Joseph Taban.  He described how all of these deaths glorified God,even though they were incomprehensible to those affected by them.  Jesus stayed where he was for two days before going back to Judea - something that must have completely frustrated those around him.  Bishop Enock reminded us that in the same way, many people prayed for Joseph including the many people overseas who support the college in prayer and receive email prayer letters.   Bishop Enock reminded us that despite the fact that Joseph's death is completely incomprehensible to us now, that we must trust that it will glorify God, even though we do not understand how currently.  For that reason we can be thankful and celebrate all that Joseph contributed by serving God so faithfully in his lifetime.
Two years ago, in one of the BGC prayer letters, Trevor Stubbs made the following comment on a challenge the college was facing (which in fact Joseph was later instrumental in solving).  "In this new country, we have to be prepared for the unexpected with a huge amount of patience without anger or despair, because they, too, are weapons of evil. A lot of things will happen in South Sudan which may be incomprehensible. We keep loving and being faithful and never give up - just as Jesus didn't and God still doesn't". 

Although Joseph's parents were Kakwa from Yei, he was born in Juba, spent fifteen years working for the church in Khartoum and, since 2010, has been an integral part of the inter-tribal Bishop Gwynne College community. So he is claimed as their own by all four places. As such he was able to bring people together better than most. He spoke Bari, English and Arabic (he did his first degree in Beirut). But in his heart he belonged first and foremost to God.
Joseph was a man with a mission. He lived what he taught and preached. He was the Lord's servant. Servant-hood was central to his vision. When people spoke of him training leaders for the future, he claimed he did not teach how to lead but how to serve, and when they replied with expressions like 'ah yes, servant leaders', his response was, 'no, just servants'. He loved the students, but he did not put up with any arrogance that they may have come with. He contested the culture of distinction and superiority which exalts 'big men' and makes women possessions. His wife was his companion – they loved each other deeply. They missed each other very much when they had to be apart, which sadly, was too often over the past few years. It is good that at least they have been together all the time of the few months of Joseph's illness.
Joseph's faults centred on too things. He would not plan time off, and he would not say 'no'. When anyone is as gifted as he was, everyone wants a part of them. He was no good at getting a proper work- life balance. He had taken no holiday in decades, and although through encouragement and cajoling he had at last agreed to go to Uganda to visit family, he never made it. The day before he was due to leave he was in Juba hospital and then instead of Kampala, he was on a plane to a hospital in Nairobi where, apart from a few weeks back home in Juba, he died.
Joseph's contribution to the work of Khartoum cathedral and his teaching at Bishop Shokai Theological College was enormous. After his many years of service there he went to Duke University in North Carolina to do a Master in Theology advanced degree. The people in Durham, both the university and St Lukes's, the church he attended, remember him with great affection. They were moved by his humility, resilience in poverty (because as a Sudanese he received no money from home towards his keep) and his enormous capacity for hard work.
Back among his people, this time in Juba with Bishop Gwynne College, Joseph became quickly respected by the students. He had all the qualities needed to take the institution, stuttering out of one of the lowest points of it's history, to a position of financial stability and as the place of theological and spiritual formation it was founded to be. In the short time he was principal (just three active semesters) Joseph was responsible for building lives, ministries, teaching standards and expanding and securing the campus. Joseph will be remembered as one of the greats in the history of BGC, it is astounding just how much he achieved in so little time.
The college continues in the safe hands of those who have learned from him and who continue to implement his vision, but our hearts go out to his wife, Esparanza and his three children for whom there is no replacement. We pray that they and his mother and siblings will find a sound basis in which to continue to grow as he would want them to, and that they will be sustained in part by the knowledge that their son, husband, father, or brother has a place in God's heavenly home as well as the history of the Episcopal Church of Sudan, both in the Sudan and the new nation of South Sudan.
It is an interesting aside that my father's funeral (Peter Stubbs) was on the same day as Joseph in a small but beautiful service in the UK. He was 92, over twice the age of Joseph. There was a sense of completeness about the occasion that we don't feel about Joseph. Our prayers are those of Bishop Enoch that somehow we may discover the way in which God will bless us in Joseph's death. He will be remembered, as was his illustrious predecessor Canon Benaiah Poggo, as someone who died before his job was done. But, just as the memory of Benaiah has inspired many in recent years, so will that of Joseph Taban. I am confident that those currently leading BGC will continue the good work following his example. Please pray for them. But I am reminded of something Archbishop Henry Orombi told the ECS bishops in 2009. He said archbishops are replacable but husbands and fathers are not ... it is for Esparanza and the three children aged between 11 and less than 2 for which we chiefly pray.

No comments: