One day when Jonathan Mamur was a very small baby his mother was crossing a fast-flowing river on foot, carrying him in an open basket on her head. In mid-stream she slipped on a rock and the basket and baby fell into the water. However, someone managed to rescue baby Jonathan, and in later years he could see that God had saved him because he had a great purpose for his life. He was to be the first person to bring the Gospel to the Jur Mödö people of Mvolo County in Western Equatoria.
In the 1950s there were no Christians among the Jur tribes of that area. There were churches among the neighbouring peoples, the Moru, the Zande and the Dinka, but the Jur groups were too remote and too scattered to have received any missionaries. But then in 1957 young Jonathan was taken away from his home village to be treated at the leprosy settlement connected with the C.M.S hospital in Lui, 140km away in the Moru area. However, the staff there soon found that he did not, in fact, have leprosy, so they enrolled him in the local church primary school. There he heard and accepted the Gospel, gave his life to Jesus and was baptised.
Unfortunately, in 1960 the school had to close because of the First Civil War, and Jonathan set off to walk back to his home village of Domeri. His uncle welcomed him into the family compound but was angry when he refused to take part in sacrifices to the ancestors and when he started singing strange songs in his hut every evening. What Jonathan was in fact doing was singing Bible-based hymns to his friends who came to visit him, since he had no Bible in the Mödö language. Soon several of them had joined him in the faith. When the uncle realised this he threatened to burn the hut down over them, so Jonathan started meeting with the new believers on the edge of the fields.
Within a few months this first Jur Mödö church of young people had made themselves a rudimentary worship place under a wild fig tree in the nearby bush – just a few poles on supports for sitting on and a ramshackle pulpit of sticks. Although they were threatened by the village elders they kept on meeting and on one occasion Jonathan and others received a thorough beating. But soon the Gospel spread to some of the older folk and then to other villages and neighbouring communities.
Throughout the years of the First Civil War the church continued to grow until by the mid-1970s there were Christians throughout the area that is now Mvolo County. Of course there were many setbacks and failures, but Jonathan then began to see that their greatest need was for the Bible in their own language. Since he had learned to read and write Moru in the school at Lui he sat down to translate Matthew’s Gospel himself. But the Mödö language cannot be written as if were Moru, so he quickly found he couldn’t read what he had written!
Consequently in 1977 he was thrilled when an Australian nurse, Muriel Pickworth, who was serving at the ACROSS clinic in Mvolo, offered to help him since she had had a little linguistic training. Muriel was followed in 1980 by myself and my wife from Wycliffe Bible Translators. As we were working full-time on the language and the Bible translation Jonathan found other people to work alongside us, but he was always ready to advise, encourage and handle the local decision-making.
Similarly in the leadership of the Jur Mödö churches, Jonathan never pushed himself forward. Although he was the first Christian he was not the first leader to be ordained and over the years he was simply content to exercise a pastoral, preaching and teaching ministry wherever he was needed. Yet his profound wisdom and humble living were immensely respected and brought depth and stability to the growth of the Jur Mödö church.
In recent years his strength has been failing but he was thrilled to see a new generation of young Jur church leaders being trained to run discipleship courses by Rev. Peter Swann, working under the Yeri Diocese. They have now begun making missionary trips to run these courses in other parts of South Sudan, and on the first of these trips, in April this year, Jonathan actually went along with them in the ECSS plane (see Sudan Church Review, Autumn 2020, p.7) – thus completing the full circle of his missionary career.
Then on 10th October 2021 God took Jonathan on another trip, this time to his eternal heavenly home. He will certainly have received the “Well done, good and faithful servant,” on his arrival.