A pastor running the True Gospel Apostolic Church at Ayiet of Aweng Payam in Twic County says his church has been shut down after community leaders and church administration disagreed over its management and views on tobacco and alcohol.
The incident happened on Sunday during the church service, when police personnel stormed the True Gospel Church and ordered the pastor to end the prayers service and disperse the congregation.
Tong Lueth Tong, the executive chief of Pajong clan in Aweng Payam, accused the church of engaging in activities which he said go against the culture and norms of the local community, including tobacco growing and moonshine production.
In addition, Pastor Deng Philip says chief Tong wants the church renamed as a Catholic church for it to resume operation or remains closed.
Pastor Deng says True Apostolic Church also runs a school and sports activities which he says benefit the local community of Ayiet.
“[They] threatened the pastor of our church in front of the congregation and stated that if he did not stop praying, he would be arrested,” reads a letter addressed to the commissioner of Twic County and state governor.
Tong said he had the church closed after he had held a series of meetings with the community.
Tobacco and alcohol
The Bible does not mention smoking or tobacco. However, Christians argue that it contains principles showing that God does not approve of unhealthy and unclean habits and thus views smoking as a sin.
However, the five bomas of Aweng Payam – Ayiet, Maper, Achilup, Pangok, and Dam – depend on tobacco. They produce it in huge quantities and sell it to the nearby areas within Twic and Wau and Abyei.
According to locals, five or six kilograms of tobacco fetches one a calf at a barter market.
But Chief says the church advises the community members to stop tobacco production and also tells women to stop making love with husbands who smoke.
“This new church discourages smoking and growing of tobacco yet our community defends on it as a source of income,” Tong Lueth Tong told Mayardit FM.
“It also does not support local alcohol brewing and all these support our local community since the country is hit hard by the economic crisis.”
Sarah Apiny Nyok, 45, is a member of the church and also grows tobacco and brews moonshine. She uses the proceeds to meet her five children’s needs.
“The church has told us that making or taking alcohol is a sin because whoever makes and sells alcohol ends up killing the buyer due to its act of crime,” Apiny said.
Initially, the community members, who are Catholics, used to pray at the piece of land where the new church building stands.
In 2007, an American lady, a friend of Riny Lueth Tong — the chief’s half brother — donated $290,000 for church construction.
The unnamed White lady was by then a lecturer at the America University in Cairo Egypt, where Riny was a student.
With the financial support, the church managed to build a school and set up a football club. It also says it also offered scholarships to about nine students from the area.
In what appears to be a punishment against the Ayiet community for closing down the church, the True Apostolic Church administration has suspended services pending final resolution to the disagreement.
“I would like to ask the acting commissioner of Twic County to suspend Malualdit Ayiet Primary School and Malualdit Ayiet United Football Club until the differences between I and Sultan Tong get resolution,” writes Riny Lueth Tong, an administrator.