I am sorry to share with you the sad news that Marc Nikkel our brother and missionary to Sudan died on the early morning of Sunday 3rd September in his sister and brother-in-laws' home in Reedley, CA. His 94 years father visited with him yesterday. It is only after twenty years of service in Sudan, Marc returned home to spend his final days with his blood family.
His heart was still in Sudan and a number of times he expressed during his last days on earth that he would like to go back to Sudan.
His family in Reedley, CA is planning a service to celebrate his life on Friday 5th September. Marc was a guest for three days at the General convention in Denver last July. He said to Myra, my wife, that he was tired and was ready to go home. Marc had visited us in Waynesboro three times since 1997. He loved hot food and we enjoyed his company. Our parish and in particular our family was blessed by his visits.
The Revd Dr Marc Nikkel was a joint ECUSA and CMS missionary to Sudan for twenty years from the Diocese of Southwestern Virginia. Little over two years ago Marc was diagnosed at the Royal Marsden Hospital, London, that he had developed extensive cancer of the abdominal cavity. The prognosis was poor and doctors gave Marc two weeks to live. Marc did receive some treatment at the Royal Marsden in London but they sent him in August 1998 to die in his hometown in Reedley, CA.
While in Reedley his health actually improved. His blood readings were quite good and feeling his belly he found no obvious sign of the advanced cancer. He went back to Sudan and people who loved him dearly celebrated his arrival shouting in the air "The man who died has risen again."
Marc was told that during his absence people of Kakuma refugee camp crammed themselves into his mud brick house, laying hands on his bed, praying that he would return to sleep there once again. In Nairobi, Kenya, young refugee Sudanese men took a jacket from his house, holding it a sign of Marc's presence, and they prayed for his healing. The women of Kakuma gathered early morning and prayed: "God of widows and orphans, the God of the weak, the suffering and dying, heal Marc Nikkel."
The engine of prayer, lubricated by tears and fears of refugees, had produced a tangible sign of divine grace. He found himself suddenly transformed in those days into a symbol of Resurrection for the marginalized of Kakuma Refugee Camp. While he was there his health remained a joyful mystery of God.
Marc was an apostle to the oppressed and persecuted church. He understood his mission to Sudan through the eyes of Jesus. The theme of God's liberation of the poor and oppressed was always heard in his messages. Jesus Christ the liberator, the helper and the healer of the wounded will restore the scattered diaspora of the Sudanese church. These were the chosen people of God to witness to the living faith of the persecuted church that has grown from the Cross of Christ.
He shared with us through the stories of the Sudanese Crosses that the Cross has become their proud symbol of the strength to live and to die for Christ. The followers of Jesus in Marc's Sudan have adopted the Cross to symbolize the only life these followers of Jesus want to live. In the sign of Cross they conquer the forces of darkness, oppression, hatred and evil. To Marc and his people in Southern Sudan, the Crosses they carried in their hands represented their daily struggle, the pain and betrayal, suffering, affliction and the triumphant faith to follow Christ. Now he can experience liberation with millions of Sudanese martyrs in heaven and sing a song,
When I gets to heaven, gonna be at ease
Me an' my God gonna do as we please.
Marc, the saint of God, is going to plead before God's throne of Grace and mercy and ask the God of the oppressed to liberate the Sudanese Church.
Marc was called to be an apostle of peace and agent of reconciliation in a war torn country of Sudan. In February 1999 he was a major player to bring 2000 Dinka and Nuer tribal leaders deep inside Sudan for a Peace Conference. These tribes had been at war for many decades. Nuer are mostly Presbyterians and Dinkas are Anglicans. The Islamic Fundamentalist in the North encouraged Nuer to attack, loot, and kill Dinkas. After many years of conflict thousands had died. Marc had initiated a process of reconciliation that offered hope in the midst of untold sufferings.
He recorded on his laptop computer every conversation on hundreds of pages regarding the Peace Conference. At the end of several weeks of sharing their stories of pain and suffering, the 400 tribal leaders signed a peace accord.
Marc during his twenty years in Sudan was a one man Seminary who trained hundreds of Sudanese Pastors, Evangelists. Several of these men whom Marc trained in the ministry are now the Bishops of the Episcopal Church in Sudan. I personally witnessed his ministry in Kakuma refugee Camp (54,000 people) and inside Southern Sudan in the war zone area in 1998. He was much loved by the Sudanese as their friend, teacher, brother and Messiah of the suffering community. As Sudanese called Marc 'dead man walking', he was surely used by God as a vessel of the living grace of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Two weeks before his death Marc wrote a letter to the church in Sudan and said, "These days I find myself becoming physically weaker. As for myself, I simply long for the Great Transition that will allow me to enter my new life in the fellowship of Christ and all who have gone before. Upon my death I am requesting that any funds remaining to me personally be channeled to CMS office, Nairobi, to provide educational scholarships for leaders, men or women, for six dioceses in the Episcopal Church of Sudan. If any individuals or churches would like to make contributions, one time or on an ongoing basis, in my memory after my death, I would invite them to contribute to the 'Marc Nikkel Scholarship Fund'."
The Diocese of Southwestern Virginia has an account in the name of Marc Nikkel. We would be glad to pass your gifts to CMS, Nairobi.
Marc had twenty hard, busy and fulfilling years in Sudan. The last two years were full of pain and hope for healing. Towards the end of his journey Marc was ready to sing:
Precious Lord, take my hand, lead me on
let me stand, I am tired, I am weak
I am worn; Through the night
Lead me on to the light, take my hand
precious Lord, lead me on.
God has finally set Marc free and now he has been led into the eternal light of God to follow Jesus. Marc always ended his letters with these words: "My times are in his hands. All, in the end, is harvest."
We pray for the repose of the soul of our brother Marc. He was a faithful servant of God. We celebrate his life, giving thanks to God. I pray that the spirit of the living God will fall afresh on the Sudanese Church and the Lord will provide them another Marc, a servant missionary, a leader and teacher of his choice.
Marc suffered with the Sudanese people and Christ suffered with him every day. His triumphant faith in the risen Lord was a beacon to the world and Christ shined through his life and ministry. This is my prayer for my brother Marc Nikkel:
"May the Angels lead you into the paradise; may the martyrs come to welcome you and take you to the holy city, the new and eternal Jerusalem. May the Choir of angels welcome you, And where Lazarus is poor no longer may you find eternal rest. Christ has risen from the dead, trampling down death by death. We shall meet again when the last trumpet shall be blown and the dead shall rise to sing a new song of Alleluia!"
Adieu, my brother Marc - Adieu. We shall meet again!
The Revd Canon Patrick P Augustine
Chair, Companions for World Mission
Diocese Of Southwestern Virginia