Since the mid-1980s, Mary Aluel Garang’s theologically rich hymns have helped Sudanese Christians maintain faith and hope in God despite decades of war, conflict, and hardship. Her songs are known and sung beyond her Dinka people, her Episcopal tradition, and her nation of South Sudan.
By all accounts, Mary Aluel Garang has never sought the limelight. She was born into a traditional cattle-herding Dinka family in about 1966 in what is now Jonglei, a state in South Sudan. The Dinka are South Sudan’s largest people group. Mary Aluel became a Christian in 1984, early in the Second Sudanese Civil War. Soon after, she began composing theologically rich songs in the Dinka Bor dialect.
She kept writing despite moving several times for safety and education before South Sudan gained its independence in 2011. Throughout her life, whether focusing on theological education or women’s development, she has continued to write hymn texts.
Anglican/Episcopal and other Sudanese Christians around the world still sing Mary Aluel Garang’s hymns because her words help them locate themselves within the story of God. Singing her songs helps them make sense of the conflicts that continue to displace, maim, and kill people in South Sudan. In fact, scholars have described Mary as “a gifted natural theologian” and “the Charles Wesley of the church of Sudan.”
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