From policeman to army priest - How one man’s dedication to service brought him to South Sudan
What do the police force, the army and priesthood have in common? One person. Reverend Major Andy Earl – or just Padre Earl.
For three months now, Padre Earl has been based with the United Kingdom’s engineering taskforce in Malakal, as part of the British army peacekeeping contingent supporting the United Nations Mission in South Sudan. He and more than 100 other soldiers were recently awarded medals of honor for their distinguished service.
“I have several other medals from both my police and military service, but it was wonderful witnessing some of the young lads on their first deployment receive their first medals,” he said.
The amiable Padre is a regular at the local churches in the UN’s protection site earning him the fond title Abuna (Pastor) here. He often weaves his way through the camp, armed only with his signature shepherd’s crook, his quick-wit and good cheer, mingling and interacting easily with the residents like they’ve known each other for years.
Interestingly, the good Padre wasn’t always a soldier – or even a reverend for that matter. In fact, at forty-eight years, he was the oldest recruit in his class at the Royal Military Academy in Sandhurst, eleven years ago.
“When I was sixteen, I looked at the army and thought nah that’s too dangerous,” he said as he laughs at the irony of it. “So, I joined the police service instead and ended up working there for 32 years, dealing with public order, riot control and firearms towards the end of my career.”
While still serving with the police, he went on and trained as a lay preacher at 40 and ended up being ordained as a vicar. He figured he would retire and take up a small church job somewhere and live happily ever after, but the itch of service to humanity had other plans.
“A friend of mine asked me to cover for him as a Padre at the army cadet force for two weeks, and later suggested that I consider joining the army full-time. I burst out laughing!”
Still, he applied and went through the selection and the subsequent rigorous training, which at his age was even more grueling.
“I did 10 weeks at Sandhurst, got five inches off the waistline and six months later I was in Afghanistan with the Airborne Engineers doing bomb searches,” he said. “Then I’ve been in Kenya and Mali and everywhere else, and just when I started to wind down I got called to come and work with the UN and the engineers in South Sudan.”
Padre Earl describes his experience working with the UN in South Sudan as unique – very different from his previous tours. He has used his collective experience to push forward the self-defense training of young girls in Malakal, Bentiu and Juba as part of a continued collaborative program to combat conflict-related sexual violence.
“Young women particularly have a rough time here and I hope they never have to use the self-defense techniques, but hopefully if they ever need to, then the hours we’ve put into it will be worthwhile.”
He has also interacted with local clergy at the protection site, engaging them on the status of the peace process and other social issues affecting their people.
“I pray as a priest for peace every day, words don’t deliver it, actions deliver it. My entire life has been dedicated to people and service and I would definitely join another tour with the United Nations if there ever was an opportunity.”
Padre Earl, and the UK engineering taskforce he is attached to, will leave the South Sudan mission in a few weeks’ time, having completed their four-year tour of duty.