Tuesday, February 10, 2009
Last week, we headed west to visit some of the dioceses affected by the LRA attacks in January.
As we began our journey, the bible passage I was reading that morning had the following “you can not serve God and wealth”. Now I had always taken that to mean, let go of materialism, and I smugly patted myself on the back for being a missionary. But in one of those paradigm shifting moments, I realized there are different ways of serving wealth. I serve wealth every day with my attitude of scarcity. I say there isn’t enough. I scale back my plans. I shake my head and say “no way”. I say, “look they have nothing.” Perhaps serving God involves looking instead for the abundance already there in the world around us, in our lives, in our relationships.
So armed with this new realization, I headed out to try to see the abundance in the world. I forgot to most of the time, but occasionally, that word abundance would sneak into my mind. Bishop Justin of Maridi took us out to meet some of the 10,000 IDPs that are living in Maridi town. Rather than set up some kind of camp with them all in one place, they dispersed throughout the community. So as we drove along there would be the normal house, a nicely maintained tukl,(traditional hut) with it’s cleared yard and assorted out buildings. And then next to it was a shelter erected from sticks with a tarp. We stopped to talk with one family. They were all women, they said the men had gone to look for food. A child in the background was grinding peanuts that the neighbor probably gave them, into the traditional peanut butter, and one of the women was cutting up some edible leaves she had found in the forest. Right then, that word popped up, abundance. Somehow 10,000 extra people are being fed in the town of Maridi tonight, with no help from outside agencies. Yes they are hungry, they are afraid, they are angry, tired, worried, stressed, and anything else you might imagine. But they are making it. The people of Maridi, especially the church, are pulling together to do what they can for each other.
The last thing I usually want to do is pray out loud, but Bishop Justin asked me to pray before we left the women. So I prayed, even though it was a language they couldn’t understand. I thanked God for their courage, for the love that they had in their hearts, for the leadership of the church, for the abundance of creation, I prayed that fear might leave and assistance come… and I can’t remember what else. I have never prayed like that before. My response to the suffering of the world has always been to ask why; and then struggle to carry some portion of that burden. Bishop Justin helped me to put that burden in God’s hands, where it belongs. And when I had done that, for a small moment before leaving, I could look those women in the eye with love rather than pity.
In Mundri, the first town we stopped, there are about 1,000 IDPs, but they are receiving aid, and there seemed to be more optimism there. We went and visited the new diocesan office, and it was beautiful. Expecting something much less, I was overjoyed at all they have been able to accomplish, but that was only their first priority, now they need a house for the bishop, they need to work on education and agriculture and health programs… the list seems a mile long everywhere. I told Bishop Bismarck, if that’s what they did with their first priority, I couldn’t wait to see the next!
In Ibba, the last and smallest town and diocese we stopped at, the feeling was different. There is still so much fear there. They know the LRA does not attack big towns, but Ibba is a small town, and has no cell phone service. The attack on the outlying towns around Ibba happened on January 23rd. The IDPs weren’t even sleeping under their makeshift shelters, they would leave their shelters as decoys, and sleep in the bush under a shrub. One of the little girls we met there, just stared at us without smiling. Even severely malnourished children I have met will point and laugh, but this girl didn’t. I realized that perhaps it is fear, not suffering that kills joy. It was hard to see abundance in the presence of such fear. The church leaders we met with were so shocked and happy to receive us. They had never had visitors from the US church, and they just couldn’t imagine we would come in the midst of their troubles, their welcome was certainly abundant.
On our way back we met some UN people, and heard the “unconfirmed” report that 200 LRA had surrendered just over the border, including the second in command.
In Torit, at the sight of a LRA massacre from 1995, Bishop Bernard prayed for the LRA, and for Kony himself, saying “I know you forgive him because he doesn’t know what he is doing”. I was shocked at the beauty of his prayer, because I wanted revenge not grace in that moment. So I ask you to also pray both for those affected by the violence, and for the LRA themselves, many of whom are children, or were when they started fighting.
God’s love and forgiveness is abundant. Only the most frightened, broken, and messed up people in the world know just how abundant it is.
Posted by Robin Denney at 6:06 AM
Monday, February 9, 2009
I just returned to Juba, from traveling to Western Equitoria state where we visited several dioceses, and saw the situation of the IDPs (internally displaced persons, as opposed to refugees who by definition have left their country) who were displaced by the recent violence by LRA rebels/terrorists in the region.
Please continue to pray for the IDPs in this area, and for returning refugees throughout southern sudan who are suffering from hunger.
I hope to send out an update about this trip shortly, which I will also post.
Posted by Robin Denney at 6:44 AM
If you think you are on my email list, but did not receive the latest update titled: Travels in Sudan, than your email program may have blocked it. I have received a lot of returned messages, I think because my list is quite large.
If you would like to receive my emails, please contact me: redenney AT gmail.com
If you would like to receive my emails, please contact me: redenney AT gmail.com
Posted by Robin Denney at 6:40 AM
Thursday, February 5, 2009
See the following article by the US Presiding Bishop, about the current situation with LRA rebels in South Sudan, and how you can get involved:
Bishops Jones and Gray who she mentions, will be joining us in our travels next week.
Posted by Robin Denney at 12:49 AM
I arrived in Sudan one week ago today. It has been an eventful week. I have been traveling with a delegation from the US, Buck Blanchard from the Diocese of Virginia and Phil Darrow from the Diocese of Chicago, who are working on helping the dioceses here develop partnerships with dioceses in the US. We traveled more than 36 hours this week, on dirt roads that sometimes were so bad that the beaten track left the road and meandered out into the bush for a few miles. And these were mostly the main roads leading from Juba to Kenya, to Uganda, and to the north.
We traveled around the diocese of Torit and to the diocese of Bor last week, two of the largest dioceses in the south. In Torit, we saw the devastation left behind by years of LRA occupation, which ended about 8 months ago. Bishop Bernard hosted us, and took us to see what had been Kony’s base camp in the village of Kubi, where the people showed us a big pit not far from the church, that was the mass grave of more than 270 people who were killed by Kony in one day back in 1995. The atrocities in Kubi continued through the years until the villagers finally managed to push him out by force. We met many malnourished orphans in Kubi, and learned that there was no school in the area for them to attend.
In Torit, we traveled as far east as Kapoeta where the two Episcopal Churches in town get a Sunday attendance of more than 1,000 people each. There were many people living in Kapoeta who had been displaced from the diocese of Bor during the war. We were warmly greeted in Kapoeta and everywhere else we went with song and dance, food and beverage, speeches and prayers.
In the town of Mugwe, in Torit diocese, I saw some of the most beautiful agricultural soil I have ever seen, deep black soil, so soft you could stick your hand into it, even without tilling. Yet the people of Mugwe were starving. More than 50,000 people who had been refugees in Uganda have been resettled in Mugwe in the last year. The UN provides them with 3 months supply of food, and basic materials, but the food had run out, and they hadn’t arrived in the planting season (which starts next month), and so are left without food until the first harvest of “hungry food” in June. We sat with the church council leaders, and the pastor, and the leaders of the youth group, in their mud and thatch church. They told us about how their pastor was killed by the LRA two years ago. They were thin and tired, and the children gathered outside had swollen bellies with their ribs poking out. The youth spoke of how they were glad to be home because it meant freedom that they had never experienced, but one young lady spoke up and said “I cannot hide the truth we are starving”. The youth said that they wanted to learn about agriculture, and I promised to return with moringa trees and an agriculture workshop, and the province is planning a large-scale agriculture project for food security and income generation in that area, which will help tremendously. Bishop Bernard said “We hope that hunger will not be a problem with these people next year.” The church people have also taken matters into their own hands, planting a cassava field.
My heart was broken in Mugwe. As we drove away, I knew the church could do something for their future, and that I could help, but the weight of their suffering right now was heavy on me. I felt as though the task which God had given me was impossible, and full of heart ache. Just then, Phil said, “Look at that rainbow”. And it was as though God had set Noah’s rainbow in the sky again, it’s foot this time in a cluster of tukls (traditional huts). And it was a reminder, that my job isn’t to hold onto the suffering of the world. My job is to, as Susan Copley says, “just love the people”. And I will do my best to keep my eyes and ears and heart open. And do my best to communicate the suffering of the people to those who will pray, and to find the appropriate channels for getting assistance.
In the Diocese of Bor, I was excited to find that most parishes have some kind of small agriculture program to help the needy and give support to the pastors. In Bor they don’t know how many Episcopalians there are, but it’s more than 200,000. And the number grows and refugees return from foreign lands. At the cathedral on Christmas they had 12,000 people! A vast majority of the population are ECS (Episcopal Church of Sudan), approximately 80%. And the church does it’s best to assist the people and organize schools and agriculture projects. It was so inspiring to see the church totally alive, serving the poor, preaching love and reconciliation in a place torn by war and division… and all with so little resources.
Blessings to each of you. Thank you for your prayers, and thank you for making this work possible. And remember that you can get more involved through prayer, advocacy, and helping to alleviate hunger in your own community. We do these things, not out of obligation, but out of the love we have received in our own hearts. Because by giving we receive, and are transformed.
Posted by Robin Denney at 12:48 AM