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