Thursday, February 5, 2009

Travels around Sudan

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.

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