Monday, April 20, 2009

Peace Journey to Easter

The convoy of three flat bed semi-trucks, half a dozen pick-ups and SUVs, and assorted government and police vehicles, thudded over potholes, fish-tailed through muddy slews, trundled over bumps and rocks, and occasionally zigzagged out into the bush or open plain searching for a passable route, all the while accompanied by the sound of drums and song coming from the 200 singing evangelists aboard the semi-trucks. In all we were, the Archbishop and his wife, three bishops, a hand full of staff, at least 30 pastors, and the 200 strong marching choir. In a week and a half we traveled approximately 550 miles, averaging less than 20 miles per hour, through forest and plain and swamp, across territory plagued by cattle raiders and rogues, stopping at every village and town to greet the crowds who came to welcome us, preach about reconciliation, and pray for peace and justice. This was the Archbishop’s peace, reconciliation, and evangelism tour of Jonglei state.

The Episcopal Church of Sudan is praying for Jonglei State in this time of insecurity. In March more than 750 people were killed, and on Palm Sunday 40 were killed in one village. Cattle raiders ambush the cattle keepers, kill them, and steal the cows, then fighting breaks out between the groups.

We set out from Juba on Holy Wednesday. On Maundy Thursday we were in the town of Bor, which is the capitol of the state. Our marching choir, the “Youth Mamas”, and the youth of Bor, led a prayer march around the town. We stopped, and the Archbishop prayed first at the hospital, then the prison, then at the government offices. Finally we ended up at the town square, where the bishops led a prayer and preaching rally, attended by thousands of people.

Most of the church women in Sudan and some of the men, carry crosses with them. They wave them when singing songs, hold them aloft in testimony, or just hold them as a tangible reminder of their faith. As we traveled along the road, I saw that people carried their crosses not just to church, but everywhere they went: walking to the next village, collecting firewood, hauling water… I wondered if they clung to their crosses because of the insecurity. The Archbishop told me it had become the way they lived their lives—carrying the cross. I was presented with a cross by one of the women, because I greeted them in the name of Jesus, in the Dinka language. So on Good Friday, I had a cross to carry and wave.

One of the villages we stopped at on Good Friday was the village of Kapat, where 40 people had been killed by thieves less than a week before on Palm Sunday. Jerry Drino tells me that some of our Sudanese brothers in the Diocese of El Camino Real lost family members in this village. It is a small village, and the people were obviously crushed by such a tragedy. And yet the Mother’s Union still came out to greet the delegation, singing and waving their crosses. We stayed a bit longer at this village. One of the women was asked to pray, and though I couldn’t understand the words, I could hear the passion of her faith behind her tears, and it moved me deeply. With the cross in my hand and Kapat on my mind, I thought about the meaning of Good Friday. And it seemed that this path we were on was the way of the cross. The suffering and fear and despair along the path is too great for us to bear. But Christ has borne it, and the people have found comfort carrying the cross of Christ.

On Easter, our open-air service in the village of Wangulei was attended by nearly 5,000 people. We continued northward to places so remote they had never been visited by an Archbishop or any dignitary. But the church was still there, cut off most of the year by impassable roads. We passed the conflicted boarder between the Dinka and Nuer tribes, into the Nuer territory. In the town of Ayod we were greeted by the choirs of 4 different denominations, for a wonderful display of Christian unity. We stayed two days, and I noticed the feeling change as we were there. Excitement and hope were building. The Youth Mamas were a particularly powerful witness, made up of many different tribes, on a mission together for peace. People were gathering where the Youth Mamas were camped-out to talk with them and learn from them. The people insisted we stay an extra night so they could slaughter a bull for a feast. The local witch doctor cast aside his magic accessories, and went to the Youth Mamas for prayer. 63 people were confirmed, three evangelists were commissioned, and three people ordained. And after the prayer rally, 5 thieves were caught. The group that gathered to see us off was a very different group indeed than the one that greeted us. Their faces were alight with something I had not noticed earlier—hope, courage, joy.

It was a Holy Week of walking in the way of the suffering, and it was an Easter Week of transformation by the risen Christ. The problems continue in Jonglei, with another clash in the east two days ago, and reports of more than 500 killed. But into this broken and hurting world we proclaim the hope of Christ crucified and risen. And I can tell you with certainty that that hope makes all the difference.


Savanah said...

Your blog is amazing! And it would appear, so are you!!!

Lynda Greenfield said...

Wonderfully written blog. Thanks for keeping us informed. It sounds like God is doing a great work through you.

SpiritLightMyFire-Colombia said...

It gave me chills brought on by the Spirit you proclame! Thank you.