The five kids I live with and I made an important discovery today. The lid of the common laundry soap tubs, can be used as a Frisbee. Bul and Ayak, the oldest two, are quite good at playing Frisbee. The twins Achan and Angar, have recently become interested, and will catch it if it’s thrown to them at a range of about two feet. But the youngest, Nibol, puts us all to shame with her fierce bravery. She is two. She grits her teeth, and gets into her Frisbee stance. If the Frisbee is thrown low enough, she can stamp it out of the air, and she chucks it at least ten feet. She jumps up and down and claps her hands, and we all join in. The importance of the soap container discovery is that Frisbee has now become, to use the development work lingo, a locally sustainable game. And because the lid is lightweight, it means it doesn’t hurt if you hit someone with it. Since the Frisbee I brought is made of heavy plastic, and half our players are under the age of four, this is a big improvement! The kids (except Bul) don’t speak English, and I can only say a few things in Arabic, but we have found a common language in Frisbee, and funny faces, and games where someone pretends to be a crocodile or monster and eats the others. They also taught me a game much like “this little piggy” only it’s counted on fingers, and involves tickling at random intervals. Much to their pleasure, they have discovered I am extremely ticklish. Giggling is the universal language.
Today I took a trip out to one of our project sites in Panyikwara, and two of my friends, Rev. Charles and Tito came with me. I decided since we are friends, and it was Saturday, and the trip was 3 hours and more than 100 miles each way, that this officially counted as a road trip. So I described the importance of a road trip in my culture. Since the road was dirt, and full of potholes, I decided it could also be classified as off-roading. In order to complete the experience, we took the requisite goofy this-is-us-on-a-road-trip photos.
When we got to Panyikwara, I got to meet Charles’ family again, and this time I learned the names of his kids, and how to say “thank you for the delicious food” in Acholi. His youngest Odira, is the exact same age as my nephew, not quite two. I loved watching him, and realizing that my nephew has probably learned some of the same motor skills these months I’ve been away. When Charles handed him a little money, I was amazed, that he toddled off to the corner store (only 100 yards from the house), to buy a cookie. We did get down to business by discussing the salary structure the employees were proposing, and we engaged in a discussion with the county ag advisor about aide and whether people value things that are free. We also attended part of a workshop on seed production.
Charles is leaving to start seminary in Uganda tomorrow. I am happy for him, but sad for all of us who will miss him. Nearly every trip I have been on around Southern Sudan, Charles has gone too. And I have come to rely on his eternal optimism, constant laughter, and unquenchable joy. His cheerfulness seems to provoke my crankiness when I am frustrated or haven’t had lunch yet, and he has put up with me with patience and good humor. Every day, he reminds me “It’s in God’s hands.” Charles, and most of the pastors of the Episcopal Church of Sudan sacrifice so much to do the work they feel they are called to do. I am constantly humbled by Charles’ cheerful sacrificing.
There is God. This answer comes at the end of a week I have found difficult. This week I have felt more susceptible to cynical and hopeless trains of thought. The violence in Jonglei state is escalating, with more than 1,000 killed in the last two months. But violence in other areas continues too, with the LRA in Western Equitoria, and fighting over cattle raiding in several other states as well. We met more IDPs in our visit to Lainya last weekend, displaced by the LRA. I have found it hard not to focus on the question “why?” I have found it hard to believe in the peace. But into this struggling searching frame of mind, today comes the Frisbee discovery, and five giggling kids, and travels with friends.
As I sit here writing to you, my heart is full of a renewed sense of joy. Whenever I write to you I am reminded of your love and prayers which sustain me daily. I am reminded of all the things I love about my home and my diocese, all of you, and this job. And I am honored again to be entrusted to this work, to be the physical presence of the love you have for the people of Sudan. And that work I think is just as much about throwing Frisbees as it is about teaching agriculture.
God is all around us, calling to us in the beauty and wonder of humanity and creation. Some days it’s easier to see that than others. But if God is there, solidly present in hope and joy and the peace which passes understanding, even in the homeless shelter in Atascadero, and in post-Katrina Mississippi, and in impoverished Central American villages, and in post-war Liberia, and in conflict-ridden Sudan, then surely God is everywhere, and God’s love can redeem it all. We are not living in a world where evil and death and hopelessness get the final word. We are living in a world of Easter. Christ is risen indeed!