The hot winds blew across the parched ground. The rains are late this year in Abyei. There are scattered scrub trees, but the grass has long since been grazed to nothing on the flat, dry plain. We gathered at the site of the ECS church and school, which were destroyed in violence that flared one year and two weeks ago. The church is now just a grass mat shade structure under a partially burned tree, with indistinct piles of rubble around. The mother’s union came to greet us with song, dance, and welcome banners carefully lettered in English and Arabic. Just like churches everywhere, the ladies wore nametags, and just like churches across Sudan coming to greet their Archbishop, they jumped and danced and clapped and sang with glee. The Sunday school came out in a line, dancing and singing with hand-cut tissue paper flowers in their hair. There were cold sodas, and loud speakers. Everyone wore their best clothes. It was a celebration of great joy.
Bishop Francis Loyo of Rokon Diocese was with our delegation. He had been the ECS representative sent to Abyei last year to distribute emergency assistance after the conflict. He spoke to the people, “Following Christ is not an easy task. It is founded on suffering.” Bishop Loyo is a man of tremendous faith, and unquenchable joy.
One of the representatives from the government addressed the gathered congregation, “Despite everything we have suffered, we still trust in God who can revive us.”
God can revive us! That thought has remained with me. As in the other desperate and conflict torn places in southern Sudan, there was unexpected hope and abundance among the ashes.
Visiting Abyei was part of the Archbishop’s tour of Wau diocese. We spent a week in the town of Wau for a diocesan meeting. It was the longest I’ve spent in any town besides Juba, and it was a bit like going on a short term mission trip with the staff from the provincial office, and several bishops. We spent a lot of time chatting together, meeting people, and putting on workshops. A group of women priests (photo above) waited on us hand and foot, and it seemed as though a goat or sheep was slaughtered every night for a feast. When we left, we were presented with gifts. The men received walking sticks, and I was given a beautiful carved tea tray, and an embroidered bed sheet. This is the paradox of mission work, you go to serve, give, and work, and in turn you are served, given gifts, and revived!
God can revive us! This is a theme that has entered my agriculture workshops as well. It has surprised me how closely agriculture and theology can be related. Without realizing it was happening, the lessons I have learned traveling with the Archbishop have worked their way into my teaching. Peace, development, and agriculture improvement do not come from stuff, they come from a changing of the human heart, and that is the work of the Spirit. Should we pray for our land? Should we pray for the knowledge to help revive it? Are the answers already written in creation around us? Yes, yes, yes! Our job—each one of us, as members of the human race who hope for a better tomorrow—is to plant the seeds. We can plant the seeds of hope in everything we do. The Spirit will water them.