Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Movein' in Yambio

Yambio is a beautiful place, surrounded by dense tropical forest. It reminds me quite a bit of Liberia. There are trees and birds here that I’ve seen in Liberia, but no place else in Sudan. There is a tranquility about the forest, perhaps it’s the quiet sounds of wind over leaves, birds chirping. Perhaps it’s the cool of the shade, the beauty of the flowers, the age and grandeur of the trees.

But there is no peace in this region. Yambio is the capitol of Western Equitoria state. The region has been plagued by the LRA (a group of northern Ugandan rebels) since December of last year, with a big increase of attacks in August (Ezo, which I have mentioned before is in Western Equitoria). All of the parishes in the diocese of Yambio which are outside the town have been displaced to the town. Many of their homes and crops have been burned, and people have been abducted and killed. There are more than 2,000 IDPs (internally displaced persons) living on the church land in Yambio, most of whom are church members. They have planted some crops, but it is not enough and the people are suffering. We visited some of them. It was difficult to meet some of the IDPs see the situation they are in, and have nothing to offer them but the few words of greeting I have learned in Zande. And yet, being here is good. Being able to tell their story. Sharing meals and prayers and worship. Learning the local handshake, hearing their stories.

This month there was an attack in Ibba diocese to the east of Yambio. Please continue to pray for Bishop John and the diocese of Ezo, Bishop Peter and the Diocese of Yambio, Cannon Samuel and the Diocese of Nzara, Bishop Wilson and the Diocese of Ibba, Bishop Justin and the Diocese of Maridi, and Bishop Bismark and the Diocese of Mundri. All continue to be effected either by direct attacks by the LRA, or by the continued influx of IDPs from the violence.

But there is hope. At the end of August the ECS in Yambio and Ezo participated in an ecumenical peace march. There were 3 days of fasting and prayer, followed by a two mile barefoot march to the town square in Yambio. 10,000 people, including church and government leaders joined in the march. And the rally that followed brought attention both within Sudan and internationally to the plight of the people. The presence of hope is much more pronounced now, the people were authorized to organize community defense, and there have been fewer LRA attacks this month.

I saw Bishop John a couple days ago. He said, “Our prayers are really being answered.” He was full of hope that the situation will improve, though he also said that the losses that they have suffered will never be forgotten, and even when people can go home, it will be to start all over again from zero. He also said he has really been encouraged by the prayers of people all over the world.

These bishops inspire me by their leadership, their struggle to help the people, their witness for peace and reconciliation, and their speaking out for the voiceless. I have heard several times, “as long as any of my people are here, I will be here”. They do not flee from danger, but face it in the faith of their calling. It is a tremendous burden they bear.

In Yambio on Sunday, there was much joyful singing and dancing, even though the people are suffering. Bishop Peter was telling me, “you know, our people love to dance. They dance to show respect, for celebration, or for mourning.” He laughed and said, “so if you see people dancing you will wonder, are they happy, are they sad?” I once heard it said that during the Truth and Reconciliation Commission hearings in South Africa, they would stop the proceedings occasionally to sing and dance, that this helped the people let go of or work through the terrible truths that were being brought to light.

Move. That’s what this says to me. Not the kind of moving that keeps you busy or helps you run away from the difficult things. Move, in the presence of terrible and beautiful truth. Do something. We can’t fix it, that’s not our job, but we can act. We are called to love one another. With all the little things we do, we are constantly forming who we are. The Church is alive, and in the world, not just a liturgy on Sunday. There is plenty of hope in the world, because God is here. Lets move, out of our comfort zones, out of our inward focus, out of our attitudes of scarcity. Lets see what we can do, where we can go, who we can touch, who we can become.

Friday, September 4, 2009

A Song of the Saints of God

“I sing a song of the saints of God, patient and brave and true, who toiled and fought and lived and died for the Lord they loved and knew.”

In mission work, in life in general I suppose, there is always juxtaposition of states of being: joy and sorrow, hope and despair, love and fear, beauty and horror. They exist side by side, often in the same situations. The tension then is trying to hold these separate experiences of the world at the same time, and recognizing the presence of God there in the midst of it.

In the last few weeks, the Episcopal Church of Sudan has suffered two terrible attacks. One in the diocese of Ezo (on the border with Democratic Republic of the Congo and Central African Republic), and one in the diocese of Twic East (northern Jonglei state). In Ezo, there has been a renewed ferocity of attacks by the LRA (rebels/terrorists of northern Uganda) in the last few weeks. People have fled to the town center of Ezo for protection, but even there the LRA attacked. The bishop, the diocesan staff and 12 of their parishes are currently displaced. On August 12-13 there was an attack on Ezo town by the LRA. The ECS church was attacked, a lay reader was killed, and 8 Sunday school children were abducted by the LRA. The LRA are known for forcing children to become soldiers, and the torture of those they kill or abduct.

In Twic East diocese there was an attack by approximately a thousand heavily armed militia on the village of Wernyol and the surrounding area, on August 29. More than 40 people were killed in the area, and the ECS Archdeacon Joseph Mabior Garang, was among the dead. He was killed in the church in Wernyol while leading morning prayer.

More than two thousand have died in south Sudan in increasing internal conflict since April. See Archbishop Daniel Deng Bul’s appeal regarding these recent events:

I received the news of these two attacks after returning from a wonderful trip to two dioceses on the border with northern Sudan last Saturday. The news, devastating in itself, also adds to the growing despair people here feel about the instability of the peace. Where is God in all this? How can we reconcile these events with the image of our loving God? And why is it that I come back to this question after asking it so many times in the past?

In the last 25 years, more than two and a half million people died in the war in south Sudan. The Church in Sudan is not a stranger to suffering and death, imprisonment and martyrdom. And yet many of the bishops and leaders in the church who I know are people full of a deep and contagious joy. Despite the existence of such horror and despair in the past and present, joy, peace, love, and hope are very much alive in the hearts of these men and women. I am learning from them that a heart full of this mysterious joy, is something that cannot be taught, but must be gained through prayer and experience. In the journey of our lives, each discovery of redemption, each experience of the presence of hope in the face of despair, love in the face of fear, joy in the face of pain, teaches us about God.

Here God is, in the joy and hope of those wise souls who have gone and continue to go before us, walking with God in humility and patience. We have much to learn from these saints of God. “The world is bright with the joyous saints who love to do Jesus will”.

We are each a part of the body of Christ alive in the world today. How will we live into that calling today? Perhaps we should start by finishing the song…. “The saints of God are just folk like me, and I mean to be one too!”