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.