Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Several Special Occasions

Hello Dear Friends & Family,

I hope you are well wherever you are in your journey - geographically & spiritually.

Today, here in Juba, marks the sixth week of my visit as missionary teacher for the fall semester at Bishop Gwynne College (BGC), where I will stay for 13 weeks in all. Since the last post, several special occasions have occurred. I'll focus on one today.

The first of these special occasions took place on Saturday, October 12th to honor the memory of the late BGC Principal Joseph Taban Lasuba, under whose leadership I served in the spring semester of 2012. Personally, I knew him to be a good man - deeply spiritual and deeply committed to serving the Lord..Until ten days ago, however, I did not fully understand how beloved he was by family, friends, BGC community, and the wider community, stretching around the world. It was a lesson well told at "The Prayer for Dedication and Fixing of the Cross" on Joseph's tomb. 

As I approached the BGC New Site from the road, I could see tall white tents sticking up above the wall of the school compound. Placed there to shade the guests from the afternoon sun, they looked very picturesque, as well. Greeting visitors at the BGC gate were students, dressed in their Sunday best shoes and clothes with labels on their pockets to identify their job for the day - 'reception' or 'usher', for example. Several greeted me, and kindly helped me find a place in their dormitory to put my shoe bag until it was time to go. (I had walked the rough road in my sandals and carried my best shoes with me.)

When I saw the new Principal, Samuel Galuak Marial, he welcomed me warmly and gave me a compliment on my beads - about eight or nine strands of small turquoise beads bound together in a necklace. I had bought them from a local women's craft store when I was here in 2012. 

"I like wearing them," I said. "They are my African beads."

"I bet you get a lot of compliments on them," he said.

"Yes I do," I said with a big smile, remembering that I had worn them on opening night of a play co-written by my husband, Scott. A favorite photo of mine was taken then to remind me of that special occasion.

Many special moments filled the afternoon. Here are some highlights.

-His Grace Archbishop Daniel Deng Bul led the ceremony into the fence-like enclosure around Joseph's tomb. It touched me to be so close when the Archbishop gently kissed the cross where Joseph's photo is placed. I was also blessed to see the great care the artisans took 'fixing' the cross permanently on the grave. Soon after that, the Archbishop also preached the sermon, giving Joseph well-deserved praise as one of  the leaders of the new nation of South Sudan. The Archbishop had chosen him to lead BGC, he said, because of Joseph's vision. A vision that saw beyond the cultural view of tribal identity. Then, on a poignant note of respect for the cultural norm, ++Daniel thanked the elders from Joseph's village for allowing his body to be buried on the campus of BGC so that he would be remembered there for future generations.

-Other members of the clergy served their duties well, whether as the MC, a speaker or a scripture reader. We were noticeably touched when we heard the Dean of All Saints' Cathedral read the story of Lazarus from John's Gospel. It seemed that many of us there were 'seeing' Joseph come out of his tomb, like Lazarus did when Jesus called him. A sad moment, full of emotion for us all.

-Towards the end, brave children sang songs for all the adults. They began by entering the worship space in a line, slowly walking in matched step to the front of the congregation. They stopped near the place where Esparansa, Joseph's widow, sat. Then the children sang several songs, led by Jane, the oldest of the three Lasuba children. She looked lovely in her colorful dress and neatly braided hair. After awhile, we heard the sound of the women voicing their emotion and their approval in the high pitched sound they make for such occasions. Ululation, it is called, and once you have heard it you will never forget it. As for making that sound myself - nope, not possible for me. At the end, when the line of children were walking away from the 'tent of meeting', two women, dressed in white and marked with the insignia of the Mother's Union, came forward to wish them well. They waved over the tops of the heads of these children with handkerchiefs as if to say, 'may your spirit rise to the heavens as we bless you.' 

-After the ceremony, the children came out again. This time each one carried a bit of soap and a colorful kettle, made from plastic into the shape of a tea pot. These were filled with water which they poured over the hands of waiting adults who would then have clean hands to eat a meal together. The youth also carried water bottles and meal boxes out on big metal trays which they distributed to the grown-ups. Many 'shukrans' (thank you in Arabic) were murmured between adults & children.

When it was time to go, I was blessed to have a few words with Esparansa. "You honor us with your presence," she said with a smile as we parted ways.

"I am honored to be here," I tried to say through deep emotion. Words failed me, I pray the meaning did not. 

My BGC student friends retrieved my bag and we chatted for a few minutes while I changed shoes for the walk home. One of them said in a gracious way, "When people come here and ask about this grave, we will be able to tell about our Principal Joseph and it will be passed from one generation to the next." This was said in a place where sometimes only civil war has been passed from generation to generation for decades. 

We also received a blessing on the way home, because the storm which was threatening held off  for a little while longer. The ten minute walk back to the Old Site with Canon Trevor and 'Moma' Tina Stubbs was blessed by a sprinkle, not a downpour, of rain..An African blessing of sorts on a day filled with sorrow and hope. 

On reflection, I am most grateful that I could be present for this moving ceremony. Of course, I could not be there in May when Joseph died and was buried, but I was one of those brokenhearted by the news of his death. My sadness came to me from two other deaths as well - my mentors and friends in Sewanee - Don and Sue Ellen Armentrout - whose burial services in April and September I could not attend. My great sadness for all of my departed friends was wrapped up into one soulful package and I felt a great salve, like the balm of Gilead, come to heal my grieving, sin-sick soul. In the name of Jesus, I give thanks for this and for the peace that passes all understanding. Amen.

Until the next time, my friends,
Peace in Christ,



1 comment:

  1. What a moving narrative, Ellen. I try hard not to assume that things are the same from one diocese to another or one ethnic group to another in South Sudan. But your experience of the fixing of the cross vividly takes me back to the same part of the extended funerary rites for Bishop Bullen of Lui, which Wayne and I attended in June 2011.