Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Safely Home with a 'Hope Chest' of Stories To Tell

Dear Friends & Family, 

Thankfully, I am home safely. For that I am grateful. Yet, I am sad as I write because of the recent violence in Juba. The news reports tell the story of conflict which has gone out of control and crossed the line into violence. Many people are hurt; many have died. Ultimately, everyone loses. Please pray for peace to be restored quickly, especially in this season of Advent Hope. These are my friends whom I have been living among for several months, so when the media reports reach me, I see them vividly & interpret them personally, with sorrow.

What follows is a vignette that happened during my last couple of weeks in South Sudan. Perhaps it will help to balance some of the difficult news we have heard in recent days.

When classes were over, the students and teachers had a brief break before the beginning of exams. Students, of course, studied. Teachers finished grading course work, which had to be handed in about a week before exams started. Then the teachers had a few days to attend to other matters in their lives. For me, it was an opportunity to go to Mundri with Bishop Bismark and see the place where Marc Nikkel once lived and taught, when the Bishop Gwynne College was located there.

We left on Saturday morning and because of other duties, we had to return on Monday afternoon. Even though it was a short trip, it was well worth it for me to be able to see these places I had only read or heard about. The journey took between six to seven hours each way to travel the rough road of only 132 miles. The skill of the drivers was really put to the test in order to accomplish this feat. The endurance of the passengers also came into play. We were encouraged with little snacks along the way, bought at roadside shops. Whether it was sodas & milk biscuits or stubby bananas & steamed corn still in the husk, the breaks provided something to sustain us and a chance to look around at many interesting things.

The car ride also gave us time for good conversation. At one point, the Bishop told me about a grassroots initiative known as the Participatory Awareness Process {PAP} that was growing rapidly in the region of East Africa. "It was started by a Kenyan who lives near Nairobi," Bishop Bismark said as he slowed the car, gearing down to take the next dip in the road. "The church and the community are asleep!" the Bishop said emphatically. "The central idea of the process is to identify the needs and resources in the community. Don't wait for someone on the outside to come help you." 

"Scripturally, it is based on the feeding of the 5,000," the Bishop continued. "In one of the gospel accounts, the disciples come to Jesus, saying there is not enough to feed all of the gathered people - only a couple of fish and some loaves of bread brought by one young boy and it would take a great deal of money to feed them. Jesus told his disciples, 'You find them something to eat,'" the Bishop said to conclude his paraphrase of this familiar gospel story. I nodded my head in agreement, a movement made easy by the motion of the car. 

The Bishop told of some the 'miracles' that had taken place in many communities because of the whole-hearted engagement of mostly lay people and some clergy. Miracles like water coming from a new bore hole in the community, or a primary school followed by a secondary school. These miracles have come from the grassroots effort of people who believe in the gospel and are not waiting for outside help. People who are counting their blessings in the face of their difficulties and finding a way to move forward.

This is only one of many stories to be told from the 'Hope Chest' of experiences that I have collected during my time of missionary teaching at the Bishop Gwynne College in Juba, South Sudan. I am counting these treasurers among my blessings as I pray for my friends who are experiencing difficult times. Hopefully, I'll have another chance to tell a story after the holidays. To be continued... 

Meanwhile, may Advent Hope bring you & yours Christmas Joy.

Peace in Christ,


  1. What fun that you got to spend time with Bishop Bismark and see Mundri! I hope you stopped to say hello to Bishop Stephen in Lui as you passed through the town I've spent so much time in.

    1. Yes, I did have a chance to meet Bishop Stephen of Lui. We met in Mundri, however, at the site of the school where Marc Nikkel once taught, now the Bishop Ngalamu Theological College. What a delightful encounter! He happened to be bringing a group of folks from Sweden whom you know! We had a talk about you and the project they are working on. I got a good photo of the whole group that I'll be glad to share. Hope your holidays are going well. I know we share deep sadness about the trouble in South Sudan. With great hope that things are now improving and prayers for peace in Christ, Ellen