I bring blessings to you in the amazing name of Jesus this Evangelism Week from South Sudan. Every year during this week in South Sudan, all of the churches from every denomination celebrate all week long the salvation of our God. Throughout the week at various times of the day in any given location you can enjoy a congregation marching down the street singing and clapping and playing the local bush instruments. People here love Evangelism Week. Most of the churches have special revival services in the middle of the week and even people who work take time off to attend. Many businesses quit early on Friday so people can go worship God in the sanctuary. How wonderful it is to live in a country like this where God is celebrated thus! These are among the poorest people on earth and they still have such love for and thankfulness to God for all that He has done for them. It is very humbling indeed.
Friday night, the youth and I met together in our church and joined in the celebration of this week by having our nighttime prayer and worship vigil by lantern light. I am always so amazed at how much these young people love to worship and pray to God. They are never forced to come. They can be sitting by a nice fire telling stories with friends or relaxing in their houses. They choose to come and worship God, some remaining on their knees for two hours on the hard concrete floor. They really do encourage me and convict me in a good way to keep on keeping on, never growing weary, and finding joy in all of it.
I work with quite a few other missionaries and sometimes I get discouraged because I want more for these kids spiritually. I see how much they need it. But we as missionaries cannot constantly keep spoon serving these young people so I have to let go of the apron strings many times and trust that some of them will step up and take over when I leave here in January. We have three fine young men who have been ordained as Iris pastors and who live here on compound and I am so praying that they will take up where I leave off, not depending on foreign missionaries to do this wonderful stuff. These young men just need more confidence to lead these young ones. So, that is what I pray for them, confidence and passion.
I have been visiting with the mama this week who was very sick and hospitalized when I went to Uganda for that week. She is slowly improving and her attitude went from hopelessness to joy because she is now staying at the house of her mama with her sisters and brothers around her. She is also on the proper medications and seeing improvement. I am hoping to see her back at work in one more month. She is the mama for Peacey and Peacey has been having a hard time with all of this. Since she is not Peacey’s blood mama we cannot let Peacey go and stay with her. So Peacey has been acting out and crying a lot more and has been extremely clingy to me. All of her waking hours are spent in search of me and when she finds me, she grabs on and won’t let go. If I have to leave her for even a few minutes to go to the latrine, she will cry and cry. I have made a habit of finding her every afternoon at naptime because she won’t go down by herself. As soon as I pick her up and snuggle her close, well, the rest is history, she is down for the count for a couple of hours. I feel for her precious little heart. To her, this mama is her mama and she must feel abandoned by her.
So on Saturday I took her to see her mama and her face lit up like a Christmas tree when she saw her mama. The culture here in South Sudan and in many places in Africa is to feed your visitors if you know they are coming. They not only feed you but they give you their best. Unfortunately, all of this takes time and the actual visiting is a small space of time. This mama spent the time cooking and serving us. The hostess also does not eat with the guest because they want to make sure that if the guest wants more that there is more to give. They sit outside the hut or by the cook fire, keeping a slight eye on their guests, ready to provide for our every need. So, no sooner had we finished eating than we had to leave. Rain was threatening on the horizon and I came on my motorcycle. Peacey was not happy because she got such a small amount of cuddle time with her mama.
I never cease to be amazed by the complete hospitality of this culture and how they selflessly put others before themselves. I only pray that one day I can do this, in heart and body. The one draw back to this amazing hospitality is that sometimes things don’t get accomplished just because one cannot afford to feed people. Case in point is a church wants us to do a mini conference for them. This involves feeding the people lunch for the days of the conference plus provide for morning tea and bread. We cannot do this every time as it runs into too much money. At one church we offered to pick up 2/3 of the cost if the church picked up the rest. We found out later that our Iris pastor picked up the rest of the tab at an added hardship to his family of eight, without telling us. They refuse to have a conference without the food because culturally it just isn’t done.
Speaking of food! Sunday we invited all of the guys from the Iris Dream Team Soccer Team for a big feast to celebrate their winning the championship for Yei County. Myself and four of the older girls worked all day cutting and chopping and cooking over an open fire in industrial size cauldrons, as that’s the way we cook here. Forty young men came and ate like there was no tomorrow. Us girls served them and then scrubbed pots and all the dishes and cleaned up the area. By the time I sat down at 7:00 pm, boy were my puppies tired. It was a wonderful day for our boys who are on the team because they have a mama who cares enough to do what a mama does, feed the boys! Our boys really are proud to bring their friends here to their home because it is not an orphanage, it is a home where love abounds and they want their friends to see it. I am so thankful to be a part of their young lives for sure. They make me proud.
This weekend as I was driving down the dirt roads of Yei I really had to laugh at myself. All of the churches here, every denomination, have their group of grandmas who come in early to sweep the church and set it up for worship and they pray over everything. Every conference or official function the grandmas are in charge of the food and setup. Most importantly they are the pillars of the community and they have the respect of all people because of their righteousness and humility and love. They are unmistakable as they walk down the roads, with their simple dresses and their hair covered at all times with scarves or napkin/bandana clothes.
I laughed at myself because I found myself thinking, when I grow up I want to be like them. Just looking at these “abubas” (grandmas) makes you want to hug them and have them hug you back and pray over you. I laugh because in America I spent my life saying that I never want to “look” like a grandma, I want to look hip and cool. So when that thought came to my mind I smiled because I had finally reached a point, in a way noticeable to me, where my heart outgrew my mind. I wanted people to look at me the way these abubas are looked at, people knowing that my walk is Christ centered in every way. That means more to me than how cool I look. I have been reading a book about Mother Theresa and it is really spurring my heart to be even more like these special ladies in the church. They are precious indeed.
This week I am praying extremely hard that the road to Juba will be open on Sunday when I head north to Aweil for another visit. I almost had to spend the night on the roadside when I traveled back to Yei from Uganda because the road was so deeply mired in mud that three big trucks were stuck in the middle of it all. We barely managed to get thru with a 4-wheel drive a week ago. I am hearing that the big trucks are still stuck and people are picking their way around them and it is very slow going. Then I sent money to our pastor in Aweil to purchase my airline ticket back to Juba but the airlines won’t sell it because they say it is too far out. Eleven days is too far in advance to purchase tickets??????? Such is my life. If I ever leave the mission field I might have to deal with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder!