Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Soldiers and Saints
Little Anglicans

“Yes,” he said, smiling happily, “we’ve come here for a holiday, and then we will return!”
I saw Grant’s face tighten with anguish and anger. Images of villages burning, of people shot as they ran, of the elderly and the very young - starving, dying, left behind; tales of the rape of countless women and the desecration of the dead came flooding to mind.
The young man sat back, relaxed, seemingly unaware of the tension that gripped the room. The older men’s faces became stony, their eyes darkened.

We had been sitting in our living room, serving tea to the relatives of a friend. It turned out they were members of the ***** army of South Sudan, and they were here for a break. I could see the young man’s apparent unconcern cut Grant like a knife. “What about the victims,” Grant was thinking, “do they get a break?” Instead he asked, “Why are you fighting?”
“We fight for our rights!” the young man answered.
“What rights did you lack in the new country of South Sudan?”
There was no answer.
“We fight for revenge.”
“Are you Christian?”
“Of course!”
“Revenge is not the way for those who follow Jesus.”
The conversation reached an impasse.
“We are praying for you and for the suffering of South Sudan,” I said. My heart was filled with an overwhelming sense of kindness for those entangled in such cruelty. “Lord, show them Your goodness, that they may know who they truly are,” I prayed.

A few days later the eldest one came to me. Even with almost no common language, we understood each other perfectly. “I return to Nassir tomorrow” he said.

“Pray for me, as you would pray for a little child,” and he bowed his head, that I might place my hand upon him in blessing.

St Martha's Anglican Church - new (the church)...and old ( the tree)

Wendy and I went to the Lare Mission Centre on a recent Sunday (August 10) to visit two little Nuer-speaking village churches out in the bush. Neither congregation had had a building before - just a tree to worship under. And neither congregation had been given a name (names are only given to churches when the Bishop visits!). So at 9:00am or so (after walking through fields where we were attacked by hordes of flies) we reached the first church in a place called Pietiel, where we dedicated St Martha's Anglican Church. Then at about 11.15 or so (after slogging through shin deep mud in our wellies) we reached the second church at Waken, where we dedicated Holy Trinity Anglican Church. Both congregations are small, each a part of an eight-point parish, but each has had a long, faithful and enthusiastic ministry in their area - and both are delighted to have a building, even one constructed of mud and sticks and thatch.

Dedication St Martha's

Bethlehem Church, Abobo

On August 24 the destination was an Anuak-speaking congregation in Abobo. Bethlehem Anglican Church has no full time pastor and is less than a year old. But they have good lay leadership and they are hard workers  - not only have they built a new church building for Abobo town, they have also planted several new congregations in the surrounding villages in the past year.

Thanks to all those whose generous contributions have made the building of new churches in the Gambella region of Ethiopia a reality!

~ Please Pray with us ~

Open heart Surgery for Wecka
For protection and healing for 6 year old Wecca  and 8 year old Sarah as they undergo open heart surgery in early September.

For the Gambella clergy as they begin teaching new candidates for baptism and confirmation
For the Mothers' Union leaders of our churches as they teach their members in basic health issues and nutrition.

For our new congregations being formed in refugee camps in Ashura, Dimma, Pinyudu, Leitchor, and Akule 1, 2 & 3, and for the new refugee pastors who have recently come from the dioceses of Malakal and Renk.

For the Opo Bible translators who are currently translating the gospel of Luke

Opo Bible translators David Onuk
and James Bol

For blessing and peace for Johann and Louise Vanderbijl as they make their way through the Ethiopian 'Sea of Red Tape' to receive residence permits. Johann will be principal of St Frementius' Anglican Theological College.
Johann and Louise Vanderbijl


Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Living in Suffering and Hope 

Sunday's Offering, Akule Refugee Camp 

“When 2 Elephants fight, the grass suffers.” The story of South Sudanese refugees living in the Gambella region emerged through the mosaic of comments and insights offered as we listened to a small group of unregistered refugees, who were being helped by the members of one of our churches. “The problem started in Juba”. “The government met on December 15th and disagreed on some issues. They began quarreling among themselves. The fighting spread to the soldiers”. “By December 16th, many people, even women and babies in the streets, had been killed”. “The people fled for shelter in UNMISS [United Nations Mission in South Sudan] compounds throughout the region”. “Church leaders spoke up against the fighting and they were killed; priests, bishops, even the moderator of the Presbyterian church”. “Those who tried to discourage the fighting were told, ‘...if you don’t want to fight, then leave.’ ” 

 The comments coalesced into a narrative: “And we left, taking only what we could carry. And mostly what we could carry was our children. Even so, we have little ones who went missing as we ran for our lives, for they were shooting at us as we ran. More than once, we were ambushed on the road. Many of our elders couldn’t make it. We walked and ran, snatching only a few hours of sleep when we could. We had nothing to eat but leaves during the days it took us to flee to Akobo. From there we went by boat. We arrived in Matar naked and hungry. No one told us how to register as refugees in Ethiopia. The refugee office in Gambella town is closed. Now we hear that you can only register at the border, with a visa, and with identity papers from South Sudan. But there are thousands waiting at the borders. They are starving and they are still being killed in the fighting, even there. And we don’t have visas or papers. Those who are registered can get food at the new refugee camps. But some of the new camps are in flood zones, and many are now dying of disease. We fear malaria and diarrhea. We cannot register, and, without registering, we have no food except what the church collects for us. And yet, if we register, we fear the living conditions.” (A week after our visit to Akula refugee camp, Isaac Pur of the Gambella Anglican Center, returning with a donation of clothes, was told of the deaths of 5 of the children who had met with us in the church). “The problem is between two big elephants. When the elephants fight, the grass suffers”. 

 The Road to Opo, April 28,14 We set off with as much maize, cooking oil, onions, tarp and mosquito nets as the Landcruiser could hold. We drove past flocks of storks, looking for all the world like small congregations of elderly British undertakers; past birds iridescent in crimson and turquoise; past the Jedi-like Fulani as they travelled from Nigeria on their long migration, and through the mosaic of bright yellow mango seeds and peels left in the wake of feasting travelers (a road definitely “not in Kansas anymore”). The road passed through the new Akula refugee camp. In the two weeks since our last visit, this part of the road had become almost unrecognizable; mini villages of wood & thatch tukels, and grass and tarp pup-tents had sprouted and grown along the once deserted roadside. Finally we arrived in Opo. 
Fulani Herdsman
 I’ll let Grant tell of our visit. 
We visited our Opo people this week. They have had some real trouble. Most Opo (there are about 5,000 Opo people in the world) live in Ethiopia, but some in South Sudan. Two weeks ago the rebels in the South Sudan conflict tried to conscript the Opo to fight in the war. When they refused, their villages and all their food stores were burned. They (at least 1,000) have now walked across the border and are staying with the Opo in Ethiopia. Our priest there, David Onuk, who is really the key community leader as well, has invited them to join the church. They have had no food except what the Ethiopian Opo could share with them, so we brought them a truckload. We discovered UN workers there doing an "assessment" of their situation - but they can't call them "refugees" and give them ongoing support because they have no identification. They will probably (after a month or so) be given support which will last them 2 months. The UN workers were clearly frustrated that their hands were tied - one of them said to us "thank you for bringing food for these people, all our assessments are useless if they just die..." 

We unloaded our gifts of food - pitifully inadequate for such a large number, but enough to keep away hunger for at least a day or two. Every stray kernel of maize was carefully swept from the car and carried into the church - nothing would be wasted. 
Food for Opo

As we took our leave, the three people given permission to ride back with us had metamorphosed into eight extras - the safety hazard caused by crowding apparently of concern only to Grant. We pulled away. Untranslated but unmistakable, the women with us cried out to their friends as we passed, “Hey, Look!!! We’re in a CAR!!!!!! Wheeeeeee!!!” With the inevitable predictability borne of long experience, Grant’s faint and happily ignored protest, “The kids will throw up”, was once again fulfilled. Looking on the bright side, at least no one had diarrhea on this trip! (Note to self: bring plastic bags next time). 

Matthew 28 v.1 was quoted in last week’s sermon at St Luke’s Church, Gambella. “Now after the Sabbath, toward the dawn of the first day of the week, the Mothers’ Union* went to see the tomb.” *[Mary Magdalene and the other Mary] “We always say ‘Mothers’ Union’ when we talk of the women disciples of Jesus,” explained John Gach, one of the clergy who had come to Gambella for this month’s clergy training. 
Jesus with Mothers' Union (Mary and Martha) at Lazarus' tomb

The Mothers’ Union teaching event, May 7th & 8th, looked at the causes of recurrent diarrhea. The Gambella region far exceeds Ethiopia’s infant/child mortality of 90/1000 live births, with diarrhea as one of the 5 major causes of infant and childhood death. We practiced making Oral Rehydration Solution using a technique that required neither measuring spoons nor expertise, and yet, when measured repeatedly by me in my kitchen, turned out to be reliable and reproducible. Oral Rehydration Solution (ORS) has saved hundreds of thousands of precious lives since it’s widespread use starting in the 1970’s. Eddie Ozols, of Anglican Aid, Australia, the major donor for our Mothers’ Union training program, asked our Anuak priest, Darash Thatha, how many children’s funerals had he held last year, before the Mothers' Union teaching program, and how many had he held this year, since the program began almost a year ago. Fifty funerals last year, none this year. 

 Opo Mother's Union rep, Mary Ngate; looking through a magnifying glass for the first time in her life; practicing making ORS 

 If you’d like to read more about our Mothers’ Union training program, click here to see the 2nd Quarter report (Jan-Mar 2014) prepared for Anglican Aid:

~ Please Pray with us ~

Young Refugee

~ For the 100,000 new refugees in the Gambella region
~For our church members who are sharing their homes and their food with the new refugees
~ For our clergy and lay readers
~ For our Mothers' Union
~ For Johann and Louise Vanderbijl as they prepare to come to Gambella; Johann will be the principal of the new St Frementius college

 The Future St Frementius Theological College: Site plan 

St Frementius Theological College: Future Chapel & Conference building

~For the establishment of the St Frementius Theological College, Gambella;
-new buildings to construct (faculty and student housing)
-old buildings to renovate (office, library, classroom, principal's residence)
-college chapel to build
-security wall to complete
-faculty to recruit
-principal to arrive

Photo Credits:
Many thanks to our visitors,
Rosie Fyfe,  Diocese of Egypt, for her photos of Akule Refugee camp ( Sunday offering), and the Fulani herdsman
and Eddie Ozols of Anglican Aid, Australia for his photo of the young Sudanese refugee at St Luke's church, Gambella
and thanks to Johann Vanderbijl for his icon of the raising of Lazarus

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Refugees Arrive...

Akula: a forest of tiny ‘pup-tent’-like dwellings fronted by cooking fires and filled with children. The tiny faces peeking out to stare at the “Kawaja” (white folks) walking by, break into sudden and delighted smiles as we greet them. Dozens of little hands try to hold mine as we wind our way to the ‘church’ - a large tree around which 3,000 Christians from many denominations are gathered. The new refugee camp of Akula, now one month old, is already sheltering 33,000 with more arriving daily.

Glimpses of the stories of those who have fled here for shelter were seen in the prayer requests.
“My sister died on the way. Her children were suffering from dehydration so they were brought here for medical care without being registered. Now they are with me, but they are not registered, so I cannot get food ration cards for them. Pray that I can get rations to feed them”
“My husband Jacob has been missing since December 15th. I can get no news. I pray to know if he is alive or dead.”
“Not all of us are here. Our beloved elders...”

A few stand up to share their reflections.
“We should not be surprised at the calamity which has fallen upon us. It says in the Bible that these things can happen. But be encouraged, for nothing, not even this, can separate us from the love of God.”

“It was quarreling that brought us here. We must forsake quarreling.” 
Sadly, poignantly, many tried to make sense of overwhelming evil: “It was our greed. It was our idolatry”

The congregation breaks out in song.
“Let us greet one another, and when Jesus comes, we will all love one another.”
“Let us kneel together before our Jesus”

Grant is invited to preach: “Jesus hates suffering and death. He wept at the tomb of his friend, Lazarus. A couple of weeks later, he gave himself to die on the cross and to rise again, defeating suffering and death. Because Jesus rose from the dead we know that one day there will be no death, there will be no suffering - God will wipe away every tear from our eyes. And on that day people from every tribe will be together around the throne - white people and Chinese and Arab and Nuer and Anuak and Dinka and Murle - so we should get used to being together now!”

Snap shots of life in the Horn of Africa:
February:  We had a wonderful time with a team of engineers and architects who came to help design new structures for the Gambella Centre so we can accommodate a new theological college in next year.
March: The rain is coming soon - we worked hard to organize the construction of as many new, simple church buildings as possible before the rains come in April - 30 new churches under construction. It seems that we now have about 80 Anglican congregations in this part of the world.

March: While Wendy was in Canada visiting her father, Grant preached and led worship at St Matthew’s, our English congregation; collected large piles of used clothes for refugees in Gambella; met with house group leaders from a non-Ethiopian part of our Episcopal Area (a country about which I can’t say too much); arranged for our Opo priest (David Onuk) to attend a one month course on Bible translation (David and two others have now finished translating the Gospel of Mark into Opo, the first book of scripture in their language)

March: Grant spent three days doing Bible teaching and leading worship with a congregation made up of students (some Ethiopian, some from other countries) whose only common language is English; learned of at least three other university cities where groups of students are meeting to worship in English in new Anglican congregations ... the Bishop is always the last to know.

March: With Wendy back we headed to Egypt: Grant teaching New Testament exegesis of the passion narrative of Mark’s gospel at the Alexandria School of Theology, as well as having diocesan meetings and preaching at five different congregations.

Last night: Back in Gambella our deacon, Gabriel Luot was arrested in Gambella on his way home to Sherkole refugee camp from our monthly clergy training session. Fighting between Dinka soldiers from South Sudan and Anuak from Abol the previous night (one from each side killed just a few kilometers outside of Gambella town) has heightened tension against the Dinka - and Gabriel is  Dinka. Darash, our Anuak (!) priest went to the Gambella police and was able to get Gabriel released.

Today: David Onuk, John Bol and Isaac Pur work in our office meeting room, translating the gospel of Mark into the Opo language. Today they will finish  Chapter 15 and 16 and then bring it to the Opo people and read the whole thing on Easter day - then the process of editing will begin.

Still today: Two Anuak women have been walking around our compound cursing the Gambella Anglican Centre and trying to pull up our fence in an attempt to extort thousands of Birr (Ethiopian money) from us for land they (falsely, according to local authorities) claim to own. This claim might have had more weight if there weren’t several others also claiming ownership of (and therefore compensation for) this previously uninhabited and unused land, and all of whom refuse our offer to take these claims to the municipality where the land ownership history and title deeds are known and kept. 

More today: A Regional Dean for the Anglican Diocese of Malakal, South Sudan, displaced by the war, came for help to give him transportation and food/accommodation as he makes his way to Addis, and then to Kenya to be re-united with his family. We had a very helpful visit from leaders of the ‘Ethiopian Network of Religious Leaders living with HIV-Aids’, an organization started by our deacon, Ayano, now deceased.

Tonight: We discover news of “Koma” people (the name of the Opo people who live in South Sudan) who have fled to Opo villages in Ethiopia to escape forced conscription into the so-called ‘white army’ of South Sudan. Their villages having been burned, they are now being housed and fed by our Opo Christians.

Right now: We welcome Michael Anyar’s wife Elizabeth and their five children, now needing to flee threats of violence against them due to their Dinka ethnicity. They will stay in our compound until we can arrange transport for them to Addis.

In Gambella the refugee situation caused by the fighting in South Sudan continues to worsen. The latest official (UN) figures cite 92,448 registered South Sudanese refugees in the Gambella region with 13,000 listed as waiting registration. Estimates predict between 150,000 to an unbelievable 300,000 arriving by the end of this year, nearly doubling the population in this already under-serviced area. Christian friends from all over the world have been providing much needed support for our ministry among these new exiles. 

Visits to refugee churches will dominate the next month. Pray for these dear Christians who need to know that their suffering is caused by human evil and is not a result of God punishing them (sadly a common explanation for their plight).

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

We do not grieve... those without hope 1 Thess 4:13-14
Tukal: A Gambellan home

As we all sat in the tukal, -sisters, brothers-in-law, father, mother, grandchildren, friends and relatives, the sunlight streamed in the door, glancing off the feathers of inquisitive baby chicks, and falling softly on the faces of those who had gathered to share their grief. War had a face. It was the suffering face of our friends and colleagues in Gambella as family after family heard of this son killed, that brother gone missing, that dear friend no longer alive. I was struck that there was no denial of grief as parents and relatives shared their hope in Jesus. Death had taken the one they loved from them, and Jesus had taken their loved one from death. Both hope and grief had equal place. And we were privileged to share in this with them.

I’ll let Grant share more with you about Gambella and the nearness of war.

Running Away

Next door to us, South Sudan is at war. The trouble started, it seems, as a dispute between two groups of soldiers in Juba - one group backing the President, the other backing his ousted Vice-President. Within days the whole country was involved in a conflict which has killed thousands, and displaced hundreds of thousands. Despite the newly signed peace treaty, many,  in the colloquial English of this region, are still “running away.” When I was a kid to “run away” was a sign of cowardice; here it simply means survival - you run or you die.

The conflict, part political, part ethnic is, for us, very personal. We have many South Sudanese friends, and many here in the Gambella region of Ethiopia with roots (and family) in South Sudan. Almost every day we hear from our priests, staff members and parishioners that they have had a family member killed in South Sudan. Many, many tell me that they have not heard from family members - some reported to have fled, one reported to have been imprisoned. Soon after the fighting started it became clear that it was unsafe in Gambella for one of our priests. Michael was serving a Nuer congregation, although he is himself is a Dinka. We have had to send him and his brother-in-law (who is part of his extended family) to Addis Ababa for their safety, at least for now.

The Gambella region is surrounded on three sides (south, west and north) by South Sudan and Sudan. Some of the towns where we have churches near the border have been overrun with large numbers of people fleeing the fighting in South Sudan. The UNHCR and the World Food Program are working hard to meet people's needs, but there is always a delay, so people turn to the churches to help. For example, in Matar, where I went a couple of weeks ago with a truckload of food and other essentials, there were about 4,000 refugees waiting for their new camp to be built just outside another town called Nininyang. It is now ready and they are being moved there, but  more refugees are arriving daily. I am told the camp will have 17,000 people soon.

This past week I visited another new refugee camp, this one near the town of Dimma. The landscape was bleak - not much soil, just rocks and barren trees, devoid of any foliage in the heat and dust of dry season. I met on Saturday afternoon  (under a tree, not that that helped cool anyone off...) with leaders of the new Anglican Church in the camp. They are receiving adequate food and shelter from the UN and the WFP. They have tukals (huts) to sleep in, but no place for a community shelter for worship, or  other meetings (such as a place to teach their children - it will be some time before a school is set up). They also need clothes. They had to leave their homes in Sudan in a hurry and many literally had to flee with the clothes on their back. I had about $150 with me and spent it all in the Dimma market buying what clothes I could. More will be sent this week with Wilson, our priest from Dimma. Hopefully we can also get the church some shelter.

They asked me for bibles in various languages, to license their lay readers, and to baptize about 70 people. Their last request: they wanted me to name their church. Because Jesus, Mary and Joseph also had to “run away”, and were themselves refugees in Egypt, the new refugee church took the name, ‘Holy Family'. Interestingly, the people in Holy Family Anglican Church put their own twist on the name: they saw themselves as a holy family, a family transcending ethnicity, drawn together to worship the one God and Father because of what the Lord Jesus and his Holy Spirit have done for them.

On Monday morning I led worship at the camp. I was told that there were about 600 members but 800 turned up. We started at 7.30 am, so that we could worship in the coolest part of the day. We kept it really short (2 and a half hours) since we had a lot of baptisms. We also had the Eucharist which many had not had in a while. Amazingly, I caught a glimpse of the kingdom at this service -- although a large part of the fighting in South Sudan is ethnically-based violence, this church had made a decision. They would worship together in spite of ethnic and language differences - so we sang and prayed in Anuak, Nuer, Dinka and Murle (my ten minute sermon had to be translated into three of those languages which made it at least 45 minutes...). I was so grateful to be able to experience this inter-ethnic worship - kind of an 'in your face' to the devil, I think.

Arriving back in Gambella town I received news of more refugees arriving at already established camps in Sherkole and Pinyudu, and even more people being kept at the border in the Tiergol / Akobo region and in Lare. We have also housed a few refugees here in the Gambella Anglican Centre, as they transitioned to new areas.

I am very proud of our churches and our staff. We have worked hard in the last year and a half to see our ethnic diversity here as a strength of our church: Dinka, Nuer, Anuak, Opo, Mabaan, Jum-Jum (and now Murle) are in one church and pray and work together. In this new, rather tense, situation, our church members have supported and protected one another. “Ethnicity,” culture and language are not unimportant, but they are secondary to membership in Christ’s body. 

Some reports in the press characterize the South Sudan conflict as “tribal.” Two things are important here I think. First, the conflict is much more about political power than ethnicity, although obviously ethnicity comes into it and a conflict like this gives opportunity for old (even ancient) scores to be settled. In the present conflict, Dinkas have been fighting against Dinkas and Nuer against Nuer, as well as Nuer against Dinka (with a lot of other groups caught in the middle). Second, I believe we need to be sensitive to the derogatory overtones that words such as “tribalism” can convey. Our Canadian history of dispute between French and English, is one of many examples of ethnic tension in the West (think of the legacy of two World Wars, the Holocaust, Stalin-era Communism, Yugoslavia). Why are are our Western conflicts not called "tribal"? Is it because we think of ourselves as "civilized" and of others (Africans, for example) as "primitive"? Gandhi was once asked what he thought of "Western civilization"; he said he thought it would be a good idea.

I want to close this newsletter with a note of thanks. So many people have written to assure us of prayer. Mission agencies and churches have offered financial help. We are very grateful and we are doing what we can to use what is given wisely. Please pray for those who are still fighting, for those who are grieving losses, and for those who are ‘running away’.

Clothed with Inner beauty

~ Please Pray with us ~
For those caught in the crossfire in South Sudan
For those who have lost their homes
For those who have lost loved ones
For our churches  as they minister to new refugees
For wisdom in the use of funds given to help refugees
For the Mothers' Union teaching event Feb 5th &6th: "Nutrition: part 2"
For Johann & Louise Vanderbijl as they seek to raise funds to join us in our work in Gambella

Refugees at New Pinyadu before the newest influx from South Sudan

Showing off our new uniforms  (After School Sports Program)

Small, bright and beautiful


Thursday, January 9, 2014

Christmas 2013

“He is our peace” (Ephesians 2:14) 

As Christmas approaches, we are meeting the Prince of Peace in unexpected ways.
Three weeks ago, Anuak refugees, driven across the South Sudan / Ethiopia border by some Nuer cattle raiders, ended up in our congregation in Tiergol, where they were housed, fed and welcomed by - Nuer Christians! 

Last week, our Dinka priest (who was serving that Nuer congregation in Tiergol) was in Gambella town for our clergy training days when fighting broke out in South Sudan. Although the dispute in South Sudan is political, it also has ethnic overtones. It became dangerous for our priest to return to Tiergol - or to remain in Gambella town where Dinka men are being threatened. Surrounded by the love and support of his fellow Nuer(!) clergy - he has been given transport and enough money to spend a couple of months with a Nuer family in Addis. 

Also last week, it was with great joy that we watched as our Mothers’ Union representatives from Opo, surrounded by their sisters from other language groups sang a worship song, the whole group clapping and dancing, some joining in the singing despite language differences. And during the prayer practicum at the same Mothers’ Union gathering, it was a joy to see two translator / facilitators, whose people are traditional enemies, praying together.

This week, we’ve had two South Sudanese refugees staying on the compound, as they wait for papers which would allow them to travel to Addis Ababa. They had walked together through the night escaping fighting in a South Sudan border town and finally arriving at the Gambella Centre (which they were told would be the safest place). One was Nuer, one was Dinka.

Even as war looms, the Prince of Peace is present among His children here in Gambella. Peace, not as the world gives. Fighting evil, not as the world fights. Welcome, Lord Jesus. Welcome this Christmas.

                            Praying together

As Christmas approaches the events of the first Christmas seem to be echoed in life around us - Herods (more than one) slaughtering the innocents next door in South Sudan seems the most obvious example. 

But we’ve also had visits from wise men (and women) recently, these ones coming from the west. A group from the UK (including Grant’s predecessor Andrew Proud and his wife Janice), together with a group from the US (including Johann and Louise Vanderbijl, SAMS USA missionaries who we hope will join us permanently here in Gambella). Both groups brought great gifts (no frankincense and myrrh) as they taught the clergy and the Mothers’ Union, did some repairs around the compound (thanks Pat) and (very importantly) as they shared life with and learned from our African sisters and brothers.


Not surprisingly, Grant did not wear his glasses into the shower (this omission being rather a habit with him). So when he looked down and saw the little lizard enjoying the tiny shower space with him, it was, well, share and share alike, and he left the little guy to bask in the cool water. It was only later, glasses once again in use, that he realized his ‘lizard’ buddy was actually a large scorpion. Uncanny, unexpected protection - as usual! 

More Protection

It is the beginning of dry season. In Gambella, that also means that it is time to burn the grass and the bush that have grown during the rains. Last week it was time for the neighbours to set fire to the bush adjacent to our Centre. It quickly got out of control and threatened to set fire to our compound. Thankfully we had cleared a fire break next to our (fairly useless) wire fence, but this fire was big. Grant and one of our guards spent several hours making sure the fire didn’t destroy our gardens and buildings. The heat was intense and our little garden hose and hand tools weren’t much of a match for the flames, but “somehow” our property wasn’t damaged- can’t wait for a wall to keep out thieves, hyenas, feral dogs - and fire!

We are constantly aware that we have friends all over the world holding us in prayer. Thanks for that. Your love and prayers are certainly appreciated.

May the Peace of Jesus fill you all this Christmas season.

Grant & Wendy

*Nativity icon by Johann Vanderbijl

Sunday, November 24, 2013

What does Love Look Like?

What does love look like? This question has been quietly simmering in the back of my mind lately. It popped up as I lost my shoe to the grasping mud for the second time. I felt around for it with my foot, hoping to find it and nothing else in the muddy water. I was half supporting, half carrying our oldest worker to her home to recover from combined pneumonia and malaria. Although she is nearly 10 years younger than I am, she looks nearly 20 years older; my generations of good nutrition contrasting with her heritage of deprivation. 

“What does love look like?”, I wondered, stopping myself from running out to protect the precious 2 inches of rainwater left in our last rain barrel. I was watching the community children as they laughed and chatted while letting the water run unused. After all, they didn’t want to rush taking turns to wash their feet! This is sharing life with the poor. It is sharing in the lack of running water and understanding the lack of foresight to conserve it when the means of conserving water are so often unavailable, and even unimaginable.

What does love look like?I am struck by the sheer power of goodness shining through the midst of difficult circumstances. God is unfailingly good. And the challenge to look for, to see and to express His goodness in every aspect of life - surely this is what love looks like.

Horn of Africa Area Assembly:
The audience hushed as ‘Jesus’ walked in, resplendent in wig and re-purposed Mothers’ Union uniform. It was the 3rd bible study drama of the Area Assembly. This one, presented by the Opo, was bound to be good! In quiet solemnity, the crowd followed Jesus, holding wounded heads bound in cloth, walking with shortened and twisted limbs, and otherwise looking generally woe-begone. With quiet majesty, Jesus healed all.  As all sat down, one of the disciples approached the Lord, clearly explaining in Opo that the crowd needed to eat. A regal gesture from Jesus sent him back to the crowd, where 5 small loaves and 2 real fish were produced in hushed reverence. As Jesus lifted the basket high in mute thanksgiving, the plastic bag under the loaves and fish was ripped away, revealing the hidden bounty of bread rolls underneath. Electrifyingly, the crowd leapt to their feet, their cries of joy erupting from the absolute silence like a foretaste of resurrection! As one man, they dove in a free for all scrum, loaves of bread flying everywhere, mouths full of laughter and food - real joy... and really funny!

Area Assembly: 200 gathered for 2 days of business, worship and teaching. See attached “Bishop’s Charge”

Clergy and Lay vote at Area Assembly

Definitely NOT boring!  Just a couple of years ago, life was fairly predictable. Most days I could be found in my office, in front of my computer screen doing professorial preparation or in the classroom teaching. But now, a kaleidoscope of travel has kept life, well, let’s say ‘interesting’! 

South Sudan: Speaking at the retreat for students graduating from Bishop Gwynne College and then at the graduation itself combined joy (finally a chance to go to the college where Wendy and I were to have gone almost 30 years ago but were prevented by war), and frustration (preaching at Emmanuel Jieng Church, the wonderful worship interrupted by an hour long campaign speech by the country’s Vice President as he ‘greeted’ the people).

Addis: learning Amharic; jumping through residency permit hoops; filling in at our English congregation while the rector was away; leading and preaching at the Remembrance Day service organized by the British Embassy with 40 ambassadors and their ‘Military Attaches’; introducing a famous Baptist preacher at theSunday evening service at St Matthew’s. 
During one of our trips to Addis, a couple of terrorists blew themselves up while trying to assemble a bomb that they had intended to detonate at a large football match between Ethiopia and Nigeria. The devastation would have been horrific. The country is now on heightened alert. Nothing boring about life here.

Gambella: Life has been no less varied. Reports, repairs, preparation, Area Assembly (like a church ‘Convention’ or ‘Synod’ for the Episcopal Area of the Horn of Africa), and of course, interruptions - the stuff of ministry here. Wonderful visitors from the Mothers’ Union (one from London, one from Juba, one from Addis) to train local literacy facilitators in how to teach the women in our Gambella churches how to read their own language; great visit from St Matthew’s Church representatives to the Area Assembly. Much less helpful visit from a (now) former priest (deposed for neglect of duty, deception, violence and threatening behaviour among other things). Not much that is ‘routine’ here either.

I have often told people that nothing is mediocre in Africa - it is either spectacularly wonderful or truly awful.  I recently read the Old Testament story of the spies going to check out Canaan. Most of them (10 out of 12) came back with the report, “The people were like giants; we seemed like grasshoppers next to them.” A couple of days after reading the passage, I realized that I had caught a case of that exotic disease, ‘grasshopper syndrome’. I was having a tough time trusting that God would give the resources (material and spiritual) that are needed for this work. The ‘cares and occupations’ were taking a toll. I began to long for that 9-5 routine at the desk and in the classroom. A bit of boredom sounded kind of nice. A series of people and events have helped. Bishop Mouneer in Egypt has provided great wisdom; countless encouraging emails seem to arrive just when I need them; and (of course!) Wendy is always there to pray and support. God is good - I may be a grasshopper, but our God sure isn’t. 

Saturday, September 28, 2013

September 2013

Hope in practice

Rev Deng Mark Khor, installation Sept 8th

The beauty of the drive was only surpassed by the frustration of its ending. We had almost made it to Opo land. Nearly 400 people were waiting for us to come to be with them in this, the first time ever, that a believer had actually died since the Opo people, nearly all 3000 of them, had come to faith in Jesus Christ six years earlier. 
But there we were, blocked by the treacherous mud sinkholes hidden beneath the brown surface of the river. It was impassable by car. I stood in the rain, watching Grant, Isaac and Cherinet trying to sound out a passage through the river, astonished by the muted beauty of the water birds and lilies hiding the potential danger of crocodiles, snakes and mosquitos. “Let me go on”, begged Isaac, our Nuer priest - “it should only be a few hours walk now!” Actually, it turned out to be 7 hours of sliding through the sharp rocks hidden by the grasping mud. Isaac, cold, wet, and only 2 days into his course of medication for one of the many tropical diseases that are a part of life here, was able to connect heart to heart with these people, as he talked of the hope of those who had died in Christ, held the memorial service, and then sat under a tree all the next day and answered their many questions. We thank God for Isaac and for the beautiful Opo people.

On September 4th and 5th, we hosted 34 women representing 20 distinct Mothers’ Union groups functioning out of our 14 Mission Centres spread throughout the Gambella region. It was wonderful to see how intently the women listened to the introductory story dealing with issues of how we learn and how we can work together to help take care of problems in the community. And it was a delight to see how much they enjoyed using pictures and story-telling as they later practiced teaching this to one another! They had lots of fun looking through magnifying glasses and binoculars in the session on how we are able to see things that contaminate water, and they were amazed (and quite horrified!) at the pictures of microorganisms shown to them on my computer!

Our practice sessions on solar water purification, water filter construction, clean water dispensers and dish drying racks were full of laughter, good questions and good discussion. When each of the representatives left to return to their Mission Centres, they carried the materials to make their own clean water dispensers, carrying these simple, inexpensive and locally available items as if they were carrying costly treasure.
These ‘water dispensers’ that our representatives will make during their own community demonstration/teaching sessions will replace the common open (and never washed) communal pot of water (which is usually kept inside the mud-walled, thatched roof church office, in the dark), and into which one unwashed cup is passed from one coughing adult to one feverish child, to another with diarrhea, etc.

Our pre-project survey showed a horrifying average of 2 to 4 surviving children per an average of 9 to 11 children born into the family, most dying under age 5 from communicable disease and malaria. Some were moved to tears to think that what they are learning may save the lives of their precious children. To think that the occurrence and re-occurrence of diarrhea is something that can be taken care of and prevented was a new concept to many. To communicate these important truths in a way that is fun, non-judgmental and memorable is one of the main goals of the program. Our Mothers’ Union representatives will return to teach what they have learned by holding a teaching day for all of our 1500 Mothers’ Union members at the Mission Centres, and then by holding a second teaching day at our 70 local churches where each Mothers’ Union member is encouraged to invite and teach at least one community guest. We’ve gotten off to a great start!

Please pray with us for Sarah Nyamuouch Kuel, daughter of our priest Peter Kuel. She was crouching down to avoid the gun fire from the cattle raiders who were attacking her village, when her life was changed in an instant by a bullet shattering her right femur. This was last December. Finally, we have the connections in place to have a surgical correction of an 9 cm loss in bone height (it would end up being about a 12-13 cm difference by the time her growth spurt ended). The marked rotational deformity and likely complete loss of nerve function to the quadriceps will make the surgical correction very complex and also a very long process. Thankfully, the Canadian orthopedic surgeon who has offered to provide this care at the lowest possible fee, is working hard with us to make Sarah's recovery a reality. Please look to God with us for His provision for this little girl. 

Please pray for connections to cardiac care for little Kwess, the 4 year old son of Ariet, one of our staff at the Gambella Anglican Centre. He is the size of a two year old. Suffering from a congenital heart problem, he has great difficulty breathing when he eats, and suffers from incessant recurrent respiratory infections. This type of heart defect is only correctable by surgery - an impossible dream right now for Ariet, who would have to give at least 10 year's salary for this procedure. Our priest, Michael Lual, also has a beautiful little girl, 6 years old, needing this same care. 

Bishop’s Schedule during the Aug/Sept, the later half of Ethiopian rainy season (appropriately named “Krempt”) 
On the (12+48)th day of Krempt, the schedule summary:
12 Preachers Preaching: GAC*-Aug, Sept: training days for 16 clergy (*GAC = Gambella Anglican Centre)
11 Lay Readers Reading: GAC-Aug 27-30: Lay Readers Training -  90 present
10 Drummers Drumming: GAC-Aug 30-Sept 4: Making of new drums for Anuak congregations 
9 Ladies Learning: GAC-Sept 4-5: Mothers’ Union Community Education&Development training
8 Meetings metedAddis-Aug 10, 12-13: S* Believers; Aug 13: Area committee mtg
7 Bibles bringing200 Nuer bibles purchased, to be brought from South Sudan
6 Groups a-gatheringPre-Project community survey & community visitation by Mothers Union Coordinators & GAC staff throughout Gambella region
5 Other things: Isaac Pur & David Anuk appointed to translate Gospel of Mark from Nuer to Opo; Addis-Sept 12- 27: Amharic language school; Aug 4 & 22: church visitations Bonga & Ilea; Sept 15,22,29: Services St Matthew’s Church; Sept 12-28: Addis - mountain (of red tape) climbing.
4 Confirmands: GAC- Sept 1: St Barnabas Church 20-30 confirmations & baptisms
3 OrdinandsPilwal: Peter Gak (priesthood), Peter Tot (deaconate); Gambella: Darash Thatha (priesthood)
2 Installations: Gambella - Sept 8: Rev Deng Mark & Deacon Peter Tot installed St Luke’s
And a Party apparen-t-ly Addis: Sept 27-28 Meskel - celebration of the finding of the true cross, marking the completion of one full year of service in our amazing Ethiopia!
                                            Mothers' Union Community
Education and Development
Program: Training session 1
Achum Chum
Mothers' Union Representative, Dimma
Practice Teaching sessions 
Small Group session