Monday, August 22, 2016

Gambella Moments

Peter’s Story:
“I came to Jesus through a dream,” Peter said. I leaned forward to listen, thankful for the privilege of hearing the life stories of those who had come to our Discernment Conference. Peter Ojulu is a lay pastor from Akobo, seeking to discern a call to ordained ministry.This is his story:
“Someone came to me in a dream, and told me to go to church,” he said. “I woke up. It was Sunday morning. I went to church and found that they were having a conference. At the conference they read Matthew 11:28, “Come to me all who labour and are heavy-laden and I will give you rest.”  I felt like God was talking to me. The words entered into my heart like dew. I decided to follow Jesus. Later I had another dream. In my dream, I saw God giving me medicine. When I decided to follow Jesus, I gave up going to witch doctors. For eight years I had been going to witch doctors, trying to get help for the pain in my legs [knees]. Nothing had helped. After my dream, the pain stopped. Not all at once, but slowly by slowly.”

Discernment Conference Gambella, June 30th-July 2nd

Here’s another story I heard that week, not from a perspective ordinand, but from one of those interviewing:
“We were having an amazing time of healing prayer during the service. All of a sudden a scream tore through the worship. The depth and the agony was unlike anything I had heard before. It seemed to come from something deeper than the woman herself. She went completely rigid and still. I went over thinking, ‘I’d better pray for deliverance.’ On my way, to my surprise, these words came to mind with quiet clarity, ‘This is the cry of the ancestor’s blood.’ Since the beginning of the ethnic violence in Gambella we had been teaching from the book of Hebrews, “The blood of Jesus speaks a louder word than the blood of Abel.” [Hebrews 12:24]  In a culture where blood and honour cry out for revenge, there is a better word. The cry of anguish and pain that once gave rise to a cry for revenge, was now taken up into the compassion and forgiving love of a Saviour. So as I went up to the woman, I just quietly prayed that the blood of Jesus would cover her and bless her. Peace came. Later in the service I saw her dancing. Her face was radiant.”

This past Sunday [August 14th] we set out for the village of Abari. With Darash, our Anuak priest and Regional Dean, we were going to visit the first church of the Mezhenger people, planted by the Anuak congregation of Abobo.  The road presented us with a few challenges. About half way there, we were challenged by a young male lion who stood determinedly in the middle of the road. He was not going to yield his territory! We stopped to take a photo while he stood there in majestic defiance. It was only as we restarted the car, as the engine roared back to life, and we began to move towards him, that he must have decided that discretion was the better part of valour, and loped away ahead of us until disappearing into the impenetrable grass growing alongside the road.

I think the lion thought our car roared at him when we restarted our engines

Here and there baboons sauntered lazily off the road, birds flashed by - scarlet, blue, yellow, glossy black. We drove by a couple of crowned cranes, their crowns glinting golden in the sun. It was a very African drive. The road grew narrower and narrower. Finally we were snaking along in the mud, brushing through eight foot high elephant grass on either side of us, the raindrops on the grass glistening in the early morning sun, until it was as if we were driving through some sort of eco car wash.

Eventually, the mud got the better of us, and the car, sinking down to its axels, became stuck fast. When efforts at digging us out seemed to fail, we decided to continue on foot. After all, the church ‘was only five minutes away’. Of course, it was an Anuak five minutes. Walking along, enjoying the wild beauty of our surroundings, I began to feel very African. Half an hour later, we came upon the incongruous sight of a cell tower. Undaunted, I continued on in my African safari mode, senses stretched out and attuned to the sights and sounds of what now seemed a sun-drenched  jungle. Ahead, Darash  stopped. “The vehicle is coming!” he said. He had heard it. Alas, my finely-tuned senses not withstanding, I didn’t hear a thing. Apparently my hearing was not as African as I had fondly imagined.  Muddy but triumphant, our car pulled up, and once back inside, we drove the rest of the (let’s face it, a lot more than) five minute journey to the Mezhenger church. 

Mezhenger church and home-made pulpit

Quickly learning the Mezhenger greeting, “Digoya bongeh!” we greeted the people. Malchias, our Mezhenger lay pastor, took out a lute-like stringed instrument, and, and for the first time, we joined the Mezhenger in worship.  Their beautiful lilting melodies, sung in the African five tone scale, were truly delightful. They were just as delighted at the deeper, more rhythmic Anuak hymns sung by Darash and Omot (the lay pastor of Abobo who had joined us on the way).

Mezhenger Worship

After a simple service, we drove back through swirling clouds of butterflies and stopped and briefly joined in the worship at the Anuak church of Tiersiru, one of the satellite churches of the Abobo Mission Centre. There is was Grant’s privilege to give the church a name, “St Mark’s Anglican Church” of Tiersiru.  After questioning the St Frumentius’ students about the apostle Mark during their examinations for the African Early Church History intensive, St Mark seemed an appropriate name!

Our final stop of the morning was in Abobo town, and there a lunch of freshly caught nile perch, roasted over charcoal, awaited us, lovingly prepared by Awilli, one of our Mothers’ Union leaders, together with the women of Bethlehem Church, Abobo. It was a good morning!

                                                                                   First day in Addis.

We are delighted to welcome theologians Chris and Suzy Wilson as our newest faculty members of St Frumentius’ ATC, together with their children Abigail and Matthew. Please join us in praying for God’s blessing on their settling into life in Gambella.

 ~ Please Pray with us ~

Please pray for the first year and second year students of St Frumentius' Anglican Theological College.

Please pray for Johann Vanderbijl, our beloved dean, and for Louise, our librarian.

Please pray for continuing peace and unity among the peoples of the Gambella region.

Please  pray for peace and unity among the Amhara, Oroma and Tigray peoples of Ethiopia.

Thank you to all who responded to the needs generated by the recent crisis of ethnic violence in Gambella. Those who wish to contribute to these ongoing needs, please see donate now link above.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Journey to Peace

“I had a dream,” she explained. The lovely Anuak woman stood before UN officials asking for permission to go to the Nuer in Pinyudu Refugee Camp. Denied permission, she went home and that night dreamt again, dreaming that God told her to go and speak peace to the Nuer. The next day she was not to be denied by any human force and, once in the camp, made her way to one of our 12 Nuer Anglican churches. There she was warmly welcomed. She is one of a growing number in Gambella who are saying, “In God’s eyes, we are all brothers and sisters.” In the aftermath of ethnic violence, peace between Nuer, Anuak and Highlanders is a journey of courage and obedience. 
Early in the morning of April 15th, Murle cattle raiders from South Sudan crossed into the Gambella region of Ethiopia. They killed over 200 people, mostly the mothers of young children, and abducted between 100 to 150 children as well as a few young women and thousands of cattle. Cooperation between the Ethiopian army, the South Sudanese government and a Murle chief of South Sudan has been responsible for the recovery of many of these children. Our Mothers’ Union Coordinator, Sarah Nyabuony is now part of the team in Gambella living with and caring for the rescued children. To date, more than 70 children have been found and returned, staying first in Gambella’s Presidential guest house before being returned to extended family and neighbors in the surrounding villages.
“Slowly by slowly” peace is returning. Our ‘town’ priests Darash (Anuak) and Peter (Nuer) together went to the Gambella Hospital to visit the victims of Murle violence. In response to a government request for donations for the victims, Darash and Peter brought some money to give away. They also brought prayer. Most just wanted the prayer. 
Some weeks ago a group of young Nuer high school students were walking from Pinyudu to Gambella to write their high school exams (buses were not running because of the violence). They were  beaten and waylaid by a group of highlanders. A week later  another group of young Nuer walking to write exams in Gambella town experienced a different reception. They were welcomed part way through their journey by some Anuak in Abobo town who fed them, gave them something to drink and saw them safely on their way. 
When the violence began in Gambella town, it was some highlanders who were the ones to offer shelter and help. Wilson, one of our Anuak priests, while running to find and rescue his family, himself ran into danger and was taken into safety by highlanders. Like shafts of sunlight breaking through the clouds, we are seeing acts of kindness bring light and warmth to the relationships in this area.
Witnessing the reunion of our Anuak and Nuer staff and clergy at the Gambella Anglican Centre brought us a joy that was almost painful. Yesterday, our 3 Mothers’ Union coordinators Achua, Sarah and Sarah together with facilitators Isaac and Darash, met on our compound for the first time since January. Their eyes were bright with joy and with tears. For two weeks our Nuer staff have been driven through Anuak territory to bring them to work. Now a couple of them have dared to walk here on their own. “Slowly by slowly” hope is growing.
Our churches have begun the process of assessing and responding to the needs of those affected by the recent violence. The first load of donated clothes has been brought to Lare where many of the victims of the Murle raid are located. Throughout the whole Gambella region, our clergy and lay readers have been collecting the names of those whose houses were burned or looted. Help is now being channeled to those most in need, especially to those in need of food and clothing. Thank you to all those whose prayers and contributions to our Samaritan Fund have made it possible to bless those so desperately in need of hope and restoration.
Peace in Gambella is a journey undergirded by prayer. Even in the midst of all the turmoil, we continue to see the growth of new congregations. This week I learned of a new Mabaan church in Tongo as well as a new church in Jewi Refugee camp. Darash, our Anuak Regional Dean, recently baptized 153 people in Dimma. There he learned that there are Murle who are asking to become Anglicans! 
We thank God for the peoples of the Gambella Region whose rich ethnic diversity will one day be a part of the ‘treasures brought by the nations’ to the New Jerusalem.  (Rev. 21:24; NAB)
Woman of Peace

~ Please Pray with us ~

Peace in the Gambella People's Region remains fragile. Please pray for the witness of forgiveness, respect and compassion to continue to grow in our churches and communities.

Please pray for our ordination discernment conference to be held June 30th

Please pray for the selection of our new incoming class for St Frumentius' Anglican Theological College, and for God's blessings on our 2nd year students

Please pray for Johann and Louise Van der Bijl. Johann is dean of St Frumentius' Anglican Theological College.

We give thanks for Karen Salmon, our wonderful professor of biblical studies who is leaving us to pursue ordination in the Anglican Church of Ireland.

Please pray for Chris and Suzie Wilson who will be joining us as new faculty for St Frumentius Anglican Theological College in September.

Please pray for Jeremiah Maet Paul, our Nuer professor of African Traditional Religion and Islamic studies.

We give thanks for the completion of 2 new faculty houses, the completion of the St Frumentius chapel, and the ongoing work of construction including the building of a new classroom and the completion of the security wall

Please pray for "good rain" and a cessation of the flooding now occurring in the beginning of rainy season

Clothes on their way to Lar

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

More Sorrow

As I drove through the town of Itang, little seemed amiss. Luke, our deacon in this area, asked me to stop. “We can walk from here,” he said. As I got out of the vehicle the smell of burnt wood struck me. A hundred feet or so past where we parked we came around a corner - nothing but charred wood and ashes - more than 200 homes gone in one night. Our Anglican church was still standing - perhaps the attackers here had a sense of the fear of God that led them to spare that one building. If only they knew that the people they attacked were made in God’s image and more precious to Him than any building.

2016 has been a difficult year for Gambella - and it is only April.

The refugee crisis

Two years of civil war in South Sudan has brought 300,000 refugees into Gambella, roughly doubling the population of the region. The increased population has resulted in many stresses on the resources of an already fragile social system. Water, electricity, internet service have all been in short supply. Although Gambella is not densely populated, access to arable land and to river water for the needs of agriculture, animals and humans is becoming more and more contested. 

The Anuak-Nuer conflict

Perhaps the most important challenge, however, has been the change in the ethnic make up of the region. The Anuak, for generations the majority people group in Gambella, are now vastly outnumbered due to the influx of refugees fleeing the conflict in neighbouring South Sudan, almost all of whom are Nuer. Tension resulting from different views and uses of land has once more sparked conflict. The Anuak, as well as hunting and fishing, are more settled in the land, planting crops and having a sense of ownership of the land they till. The Nuer, are traditionally nomadic cattle herders who drive their cattle through all land; the land that they believe belongs to God and is therefore free for their use. 

At the end of January this tension became violent. The details of the fighting are vague and under-reported, but the short version is that a few dozen people were killed, many injured, and hundreds of homes burned and looted. Some of the Nuer and Anuak youth actually looted the villages of their own people who fled from fear of violence. The town and region are still filled with anxiety two months later. Nuer cannot safely travel into Anuak areas and Anuak are afraid to enter Nuer enclaves. The Federal Police and Army are seeking to keep order, but violence has flared up in several places.

Our church life has been deeply affected. Our theological students (five Nuer and five Anuak) must have classes in separate places for now. Travel to some places is too dangerous and many people are stranded away from home and are being cared for by church members and family. Some are running out of food or the ability to purchase more.

If these troubles weren’t devastating enough, bad turned to worse in mid-April.

The Murle attacks

Early on the morning of April 15th, large, heavily armed groups of Murle people crossed into Ethiopia from South Sudan. The Murle have had a long history of raiding the cattle of neighbouring ethnic groups, killing any who stand in their way (or happen to be in the wrong place) and kidnapping children who are then assimilated into their people. The reports were truly horrific. Young Murle men with automatic weapons killing indiscriminately in the areas of Lare, Jikwao and Nininyang - all places where we have Anglican churches.  The first reports said 140 Nuer people, mostly women and children, were dead. The death toll went up steadily - 160, 182. It is now being reported that 208 have died, at least 82 treated for bullet wounds in the Gambella hospital (others have been moved to hospitals in Metu and Jimma), as many as 108 women and children have been abducted. 

David Yao Yao, a former Murle politician turned cattle rider has denied responsibility. He did claim (truly enough) that the war in South Sudan (mostly between Dinka and Nuer, although this is an over-simplification) has so destabilized the eastern regions of South Sudan that the area is virtually lawless. It seems that it was only a matter of time before the chaos ensued. The Ethiopian government and the South Sudan government have said they will work together to track down the perpetrators of this brutality and rescue those abducted. We will see. The Prime Minister of Ethiopia declared two days of mourning.

The only good news is that the rains have started - it is harder to raid cattle in the rain, so this event might not be repeated (this year).

These overlapping tragedies of civil war and the massive influx of refugees, the ethnic violence over land between the Anuak and Nuer, and now these appalling Murle raids have left our people feeling raw and fearful.

Jewi camp 

Just a couple of days after the Murle attacks, a truck owned by an NGO and driven by a “highlander” drove into Jewi Refugee camp just a few miles outside of Gambella town. ‘Highlander’ is the name given to non-Gambellan Ethiopians - Amharas, Tigrayans, Oromos and others - who are lighter skinned and quite different culturally from those groups native to Gambella. The truck struck and killed two Nuer children. Enraged refugees, no doubt already tense and on edge, responded with vengeance killing at least nine (perhaps more, reports are conflicting) highlanders. Vengeance leads to vengeance. Highlanders in Gambella began a march to the camp to kill Nuer. A highlander mob tried to attack Newlands, the Nuer part of Gambella town. Many were praying. Thankfully, perhaps miraculously, highlander retaliation was turned back by the Ethiopian (highlander) army. Although cars were burned in the centre of town, blocking the roads, and gunfire was heard sporadically throughout the day (warning shots thankfully), fewer casualties than expected were reported. As of April 25th, Gambella remains in simmering, tangible fear and anger.

The Anglican situation

Information has been hard to obtain from the villages and refugee camps. The internet has functioned only part of the time. Quite a number of relatives of our church members were killed during the Anuak-Nuer clashes. Many members were looted or had their houses burned. We have so far learned that, during the Murle raids, three members of our Anglican congregation in Kowkow (near Lare) were killed and 1 child abducted. The sister of one of our clergy was also killed in another village and her child abducted. I have little doubt that we will hear similar details from other villages. Pray for our clergy and lay readers seeking to bring comfort to those who mourn and practical aid to many in need.

Thanks for asking

Many have been asking us, how they can help respond to the suffering in Gambella, and the needs of those who have lost loved ones, whose houses have been burned or looted, who need food, clothing and shelter. As one of our people told us, “There are many who are very suffering”. Some have been directly hit, others have been stranded without means for food, unable to return to their home area. The simplest and quickest way to help would be through a donation to our ‘Samaritan Fund’. See below for donation links, but please specify that the gift is to be given to “Ethiopia - Samaritan Fund”.

For those wishing to make a contribution in response to this crisis, please click on this link for "The Friends of the Anglican D
iocese of Egypt":

Funds can be donated online or by cheque. Please specify:
Ethiopia - Samaritan Fund.

We are very suffering here

There is a wonderful
African saying,
"I am because We are".
Identity is known in relationship;
in belonging
to your community.
This can be unfortunate
in places that
have a tradition
in which
baby boys
are blood covenanted
at birth
to the revenge

of their grandfather's enemies.
Grief in Gambella

The revenge of family
and community
can be a part of identity.
It is very hard,
especially for a young man,
to say,
"No. I will not join in the fighting".
Now our churches have a saying,
"One Lord, one family, one blood".
The blood of Jesus
speaks a stronger word,
than the blood of Abel;
the blood that cries out for revenge. 

Heb 12:25


 ~ Please Pray with us ~

 Please pray for Peace in Gambella and in South Sudan

Pray for a functioning government in the eastern regions of South Sudan. 

Pray for evangelists to reach out to the Murle people so that their society can be transformed by the saving and healing love of Christ.

Pray for comfort for those who mourn and for wisdom for those bringing comfort.

Pray for an end to the culture of vengeance.


Sarah Kuel,
whose life was changed a few years ago.
A stray bullet from Merle cattle raiders
hit her leg,
crippling her until,
through the Samaritan fund,
and through volunteer pro bono surgery,
she was able once again,
to live the life of a normal young girl,
walking and running without assistance.


Children from Ninninyang,
one of the villages
recently raided by the Merle.
This photo was taken
a few years before the current crisis. 



Wednesday, February 10, 2016

 War...and Rumours of War

   Jesus, the Prince of Peace

The phone rang. I looked at it apprehensively. The screen read, “Peter from Tongo.” 
“Are you fine?”, Peter asked. 
“Yes, we are fine,” I answered.
“You are all fine?” He sounded surprised. “There is war in Gambella!”
“Yes, it is difficult in Gambella now. Pray for us….”
War? Maybe. And much worse - rumours of war.
“The tongue is a small thing, yet, …how great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire!” (James 3:5)
At first the chatter was impersonal: “A bomb was thrown.” “This one was killed.” Then it became personal. “My brother was killed.” “My uncle.” “My nephew.” “My wife’s mother.” Always the ‘other’ group the aggressor, and ‘our’ group the only victims mentioned. Incendiary rumours taken as fact, whipping up emotions and anger. Hardening hearts and faces.
I’ll let Grant describe the situation.

From Visitors to Violence

January has been hectic. It was a joy to welcome visitors here in the Gambella Centre from Pittsburgh, South Carolina, Toronto, Ireland, and from Addis Ababa. Some taught, some painted, some did carpentry, some catalogued books in the library, some preached in our churches, or taught groups of clergy and lay readers, Others taught Sunday School teachers in several different locations. All were a joy to work with, and all contributed to the life of the church here. 
But as the last guests were leaving, life in Gambella began to unravel. 

It started as a dispute between two local Gambella officials. Well, apparently that’s how it started. Accurate ‘news’ is hard to come by here at the moment. Innuendo and rumour substitute for anything close to ‘fact’ or ‘reality.’ In any event, the two officials were from differing ethnic groups. The Anuak and the Nuer have always lived in a very uneasy tension in Gambella, tension which can flare up quickly.

The two officials and/or their representatives had guns. Guns were fired and at least one person was injured. In apparent retaliation, a pregnant women from the other group was beaten. Two days later she and her unborn child died of their injuries. Then came the explosion - literally. At a local college someone let off a bomb. Rumours as to the nature of the explosion include that it was a grenade, a landmine, or some more improvised device. Students from one group began throwing rocks at students of the other group. Police came and began firing in the air, or perhaps lower ... panic set in all over Gambella town and other towns in the region. Everyone's cell phone was buzzing with so-called information, or at least with hearsay about what had happened to ‘their people’. 

My clergy began phoning me and texting me. Much of the ‘news’ was inaccurate, although it was clear that death and injury on both sides was mounting up. Some accurate reporting was mixed in with the speculation. Our theological students, both Nuer and Anuak, lost family members. On the night of Jan 29th much shooting was heard from the centre of town. Worries were that there was a gun battle in the streets. It seems now that the suddenly over-crowded prison experienced a mass jail break.  A woman who cooks for groups on our compound lost a nephew in that violence. Doubtless we will learn of more deaths in the coming days. No one knows the number of casualties from this whole event. Or, if they do, they aren’t telling. Twenty seems to be the best guess.

On Jan. 30th, the Gambella Centre, received an unexpected influx of local ‘refugees.’ About 70 women and children from the small community nearby our compound suddenly walked through the gate. I’ll let Wendy describe their visit.

As they entered our compound, they reminded me of of the lines of refugees we saw heading into Akule refugee camp two years ago: women with their meager belongings on the heads, little babies in their arms, and children, silent, stoney faced, walking alongside. One difference - razor sharp spears and deadly pangas (machetes) were carried by a few of them, mostly boys, 8 or 9 years old. They had heard that 'people were coming to kill them', and they fled to us for refuge.

"What can we do?", I wondered. "We have no stores of food and no means of defending them." Inwardly I stepped back into Peace, and greeted each with a smile. I looked into the dull eyes and hardened faces. The sun beat down. “Water,” I thought. “Give each a cup of water.” As I gave each a cup of water, I looked into their eyes. It was the children who softened first. Slowly, shy smiles answered mine. Eyes began to brighten. It was lunch time. “They must be hungry,” I thought. I remembered yesterday, when the lunch prepared for 10 people stretched to amply feed almost 30. I had bread and ‘Injera’ enough for ten. But what was that with such a crowd? “Test Me in this,” the thought seemed to come. Grant went to get some peanut butter crackers left by our visiting team from South Carolina. Everyone had at least 4 or 5 pieces of the bread, injera and crackers ("biscotti"). Some of our Anuak students were with us. They and Grant led us in prayer. Johann, who had been driving various ones to safety, reported that the roads were empty of invaders. Federal troops lined the now too-quiet streets. Our neighbors relaxed, and leaving their precious bundles of possession temporarily in our care they left for home, with thanks and with blessings on their lips. 

Grant again:
After convincing our ‘visitors’ to sit and give up their weapons we heard their worries. They had been informed that the other ethnic group were coming to kill them. We made some calls and ascertained that there was no hostile group on the way. We gave them water and whatever we could find to feed them - and most importantly we prayed with them - and after a few hours they relaxed and began to head back to their homes. I was grateful that they decided that our compound was the safest place to be in a crisis - even though our dilapidated barbed wire fence wouldn’t really keep anyone out (a cow walked through one section a couple of days ago!).
The army has moved in to restore order - we pray that the soldiers may not over-react and may act wisely in a chaotic situation. Their task will not be easy. It is clear that the town is over-crowded. Shortages of power, water and many other things have left people on edge for months now. One group blames another for the problems.

We don’t know the future for the Gambella region. At the moment hatred, anger, grief and fear are ruling the hearts and minds of many; in the short term, instability, insecurity, and suspicion may remain for some time. Our prayer is that our churches and our pastors will be calm, will preach forgiveness, will welcome and advocate for people whose language and culture is other than their own.
(Ps 112: 1,7)  “Blessed is the man who fears the Lord…he is not afraid of bad news; his heart is firm, trusting in the Lord.”
I’ll let Wendy finish:
Last night Cham, our cook for visiting teams, came to us. “Many are wounded now,” she said. My nephew was killed last night, and I am afraid. Can my daughters and I come and sleep in the kitchen?

The Gambella Anglican Center has become a place of refuge and prayer. Please join us in praying for these dear people, caught in a long legacy of suffering and revenge. We, the ‘Ferenge/Engelize/Kawaja’, now each have a bag packed and ready. We do not want to leave.

Amazing prayers at each of our Gambella churches this morning. On both sides of the conflict, there were gracious prayers for each other. Prayers affirming the worth of all people. “Let the hatred end with this generation.”

As of February 5, 2016

Many troops remain in the town and fear is still evident. Nuer and Anuak are not crossing into each others’ parts of town. Our theological college is running classes in two separate places. But life is slowly getting back to normal. Buses have started running, banks and shops are open again. Thank you all for your continued prayers.
+ Grant

         Pray for the children

~ Please Pray with us ~

~ For peace, for unity, and for the grace of forgiveness to be known in Gambella

~ For the students and faculty of the St Frumentius' Anglican Theological College. We are now holding classes in 2 different locations  - one for Nuer and one for Anuak. Pray that we may again be united in one place, bearing witness to “One Lord, one faith, one blood.”
St Frumentius students with Grant and faculty member Jeremiah Maet, taken the day before the trouble began.

~ Pray for our wisdom and discernment regarding the safety and well-being of our staff and faculty. 
~ Pray for our Mothers’ Union as we plan and prepare for the next phase of their teaching and ministry  under entirely indigenous leadership 

"Mosquito" used in our Mothers' Union teaching on Malaria, during the dramatic presentation of "Helping Each Other when Little Things cause Big Problems"

~ Pray our congregations as they reach out to the communities of the wider Gambella Peoples Region, for peace and unity

Monday, November 30, 2015

We Remember...

Beloved Ojullu Obilla, died Oct 26, 2015, age 39 yrs. We join with his family and friends in grief and in hope. Ojullu had provided for this dear young woman since the death of her own family. “Who will care for me now?”, she sobbed.
Ojullu was to have been ordained deacon this week at the dedication of St Frumentius Anglican Theological College by Archbishop Mouneer Anis.

Remembrance 2015: World War III?

Every year I have to preach about war. For the last four years I have been invited by the British Ambassador to Ethiopia to lead Remembrance Day / Veteran’s Day services in Addis Ababa and in other cities around the Horn of Africa. November 11th is remembered as the day on which the guns fell silent at the end of World War I. The sacrifice of those who gave their lives in both World Wars is remembered on this date since that time. 

This November 11th a small service was held in a gravelly cemetery near the airport in Djibouti City. Most in attendance were diplomats (British, American, French, Italian, German, Japanese - former enemies now allies) and military personnel from the large foreign bases in this ‘strategic’ little country adjacent to the very nearly ungoverned and ungovernable countries of Somalia and Yemen. The bodies of almost a dozen Allied airmen lie in this graveyard - some shot down over Djibouti (then French Somalia) by Vichy French gunmen.

After the service, it was my conversations with the French diplomats that were the most poignant. One told me that French Remembrance ceremonies are solemn, but entirely secular - no prayers, no hymns, no acknowledgement of God whatsoever. He was intrigued and found our Christian version moving. Both the French diplomats at the event remarked about a question that I asked in my sermon - "while we remember the events of two World Wars past, were we actually, now, in the midst of another World War?" Obviously the ‘war’ against global terrorism is a different kind of war: more diffuse; agonizingly unpredictable. But it is a war, and it is a ‘world’ war. Who knew, that two days later, the French themselves would become the latest victims of terror?

In all this, the Psalm we read at the service points to a reality that stands in stark contrast to human attack and counter attack: “He makes wars to cease to the end of the earth; He breaks the bow and shatters the spear; He burns the chariots with fire.” (Psalm 46:9).  This is not a call to quietism, to inaction - it is a call to lift our hearts and look to a better Ally - One Who loves the whole world.
Two days later I was back in Gambella. No longer hobnobbing with diplomats and their ‘Military Attaches’, I am back with victims of war, with refugees who have fled a senseless power struggle in South Sudan. Once the internet was up and running I read the headlines: “Paris Attacks”; “Scores Dead and Injured in Multiple Bombings in the French Capital”; “French Borders Closed after Coordinated Terror Attacks.” Paris has become the latest battlefield of WWIII. How long, O Lord, will evil reign? When will the bow be broken and the chariot burned in the fire?

My diplomatic friend at the Djibouti service was struck by the message of Christian hope; by the message that God has not only promised to make a final end of all sin, evil and death, but that He has even come down to share the groaning of His creation.  
In Djibouti our service concluded with a poem written by the Rev. Edward Shillito. As he watched young men return wounded from the First World War, he wrestled with the question, ‘“How could he preach ‘good news’ in the midst of such devastation?” His poem, “Jesus of the Scars”, proclaims that only a God willing to suffer with his creatures could even begin to provide an answer:

    If we have never sought, we seek Thee now;
    Thine eyes burn through the dark, our only stars;
    We must have sight of thorn-pricks on Thy brow;
    We must have Thee, O Jesus of the Scars.
    The heavens frighten us; they are too calm;
    In all the universe we have no place.
    Our wounds are hurting us; where is the balm?
    Lord Jesus, by Thy Scars, we claim Thy grace.
    If, when the doors are shut, Thou drawest near,
    Only reveal those hands, that side of Thine;
    We know to-day what wounds are, have no fear,
    Show us Thy Scars, we know the countersign.
    The other gods were strong; but Thou wast weak;
    They rode, but Thou didst stumble to a throne;
    But to our wounds only God’s wounds can speak;
    And not a god has wounds, but Thou alone.

In Gambella, in Paris, in Baghdad, in Mosel, in South Sudan the wounds of humanity continue to cry out. Only the message of Christ crucified and risen can speak to that cry. 


And We Rejoice...

~ with little Wecca, recovering well from open heart surgery. This little 6 year old would most certainly have died without surgery. As part of our fund-raising for this operation, we sold hand-made Ethiopian crosses. As I handed one of these crosses to a little boy in Montreal, I told him that this money was going to save a little boy’s life. His eyes grew big and solemn. “I want to buy another cross”’ he said. 
Thank you to all who contribute to our Samaritan fund.

~ With Jeremiah Maet Paul and his wife Elizabeth on the birth of their son, Kahn, November 14, 2015 Jeremiah is professor of African Traditional Religion at the St Frumentius Anglican Theological College.

~ At the upcoming visit of Archbishop Mouneer Anisfor the dedication of St Frumentius Anglican Theological College to be held November 24, 2015


Mothers' Union celebrate the dedication of Holy Bible Anglican Church at Jewi Refugee Camp, Oct 25,2015


~ Please Pray with us ~
A little member of Holy Bible Anglican Church, Jewi Refugee Camp

~with thanksgiving for the 200 recently confirmed in Pinyadu Refugee Camp

~ for Peace between Nuer and Anuak in the Akobo region of South Sudan

~ For Grant and Wendy as they approach a particularly busy period of travel and teaching

~ For the victims of terror in Paris, Beirut, Mali, Somalia, Nigeria and elsewhere throughout the world

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Shaped by Our Stories...   Transformed by His Love

A little girl shares with her brother

Gatluak spoke softly, his demeanor peaceful. “My mother died when I was 2 years old, and my father had another wife.” “Did the other wife raise you and care for you?” I asked. “No! She refused me. She did not cook for me. I spent my time with the cattle so I had milk to drink. My older brother was the one who cared for me. He became a pastor. So did my uncle. When I was 12 years old, I fell very sick, and was close to death. I received healing prayer. I felt the Presence of God. Something told me that I was loved, and that I would not die.”

Stephen was matter of fact. “My parents died when I was a small boy. I do not remember their faces. My uncle took me to be his son. My aunt and uncle had only one child of their own; a daughter. One day, my uncle called the community together. He wanted to make an offering to the local ‘small god’. He gave four bulls. But the evening that the four bulls were sacrificed, his daughter fell into a water hole and died. It was then I began to question and to look.”

Altogether we had 11 young men attend our Discernment Conference held August 17th -19th, sharing their stories; praying together for discernment. In their own way, each of them told us this about God: “He suffered for me.”  

When we were talking about how to help others to learn what it means to serve, I asked Gatluak, “How would you teach this to an old woman who was blind and who could not walk?” “By speaking very loudly,” he answered!

Discernement Conference  Aug 17-19,2015
One month later, in the middle of a “Trauma Healing Workshop”, an intensive course for clergy, lay readers and the students of our St Frumentius’ Anglican Theological College, Gatluak and Nassir were woken up in the middle of the night. Both students at St Frumentius’, they had become friends and were rooming together. Two of Nassir’s brothers had been shot and killed by two of Gatluak’s brothers. In total eighteen were dead in a clan conflict in nearby Jikwao.  Gatluak and Nassir’s friendship, shaped by grace and now marked with tears, forgiveness and prayer, continues to grow. 

Artwork form the Trauma Healing Intensive Course Sept 15-19,2015
"A tree on Fire"      Nassir
A couple of days ago, one of our staff came to give us an update on his children and to tell us that he had just lost his teeth. We often thought that this gentleman, with his remarkable gift for losing things, would ‘lose his head if it wasn’t attached’. He came close to expectation with the loss of his partial denture. 

Several months ago, his wife had suddenly left, taking their young children with her. Rumour had it that she was headed for Khartoum, apparently intending to sell the children. The next news was that his wife had been imprisoned in Khartoum after starting to make and to sell home-brewed alcohol (alcohol being illegal in Islamic Sudan). His children, the oldest of whom was only 8 years old, were alone and fending for themselves on the streets of Khartoum. In Nuer culture, it is the father who has legal custody of the children in the event of a separation. Accordingly, he sent his brother-in-law to find and bring the children home. The next thing we heard was that the money sent with his brother-in-law was not enough to purchase additional ‘exit visas’ for the children. More money was procured. Then right at the border, some armed men arrived with a letter written by the wife, stating that her brother was trying to steal her children while she was in jail. End result: now brother-in-law was in jail. So much pain; for him, for his wife, for their children, for the extended family.

Recently, as we sat with Ojullu in hospital, he spoke of going to Addis ‘to eat good Ethiopian food, and to stay in one of the big, big hotels’. Too weak to stand, unable to walk, dying of AIDS, he avowed, “Nothing will stop me from getting to Addis.” Confused and occasionally incoherent, was he alluding to heaven, we wondered. So loved by us, by his fellow staff at the Gambella Anglican Center, and by his fellow students at St Frumentius’, he lay there, in the stench of uncontrollable diarrhea, and revealed the gentle dignity of a beloved friend undiminished by degradation.

Our stories - they aren’t over yet.

Beloved Ojulu


~ Please Pray with us ~

~ for our full time and part time students of St Frumentius' Anglican Theological College

~ for our newest refugee camp churches in Jewi, Pinyadu 2, and Sorre

~ For Stehen Munye and Simor Taidor to be odained deacon

~ With thanks for the recent Trauma Healing workshop and Inner Healing teams

Students pray for each other in our recent Inner Healing intensive course led by SOMA, USA

~ for the dedication of St Frumentius' Anglican Theological College and the blessing of the chapel  by Archbishop Mouneer to take place November 24, 2015

Work continues on St Frumentius' Chapel and multipurpose building

Beauty in a Knitted Cap

Friday, August 28, 2015

Typical ....

             A 'typically' beautiful Gambellan Smile  

...Or Not!


People often ask, “Tell us about a typical day in Gambella!” I don’t know if we’ve had a typical day yet! Typical just isn’t part of the rhythm of life here! Morning usually begins with coffee and a psalm. After that - well let’s see. After that, on most days, we have staff devotions. We all have the same liturgy, we don’t all have the same language. This means prayer and worship happens ‘in unity’ in a cacophony of different languages. Then the ‘plan for the day’ happens. This is not usually our plan. Words like, ‘flexible’, ‘nimble’, ‘interruption', and ‘pain in the neck’ come to mind.

Snapshot of Wendy’s day yesterday, August 6th: 

~ Waking up to the sounds of a successful ‘hockey tournament’ played in our attic by the bats who had moved in during our absence in June. (Of note - moth balls do not deter bats, but they seem to have lots of fun sending them skimming over the ‘floor’ of the attic).

~ Cooking breakfast, lunch and supper for eight (I am learning that ‘Company’ is just family - the wider family of a life shared with One who has many brothers and sisters!).

~ Tending neighborhood children as well as the staff and their family members for a variety of interesting things: large oozing tropical ulcers, wounds, infections of various sorts, HIV and malaria.

~ A few precious moments spent planning out the drama that is to accompany my next Mothers’ Union teaching story - this one on prevention and treatment of malaria and scabies; “Helping Each Other when Little Things cause Big Problems”.

~ Spending time with someone dear:

Cham Ojur Puro
This afternoon I visited with Cham who was at home in mourning, grieving from the sudden loss of her mother to malaria. Her mother was “very very very old - probably 55 or 60”. I felt so privileged to sit with a circle of friends in Cham’s house, the conversation ranging from family to neighbors to bemoaning the electricity (or lack thereof) here in Gambella. Exposed wires, usually tied together with torn plastic bags, had, in Cham’s house, the luxury of electric tape patching them together. Two women in the community were recently electrocuted when the wires running along the roof of their houses were blown down by the wind. As our visit wound to a close, we were honored with a serving of Pepsi - a real treat, although one that I personally tend to find palatably challenging! We ended with a prayers and hugs. I felt very rich.  

A typical few days for Grant in Gambella

Thursday, July 23rd: 

It’s rainy season. We gather for morning prayer around 8am, our Gambella Anglican Centre staff together with the 20 or so prospective theological students attending our advanced English class. So instead of the usual mix of languages, we are worshiping mostly in English. Today’s meditation (Matthew chapter 6) is led by Darash. “What do salt and light do, and so what should we do to be salt and light to our communities?” , he asks. After prayer, and (impossibly sweet) tea, we had a staff “work day”. We’re trying to turn our compound into the garden of Eden, so we need to take advantage of rainy season to plant and arrange vegetation. No sooner had tomatoes and cucumbers and flowers been planted than the deluge began - thunder, lightening. Within an hour our rain water tanks were filled to overflowing. The rain and the accompanying sound and light show continued all day. Ample amounts of laughter seemed to be coming from the English class - always a good sign. Steve, our visiting professor from America, together with his helper Ken, a Canadian theological student, had to yell in order to be heard over the pounding rain crashing on to the classroom’s tin roof. The workers building the chapel had a good couple of hours work before being defeated by the rain. They have been  busy erecting arches - the walls will soon be up, the floors and vestry finished, and then the roof.

St Frumentius College Chapel / Multi-purpose Building - under construction!

In our ongoing battle with whatever has decided to move into our attic, I threw a batch of moth balls through the trap door. If the moth balls don’t work, my next offensive will be with incense. Apparently unwanted critters around here - be they mice, bats, or whatever, don’t like incense - must be low church mice, bats, whatever…


The rain has eased back today. Every plant in the place has grown an inch or two overnight.

Before I went to Egypt last week I heard about food shortages once again cropping up in the Gambella People’s Region. More and more refugees keep coming. This morning I wrote a letter to a few friendly organizations that have helped us in the past. Hopefully some help will come. Our ‘Samaritan Fund’ for emergencies was running low.

At 3pm I had a meeting with four of our five Regional Deans (I managed to get information from the fifth before the meeting, so everyone was represented). We talked about some potential pastoral moves, a few problems (including the fact that a thousand people from an ethnic group where we’ve never had a church suddenly want to become Anglicans). We also divided up the money we have for emergencies and money we had for building churches (now that fund is empty too). 

At 5pm I met with a church council that wants an electric keyboard. It’s an extremely ‘cool’ item whose blasting tinny rhythms are guaranteed to to attract the young people, apparently. They don’t have the money to pay for it, so they want the bishop to help. The bishop also doesn’t have the money, but that is hard for them to believe. They also know that the bishop, for some reason, doesn’t seem to be delighted at the idea of purchasing this highly desirable item. Anyway after an hour and a half or so I managed to convince them that they needed a plan to raise the money and that if they had a good plan I would help them somehow. Sigh.I hate saying ‘no.’ I have to say it almost every day, though.


Today Wendy and I took our guests to some of the ‘tourist hotspots’ in Gambella, including - the prison. The prisoners there make and sell bead work, so while Wendy helped Ken and Steve to choose something for their families, I sat and chatted with one of the inmates - a former Anglican pastor I had to depose for robbing the church. After leaving us he got another job, but stole money there as well - hence the prison sentence. I’ve visited and prayed with him a few times now. He is sad to be in prison, but insists that he is innocent, so I can’t really say he’s repentant. Still, God is not finished with him.

This morning’s adventure (most Sunday mornings are an adventure) took us to a new church in a village called Koat Ngoal; don’t ask me to pronounce it. Two hours of driving takes us to Lare. From there we drive off road for ten minutes or so until that is no longer possible.

                         The Road to Koat Ngoal

Soon we reach a group of Mothers Union members singing a welcome song. This usually means we’ve arrived. Not today. Today it means, “Here’s where you need to follow us into the elephant grass and maize fields.” A half hour walk in the mud through grass 8-9 feet high finally brings us to the church.

                 Mothers'  Union meet us on the road

The congregation in Koat Ngnoal is not new, but they have recently build a church and so instead of being under a tree, they have a place with shade from the sun and shelter from the rain. The welcome at the church is a typical Nuer welcome (finally something typical!) with enthusiastic singing, ululations, hand shaking and footwashing for the guests. The church itself is a tiny stick, mud and thatch structure - somehow we manage to squeeze 40-50 people in. The lessons point to Jesus as the Good Shepherd, so when it comes time to give the church a name (names are only given to the church when the bishop comes), it is easy - Good Shepherd Anglican Church. After the service lunch is provided for us back in Lare (with a literal ‘song and dance' welcome from the Sunday School) - then the two hour drive back to Gambella town.

We reach Good Shepherd Anglican Church, Koat Ngoal

Showers. Naps. No rain today - but lots of thunder and lightening as I write at 6pm. It will certainly rain tonight. More adventures tomorrow.

~ Please Pray with us ~

~ for God’s blessing upon the opening of St Frumentius Anglican Theological College, Gambella

~ for our incoming theological students
~ for our faculty Jeremiah Maet Paul, Karen Salmon, Dr Johann Vanderbijl as well as those providing teaching in intensive courses including Tekele Belachew and Bishop Grant

~ for those visiting teams who will be teaching the students and clergy on Healing from Trauma 

~ for God’’s provision for funding for the remaining classrooms and faculty housing as well as the completion of the St Frumentius College Chapel / multipurpose building

~ for discernment for those seeking ordination as deacon and priest, and for the selection committee advising the bishop

~ with thanksgiving for our recent wonderful visitors: Rev Kim Beard and the Toronto team; Steve Hunt; Ken Johnstone

          One of our 'typically' beautiful backyard birds:
                              a Pygmy Kingfisher

FOG on the BLOG

A few months ago a friend in Toronto (the Rev Dean Mercer) emailed with an idea. He wanted a way for Canadians to support our work in Ethiopia and suggested the formation of FOG (Friends Of Grant). Joining is easy - the membership fee is $100 a year sent to DevXchange (their website address is at the bottom of this page). The money can be sent electronically or by cheque. DevXchange will send a charitable receipt. There are not many benefits to being a member (the satisfaction of giving and the receipt being about it…). Some have objected to the name (“What about Wendy?”). Dean’s answer was that lots f stuff rhymes with FOG - we can have a BOG when we’re in town (a Big Old Meeting); we ca talk about FOG on our BLOG (as I am doing right now!); However, for those concerned about this (Wendy says she isn’t concerned), you could chose to call yourself a FOGWART, since Friends Of Grant and Wendy Are Really Terrific. This group is of course welcome to all - but especially those who wish to receive a CANADIAN charitable receipt. Those who aren’t concerned about the Canadian part can still give through DevXchange - or the other organizations which are helping us, like FADE, FACE and SAMS.
        “A Friend”