Saturday, May 30, 2015

In Exile and On the Move: Rev. John Chol Daau Reports from South Sudan



 I am delighted to have my brother, Rev. John Chol Daau, update us on the current situation in South Sudan. This report reminds that biblical times are present times. Jesus is alive in his people. Thanks again, John, and congratulations on the birth of your third son. Enjoy these words, friends. May they strengthen and challenge you. Blessings, Lilly

The Faith and Challenges of South Sudanese Christians

Instability and war has forced large populations of South Sudanese people to move to Kenya and other countries as refugees looking for safety, and better education and medical services.

The Church of South Sudan, however, is always encouraged by the companionship in prayers and support from our Christian brothers and sisters around the world.  I am inspired how no matter where South Sudanese refugees are, we always establish Churches and worship in our vernaculars.

A committed life of church, prayer, and bible study became a common phenomenon among  South Sudanese refugees. Our experiences  remind us of biblical times, when the children of Israel worshiped God in exile and on the move.  In Kenya alone based on the report of the peace mission to Kenya ECSS congregations in November 2014  which I was involved, there are about  fifty congregations of South Sudanese (mainly Anglicans) spread across the country, including Kakuma refugee camp, where I lived and ministered for many years. If other non-Anglican churches are added, the number will double.  In the refugee camps of Nyumanzi and Ayilo in northern Uganda, there are more than thirty Anglican congregations led by several pastors and lay leaders. These congregations have become instrumental in discipleship ministry, leadership formation, and promotion of peace, reconciliation, unity and positive values among the South Sudanese in Diasporas. Refugee Churches, such as these, helped begin a Christian awakening throughout East Africa.

The leaders for these churches, however, are desperate for skill-based training. They want to minister effectively to their congregations, who were entrusted to their leadership. They also want to return home (South Sudan) in the future with some better knowledge and skill they might have acquired from the foreign land. Due to war and lack of education opportunities in South Sudan, many of the pastors leading the churches did not have a chance to receive training before becoming leaders.

On the Ministry Call

In March and April, Dr. Katie Rhoads and I completed syllabus on pastoral care and counseling. This will enable the leaders in the camp obtain a basic certificate, with the hope to upgrade their future.  At the forefront in our mind was to provide classes relevant to the unique opportunities and challenges of refugee life. We have been placed with gifted teachers from all over the world.

Most recently, we taught in Nyumanzi refugee camp. I traveled from Nairobi by bus for two days to arrive in Adjumani at the refugee camp of Nyumanzi to start the course.  There are several refugee camps populated by South Sudanese people because of previous and current wars. These camps are located in northern Uganda. In Nyumanzi, there is a population of more than 25,000 refugees forced out from South Sudan by the current ongoing conflict of South Sudan against itself.

Rev. John as he teaches
I taught the course, the Fundamentals of Christian leadership for 6 days.  Seventy three students and participants attended. We had classes between 9am to 4pm. It was refreshing to both participants and myself.

A Joyful Celebration of Ministry

The leaders are excited that the training has started. They were happy to have me to teach, as they also want more people to come and teach.  They are hungry for knowledge and information about how to lead their congregations better.

When I reached Ayilo II, another camp populated by more than 15,000 South Sudanese. I was stunned to find myself being welcomed by a large gathering; perhaps close to 500 people (youths, women and pastors) came out on the roadside singing and processing to enter the church. This welcome is something I usually see given only to our bishops.  I complained to them and protested their decision to have arranged such a large reception and procession. I told them that I am the smallest person who does not deserve to be welcomed by hundreds of people. In their response, the leaders protested too. One of the leaders, Rev. Daniel Dau said. “We are not welcoming or receiving you. We are welcoming the knowledge you have brought to us. We want knowledge and you have it. Today, you have come to teach us.”

Another woman and Lay Reader said, “You are our child. We know you have acquired some knowledge. The white people and Kenyans have taught you so that you may also come and teach us. Why do you complain about us celebrating the opportunity to get some knowledge from you? We are your own people. We are celebrating with joy, now we shall receive the knowledge we desire.”

With her welcoming words during the launching of the training, Rev. Anna Garang said, “teach us now. We are good listeners. Talk to us. Make conversation with us. We are listening.  Our ears are open. We can hear all that you may say in Dinka and bits in English. Although we cannot write or speak the language of the white people, we do have a little lame English and a broken one. With it, we can hear. Come with others who have the knowledge to explain to us. Please talk to us until we feel we have heard something” she concluded.

Mary Aluel, a lay reader of Nyumanzi camp, also said. “We can listen and see. We have wisdom but we only lack education of white people. Nevertheless, we are not asking you to give us the education of white people. Explain to us what Jesus wants us to do as leaders. Explain to us how we can detect what the scripture says about our leadership”
Worshipers

Therefore, our students are not academic professionals. They are practical leaders on the ground. They have many experiences. Among them are pastors who have worked for years. Some young lay leaders and youths have good high school education level.  

Living in the camp

Life is in the camp is humble and not complicated. We would do classes during the day and have great fellowship (singing, scripture sharing and prayer) in the evening in the grass-thatched compound. The leaders in the camp have built for the facilitators two tukuls (round huts) to sleep in.  It is a very natural environment with basic living conditions. The bathroom is a plastic sheet wound, open on the top, with unpaved floor. No shower, but you bathe using a basin, drawing water by your hands and pour on your body. 

On South Sudan-security/fighting updates

South Sudan recently experienced renewed clashes in Upper Nile and Unity states, while severe economic strain is increasing and hitting the poorest South Sudanese. Towards the end of April, fighting between government troops and a previous militia broke out in Upper Nile’s state capital, Malakal, displacing several thousands of civilians from that area. A few days later, another fight broke out around Unity State’s capital Bentiu between the government and the forces of the rebel. Both Unity and Upper Nile states are on the border of South Sudan and Sudan. Sudan has been lashing out with attacks against opposition controlled areas in and around Unity state’s capital Bentiu. Recently, while campaigning, Bashir, the president of Sudan, has been lashing out with threatening statements against South Sudan.

Pray with Us

I ask that you would take a few minutes to remember us in prayer as we give services to the people of God. Supporting God's work through prayer is a vital part of the mission. We believe that when God's people pray, He listens and responds. Pray that the students and participants will be healthy. We really need finances for this kind of training. Pray for this ministry that God will provide the people and the financial resources to enable the training continue smoothly. Traveling, visas, meals for the facilitators, stationery and other important supplies, are all needs of ours. We need both English and Dinka Bibles for the participants and students. Pray for volunteer trainers to get time and be available for training as proposed. Please continue to pray for our brothers and sisters in South Sudan who are still experiencing war and heartbreak. May their faith be strengthened in this challenging time.



Friday, May 8, 2015

Motherhood: a Call to Sacrifice




When my children and I arrived at the playground, there was a group of kindergartens, twenty of them, running and shouting, pandemonium on the jungle gym. One little girl, with the grace of a tightrope walker, slowly made her way through the chaos. Her mother stood off to the side, carefully watching, calling out instructions, “Take four steps to the right. Wait, there is a little girl in front of you. Okay, now, two more steps, the slide is at your right, the monkey bars to your left.” I stared. What was she doing? I wondered.

I saw the girl’s dark glasses, her determined steps, and realized she was blind. I watched as she navigated the whole jungle gym, dodging squealing children. She maneuvered the slide and the monkey bars with nimble concentration. Her mother never faltered in her instructions, and the girl patiently listened to her the whole time, her head almost bent in her direction, listening and waiting for her voice. They worked as a dynamic team; one guiding, one listening, as they made their way together.

 I turned away. The devotion, the constant love and guidance of this mother for her daughter brought me to tears.
When I became pregnant with my first child Lydia, I did a study of the word “motherhood” in Scripture. Time and again, motherhood was associated with sacrifice. King Solomon knows the baby’s true mother in that she is willing to forfeit all her rights as a mother to save the baby’s life. Mary, in her early life, receives a heavy call to bear the savior of the world, the same son whom she will one day see dying in front of her – mocked and humiliated. Through it all, her response is one of humble sacrifice, echoed in her words, “Let it be to me according to thy word.”
Motherhood gives us an image (albeit an imperfect one) of the divine love for us: sacrificial, devoted, and steadfast. We can only practice the ministry of motherhood because God himself loves us so completely and didn’t think twice about giving up his very life that we might live.  
Let’s be real, motherhood is really hard. There have been so many moments when I have wanted to scream, cry, and give-up. It changes everything, however, to know that this is a ministry, that this is a divine calling. Jesus knows, understands, and is the driving force behind this work. And perhaps, most importantly, that all this service we do, he does it all and so much more for us.
So, my fellow mothers, let this encourage you in your work. It’s sacrificial, it’s challenging, but it’s God’s work, so be courageous, and committed, just as God is to us. For we do this work, not in our strength, but because he loves us so tenderly, so devotedly, that we can love our children with that same love. Motherhood is ministry. Every late night, every frenzied morning, we are following a divine call. Remember, all that tireless, unseen, and unacknowledged service – God sees it all and is deeply pleased.
And, how about that amazing little girl? Let’s be more like her, with our heads bent in the direction of our savior, always listening to his voice. May every step of our lives might be guided by his devoted love and faithful instruction. So that, with his help, we too can navigate the chaos and challenges of this life with a tightrope walkers grace.  
Happy Mother’s Day to all, and be encouraged in the great work you are doing!  

Friday, May 1, 2015

Just a Reminder: Life Was Made for Our Good Pleasure



“Christianity is not all crucifixes, fasts, and vigils. Out at sea, in His sea, it is pleasure upon pleasure,” C.S. Lewis

Are you enjoying life today? This day. Not when you take your vacation, but this day. Have you relaxed with your loved ones, given your burdens to Christ, soaked in nature’s beauty, watched a good film, or eaten a delicious meal? 

When I watch the zeal and pleasure my children have for life, I am reminded; that's what God wants for all his children. Grown-ups too. Often times, we are so preoccupied with to-do lists, schedules, goals, bills, and work we forget that God created life for our pleasure. 

  


To work too hard in ministry – a great goal can become an overwhelming temptation. We add more outreach, small groups, lunches, meetings, fundraisers, and we miss out on the beauty, goodness, and pure pleasure of living. 

Often times our fears, hurts, and sins cloud our vision and we no longer sense God’s goodness.
When I read the New Testament I am confounded with how peaceful Jesus is. How present he is in each moment. How joyful. He loves just to be and be with his people. He seems to enjoy the beauty and pleasure of his creation. 

The Christian life is not all denial and sacrifice; it can be great pleasure and real fun. Saint Irenaeus wrote, “The glory of God is a human being fully alive.” So, let’s start to truly live. Today.

Enjoy your weekend!