Yesterday was a powerful day! This past week we've been in the midst of the equivalent of a Diocesan Convention, and just about every priest in the Diocese was present (there are over 200). The morning began with worship, and I was honored by being asked to preach (it was on the schedule, so I'd had a few days to gather my thoughts in preparation). I used the passage 1 Cor. 12:12-18, 26-27 and talked about how I understood more about the Body of Christ, was more complete, because I had met my brothers and sisters from across the world. If only everyone treated each other the way they had treated me and my companions, imagine what this world would be like! My sermon was not very long, but it took about 20 min. because each sentence was translated into Dinka and Nuer, the most common tribal languages present. Before I began I was asked to step up to the podium. When I tried to refuse, they insisted. So, to prove my point, I went in front of the podium and of course no one was able to see me because it was above my head. Everyone got a kick out of that. There have been more than a few short jokes this trip, but that's par for the course :o) After the service, one person told me, "You are small, but your message is big." That's good enough for me!
In the afternoon all 6 of us Americans were invited to be part of a memorial service for two men who had been killed in a recent cattle raid. They were the father and uncle of one of the priests in the Diocese, Rev. John. It was a moving experience: each of the tribal leaders of the nearby communities were invited to speak. The community had lost all of its cattle when a mostly nomadic tribe called the Murle stole them. Exact numbers are unknown, but it could be as many as 80,000. This is the community's only form of subsistence, and they were defenseless because the government had taken away the guns of all citizens earlier this year in a disarmament program. Without the cattle, they have nothing. Some of the chiefs said that they would take their villages and leave, but others said, "Where will you go? The only thing we have is land." They were angry with the government, who did not provide them with the protection they needed. The people here already don't have the conveniences that most of us don't even think twice about: clean water, employment, electricity, regular access to health care or food. Now, they are left with absolutely nothing except the torn clothes on their backs and their homes. What will they do? Where can they turn? The cattle will not be returned to them. It breaks my heart.
As guests of the Diocesan Bishop, we were honored guests at the service. Each person greeted us before they spoke their piece. Many hoped that we would take the story of their loss back home with us, in the hopes that someone will be moved to help, because they have nowhere else to turn.
After the leaders finished speaking, they asked Bishop Duncan (of Mississippi) to speak on behalf of the group. He prayed for those gathered and those whose lives were lost, that in the midst of the confusion and loss, they would feel God's presence. Then one of the sons, Rev. John's elder brother, spoke. He said, "My uncle was buried here. Now my father and another uncle are buried here. We can't leave; this land is our legacy." Then the District Commissioner spoke. He said he was sorry for their loss, that the raid had been publicized, and that he would do what he could for them. Then Bishop Ezekiel gave the closing prayer, where he talked about trusting in God to get through this tough time.
After the service was over (we had been there for about 3 1/2 hours at this point, but we'd missed the recounting of the lives of the deceased), we were invited to come eat in Rev. John's brother's hut. Needless to say, it was a somber ride home.