The other weekend I found myself following four students at Bishop Gwynne College to visit a relation of theirs in a neighbourhood of Juba some distance from the college. As we travelled across town and then spent the afternoon in the relation’s tukl (thatch-roofed hut), I was continually aware of how these students were watching over me and welcoming me as one of them. Through Juba’s hectic streets and into a neighbourhood where, based on the stunned looks on the children’s faces at the sight of me, khawajas (white people) rarely travel, I marveled at the way these students had opened up their lives to me and welcomed me in.
And why? What had I done to deserve this welcome? Sure, I am a guest and they treat guests nicely around here. But no one had to invite me along on the afternoon excursion. Their hospitality and welcome were extended solely on the basis of our common membership in the Body of Christ. That alone was qualification
enough to be included in this group as a co-equal member.
As I move into the latter half of my time in Juba, Sudan, I continue to be amazed at how thoroughly I have been welcomed and made to feel at home here. In so many ways, little and small, these students have treated me as one of them simply because of that common membership in the Body of Christ. What a gift it has been, a gift made all the more amazing because I don’t even remember my entry into that Body.
I have been to some incredible church services here. Last Sunday, I was at the cathedral in Yei, a town 100 miles from Juba. At the 7:30am service, there were over 1000 people in attendance and the average age of the congregation was about 25. The job of the ushers is to pack people into the pews to ensure no space goes to waste. Yet there is still an overflow crowd outside the doors. How do I explain to people here that in the U.S. you can arrive for church 10 minutes late and still reasonably expect to get an entire pew to yourself?
South Sudan’s tenuous and uncertain political situation is forefront in the minds of everyone I meet. Everyone is looking forward to the referendum on independence in January. The Episcopal Church of Sudan is the country’s largest non-governmental organization, with a presence in virtually every village. If the referendum goes as anticipated, these students will be returning home to be on the front lines of building a new nation. It is clear that for them the Christian messages of peace, love, and liberation are at the forefront of their minds as they consider that future.
Knock on wood, my health remains fine and my spirits high. It has been terrific to be on African soil again and I have a feeling of peace I haven’t experienced at all in the last year. I am tiring somewhat of sorghum and beef (especially for my vegetarian sensibilities) for every meal but it’s a small price to pay for this opportunity. I continue to post stories online at https://jessezink.wordpress.com. If you look now, you’ll find stories about priests as farmers, how noted feminist scholar Phyllis Trible came to Juba, and what I learned about Christian unity from a conversation about cattle and monkeys.
Your man in Sudan,
Yale/Berkeley Divinity Schools, M.Div. 2012