Tuesday, May 03, 2005

About Our Partner Diocese in Kajo-Keji

Mrs. Diana Marshall, wife of our Bishop, the Rt. Rev. Paul V. Marshall spoke on Sunday, May 1, 2005 on the occaision of our Mission of the Month Ingathering at the 8 and 10 am liturgies. Here are here remarks:

In the name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen.

From Acts we heard: From one ancestor he made all nations to inhabit the whole earth Today I am delighted to be able to bring you greetings from our brothers and sisters in the Diocese of Kajo-Keji, a small county in Southern Sudan.

The people of the Diocese of Bethlehem first became aware of the plight of our brothers and sisters in the Diocese of Kajo-Keji in the summer of 1999. Two seminarians from Bethlehem were moved by the stories they heard from a fellow seminarian and a connection was made with our World Mission Committee. The Rev. Michael Keju +Paul, a priest from Kajo-Keji who was studying at VTS, spent the summer in our diocese describing the effects of 50 years of civil war and a “scorched earth” policy of genocide by the government of Northern Sudan on Christians in Southern Sudan. We learned that there were over a million Southern Sudanese dead and four and a half million refugees.

About a year later, Bishop Manasseh B. Dawidi was able to come to Bethlehem to speak to us at our “Share the Bread” festival and the partnership was formalized with our primary emphasis to be to assist KAJO-KEJI DIOCESE with their education efforts. Teams from the Diocese visited KAJO-KEJI DIOCESE twice, bringing back pictures and stories, and the commitment of us to them and them to us continued to deepen.

In August of 2004, we got word that the situation in KAJO-KEJI DIOCESE was dire. Crop failure due to drought, combined with larger than expected numbers of returning refugees, had resulted in severe famine, with some folks having only leaves from the trees to eat. The people of the diocese, including Trinity, Easton responded immediately and generously and we were able to provide food to save thousands of lives, along with tools and seeds for the next growing season.

In the meantime, it had been planned that Bishop Paul and I would visit KAJO-KEJI DIOCESE in January, 2005. There was some discussion about whether we should spend available funds in this way, or send the money for famine relief. The word came back, “Come and see us.” It was clear that our visit would provide reassurance that we know our brothers and sisters are there, we love them, and we will stand with them as they rebuild their communities and country as peace returns to Sudan.

We met with our World Mission Committee to prepare for our trip. We learned a bit about customs in that culture, weather, living accommodations, etc. So, in a sense we were “prepared” to embark on our journey.

After two successive overnight flights to London and Entebbe, we spent a night in Kampala. The next morning (Tuesday, Jan. 4, 2005) a young missionary pilot flew us into KAJO-KEJI DIOCESE, where we were greeted with singing and the waving of palms and flowers. The sight of the welcoming crowd approaching the airplane as we taxied toward them was overwhelming. Very quickly, I realized that I was not prepared for many aspects of this journey. The first was the immediate connection I felt to the Kuku people and the warmth and genuineness of their love for us.

I also was not prepared to be accompanied by armed guards. I was not prepared to see only shells of bombed out structures and temporary mud tukuls replacing more permanent homes that have been destroyed repeatedly. I was not prepared to see the ruins of not one, but two cathedrals. I was not prepared to see the devastation of war on a daily basis; even the animals have fled. I was not prepared to see children wearing rags along with smiles that covered their entire faces. Nor was I prepared, in the midst of such deprivation to witness the most joyful worship I have ever encountered, or to see 34 deacons and 3 priests (one a woman) ordained by an American bishop from Bethlehem, Pennsylvania.

For the next week we visited schools that have been adopted by congregations and individuals in Bethlehem and orphanages we are helping to support. Education is now open to girls as well as boys; New Sudan is expected to have a government of equality and little boys are being taught that they can carry water on their heads and gather wood as well as the little girls have done those tasks for so many years. All permanent buildings have been destroyed, so classes are held in temporary buildings—most of mud with thatched straw roofs. There is no electricity, no plumbing, no furniture, and very sparse school supplies. The children typically sit on the mud floor. The teachers are young and enthusiastic, though not all have had formal training.

We visited the food distribution center where KAJO-KEJI DIOCESE has given food to all in need, with the result that some Muslims have become Christians and others have had to re-think their government’s actions against Christians. +Paul laid the foundation stone for the new Bible College building (on the site of the destroyed one) and I had the privilege of laying the foundation stone for the Mothers’ Union Training Center where young women will be taught the skills they need to take their places in the governments of their communities, as well as to enter the anticipated market economy as the New Sudan develops.

At every stop (there were about 17) +Paul was expected to speak for a minimum of 40 minutes and I usually managed 15-20. +Paul used many of the Old Testament stories of overcoming persecution and adversity and we both spoke of our admiration for these amazing people who have endured a life time of civil war and oppression, but have remained faithful and are now looking at the fruits of their struggle: A New Sudan.

I often told the gatherings how beautiful they are, that I would not forget them, and that when I got home I would tell the people of the Diocese of Bethlehem about them. I asked them to pray for us, and told them that they have much to teach us. We stepped into a primitive culture, in terms of what they have and don’t have, their subsistence economy with no government services or availability of markets. However, we stepped into a community whose spiritual richness and depth of commitment put Americans to shame.

The Sudan Peace Agreement was signed on January 9, 2005, as we worshipped in Kampala, Uganda, with refugees who long to return to Kajo-Keji. These are proud people who seek justice and independence. They do not want to be “taken care of.” They look to us to stand with them as they rebuild their country.

There are many plans to move from subsistence to a market economy. The Diocese of Bethlehem will stand with them during this challenging and exciting time. In June, representatives of various diocesan groups will meet to determine what plans for doing this will be brought to diocesan convention in the fall. We are excited to see the response we know will come from the good people of the Diocese of Bethlehem to support our brothers and sisters who are so far away geographically, but near and dear to our hearts.

In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Amen.

Diana Marshall @ Trinity, Easton on May 1, 2005

The Sixth Sunday of Easter

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