Thursday, March 06, 2008

Living water

Gushing in Bethlehem, flowing in Kajo-Keji

[Editor’s Note: Archdeacon Howard Stringfellow and Charlie Barebo, chair of the New Hope Campaign and member of Diocesan Council, visited our companion Diocese of Kajo Keji in Southern Sudan on behalf of the New Hope Campaign and the Diocese of Bethlehem during late February 2008 to strengthen the ties between our dioceses, meet with the person who is to be Bethlehem's representative in Kajo Keji during the Campaign's construction of schools and the Canon Benaiah Poggo College, and inspect the progress of those constructions.]

For they drank from the spiritual rock that followed them, and the rock was Christ.
1Corinthians 10:4b

[Kajo Keji in Southern Sudan, February 2008] “Archdeacon Howard, are you taking enough water?” Bishop Anthony asked me on Friday just as I was taking a small swig from the Rwenzori bottle, the bottled water we found ready for us in Uganda and in Southern Sudan. “You should take at least four bottles, two liters, a day.”

When Charlie Barebo and I were returning from Kajo-Keji, and we were in Uganda, I washed my face in the lavatory in my hotel room. In just a few seconds, my fingers pruned—not enough hydration—just as though I had swum a mile. I had needed to drink more water. Probably I still do.

On Sunday, Charlie and I were part of Anthony’s retinue that traveled to Kiri. He was making his first episcopal visitation there, and Kiri is the parish where his predecessor, Bishop Manesseh, worships.

For the record, the service was Morning Prayer with one lesson, Exodus 17:1-7, and Moses struck the rock at Massah and Meribah in our hearing, and the water flowed once again. For the record, also, the service lasted three and three-quarter hours, despite an Archdeacon’s decision to cut the second lesson, almost unbelievably, “to save time,” as Anthony later told me. He read the second lesson in the context of his sermon. It was Saint John 4, the Samaritan woman at the well at Sychar, the interview in which Jesus breaks down every social convention and constraint, and causes the water to flow in her: “He cannot be the Messiah, can he?” He had told her many things, but especially he told her: “The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.” Anthony preached these lessons within the circumstances at Kiri: opportunities, “springs of water,” that had been missed when the clergy neglected some educational possibilities he had provided, and opportunities before them—all the people—to do the will of God and to refuse the evil for the good. He was clear that Christ is among them and that he continues to offer living water. Unmistakably he fervently desired his people to yearn for the living water, to be like the people in an old, American folk song (whose title refers to another liquid): “them that refuse it are few.”

A gentleman, an engineer I believe, from Juba, a city to the north, most courteously translated the entire service for me. He had come down to attend a meeting about the construction of the Cathedral at Romogi. And while I listened to him and to the service, I reflected on the living water that Christ offered me to choose in taking the journey to Kajo-Keji. Despite the heat, that reached forty degrees centigrade that day, the wind, and the dust, and the brush fire not far behind us, I knew that the decision I made was a long drink at the right well.

Two days before the service at Kiri, we visited Romogi, the site of the Canon Benaiah Poggo College being constructed by the New Hope Campaign. We saw the college’s old building, the building that needed a roof when I first saw it, 13 months ago. We saw how, with a roof, its rooms served simultaneously as classroom, dormitory, and storage space. And we appreciated how, when the construction is complete, doubling and tripling the use of a room will no longer be necessary.

The speed of the construction surprised me. The New Hope Finance Committee had met on January 14 and approved the first transfer of funds. Five weeks later we saw progress on the dormitory and the administration building of the College.

The construction teams we visited employed local and international labor. Kenyans and Ugandans joined Sudanese in the work. And Garry Ion, an engineer with the Church Mission Society, at our and Anthony’s request, looked over each project and foundation.

The long flights during the return journey gave me the opportunity to reflect on the New Hope that I had seen at work in Southern Sudan. New Hope begins with Christ who continuously offers to us the living water that he speaks of at Sychar. And it continues with the living water that springs forth in everyone who chooses to drink at his well. I am grateful for the opportunity to be a witness to the gushing of the water of eternal life. A journey of 15,000 miles can do a lot to broaden horizons and to enlarge perspectives. But I hadn’t expected this: I have seen first hand that the living water that gushes in Bethlehem flows 7,500 miles away in Kajo-Keji. I brought some back.

See DioBeth newSpin: Living Water.

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