Wednesday, January 12, 2005

Water and Wisdom

We had been waiting for over a year to make this journey down to the Gambella region and, at last, we were to get the chance to visit all our outlying parishes, cut off from the outside world for almost a year by the violence that has consumed the region. Each day, we set out before first light, enduring deeply rutted, and often treacherously muddy roads, in order to reach places with now familiar names, but which we’d never seen. Places like Bonga, Ochom, Lare Kuergeng (right on the Sudanese border), Pilwal, Itang and Thar Pam. In one place, a white bull was slaughtered in the midst of the excited crowd and Nuer custom required me to step over the carcase, the bright gash of blood still glistening in the dust and grass, before I was carried, shoulder-high, around the Church compound, surrounded by the singing, dancing congregation. In another, we sat in the shade of a tree, as the late afternoon breeze cooled the panting dogs and sleeping babies lying at their parents’ feet. In several places, the women produced valuable water, to wash our feet – water they’d carried for several kilometres to get to us. In two places, our Nuer friends were almost reduced to tears, at the shame they felt that they hadn’t managed to send someone to walk the six hours to bring water for their traditional foot-washing welcome, and they had nothing to offer us to eat. But in each place, there was vitality, hope and signs of real progress, despite the harsh conditions they are living under. If you want an idea as to what it is like to worship with them – just imagine sitting in a dark, grass-built church, about the size of a small Church Hall. People are pressed into every available space and the drums push out a regular, powerful double beat as the choir fill the space with singing, dancing and ululation. Outside, small children peer through the thin, rough poles, left free of mud in the external wall, to allow air to circulate. Another small child lies asleep on the dirt floor at her mother’s feet as she whisks the flies away from her open mouth. The atmosphere is electrifying, deeply moving and utterly worshipful – but all in heat and humidity that makes it feel as if you’re in a steam room. Our Churches still need many basic things – grass buildings, choir uniforms (for evangelistic visits to neighbouring villages), and in one place, a dug-our boat, to allow the church leader to visit the new congregation on the other side of the wide, deep-flowing, crocodile-infested river. If he has to walk, it takes him a week to get there. One of the most moving moments for me was the discovery that the Opo, a remote Ethiopian tribe who fish and farm the lands to the north west of Gambella, all became Christians a year ago and decided to become Anglicans, simply because they had heard about the faithful work being carried out by Deacon John and the Church in Itang. They had walked six hours, through difficult scrub, to meet me, so that they could take a message back to their people. All the leaders I saw that day were young men in their twenties, but they told me they have already built their own church and they told me all they really needed now was some Amharic Bibles. I managed to send a box down with a Catholic priest friend of ours, as soon as we arrived back in Addis. I wonder if we shall ever manage to get our car through the scrub to see them?
The visit wasn’t without it’s difficulties – petrol was scarce and had to be bought on the black market whenever and wherever you could find it; we had nine flat tyres and the spring in the contact breaker physically snapped when we were seven kilometres from any help. Praise God, our road was safe – we heard when we reached Addis that people are still being ambushed and killed there.

Monday, January 10, 2005


So much on at the moment, and feeling soooo stretched. In fact, I'm feeling exhausted - trying to sort out major hassles at work, preparing for visitors and worrying about family at home. It's when you think you're at your wits end that God's power really kicks in. St. Paul hit the nail on the head: "it's when I am weak that I am strong" and, "my grace is made perfect in weakness".
And yet, I'm enjoying Addis and Ethiopia more by the week.

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