Hope is there

I can’t believe that it has been almost three weeks since I have shared with you about my experiences here! I’m taking that as a sign, though, that I’m pretty comfortable in these new surroundings. I am no longer surprised when a complete stranger stops me on the road and asks for help with some money or food. I don’t feel scared or intimidated when I enter the busy marketplace. I have even gotten used to the fact that I have yet to put the vehicle in fourth gear because I’m too busy dodging potholes and ruts to drive any faster than 30 kph. (Although I’m not yet used to using the metric system and honestly don’t know that I ever will be!) It’s a good feeling to know more than just the names and faces of the students studying here at the vocational college; they often invite me to join them for dinner or to volley a ball with them in the evenings. They are still working on getting me to understand Arabic, but they talk to me more often in English now.
Not only have I formed some good relationship with several South Sudanese, but I am also becoming increasingly close to some of the other missionaries here. On Sunday evenings, a group of 10 to 15 of us meet together for Fellowship. We ex-pats from England, Australia, Holland, New Zealand, Canada and America come together to worship, share, pray, and, of course, eat. It has been wonderful to be surrounded by others who have also left their homes, friends, and families and understand firsthand the things that are hard to get used to. I am so thankful for these English speaking friends from the West who are helping me figure out how to thrive while living here.
A couple of weeks ago, we had Fellowship here at YVTC. When we finished, and I was walking back to my little cottage, Rosaline called me over to where several of the students were sitting. She inquired as to why all the “kawajas” (foreigners) were on the campus. When I explained to them that we meet each Sunday for Bible study, she frowned and asked “Why didn’t you welcome us?” My heart sank. I didn’t know what to say. I knew that much of what we talked about in Fellowship would be lost of them not only because of their limited understanding of English, but also because they are nationals and therefore don’t face the same sort of struggles that foreigners do. I also knew that inviting them would change the entire dynamic of the group. But, most importantly, I knew that I had created a major cultural faux pas by not welcoming them to join us and would be creating a major Christian blunder by excluding them. The only thing I could think of to possibly fix the situation was to invite them to my house to start a Bible study of our own. They excitedly accepted my invitation and we decided the following Sunday after prayers (church services) would be the best time to meet together.
When Sunday arrived, I half expected that the Bible study would be forgotten. I have come to realize in this culture that even when dates are set or plans are made people don’t always remember or show up. But to my happy surprise, when 2 o’clock rolled around, six of the young students were at my door with Bibles in hand. The young men crowded onto the couch and swallowed down the water I offered them, but Rosaline, the one who spurred the idea of the study, was nowhere to be seen. As I think is always true with a new group, the room was awkwardly silent. I wasn’t sure how to begin.
I cannot recall how we got there, but will never forget the conversation we had. As often happens when talking to the South Sudanese, someone had referred to the war and to their independence. I asked “How are things different in South Sudan now than they were in 2005 before the peace treaty?” The room was quiet for a few moments and I attributed the silence to them figuring out how to say in English what they were thinking. I was not prepared for the things I heard them say.
The young man to my right, named Eli, started by sharing, “Before, there were no vehicles. You could only walk and it was dangerous. Now you can see cars driving on the road and you can ride a bicycle or motorbike and not be scared. Also, trucks can come and we can have food; during the war this couldn’t happen.” The others nodded in agreement. Another student said “During the war there were no schools. People were moving and could not get an education. They could not learn how to make a life for themselves. Now the schools are opening again and we are learning. We now have a chance at a good life. During the war there was no life and now we have it. Hope is there.” After this there was more nodding and silence. At last, Eli spoke again, “When I was very young my family went to Uganda. When I was 12 my father wanted to return to our home in Yei. I was young, but I remember what things were like here. There were planes flying over and dropping bombs. I was in the market when a bomb was dropped and many people were killed. I can remember the things that I saw and it was always scary. But now, we can hear planes and there are no bombs and I can go to the market. These are some things that are different.” My heart broke. They went on to share about losing their parents and being separated from their families. I sat listening and envisioned scenes from the documentary “God Grew Tired of Us.” But these words weren’t prerecorded or coming to me from out of a television. These words were being spoken from the mouths of my friends; people sitting before me in the flesh. For the first time since my arrival, the hardships of these people were real to me. They have seen and felt true suffering, true fear, and true hopelessness. Nick Cunningham talked several months ago of love “with skin on.” If love in action is love with skin on, this then, would be pain with skin on. I could not believe I was sitting beside people who had endured these things just seven years ago. Not only was I sitting beside them, but I live and work and shop where these atrocities took place.
What is really shocking to me is how easy it has been to forget that this country was torn up by war such a short time ago. I drive on the roads and complain about how awful they are because of the huge trucks that use them, never thinking about the years that trucks would not or could not pass. I get frustrated with the neediness of the people who are constantly asking for help, never realizing that a visiting foreigner is a sign that the world is now aware of their longsuffering. I get emotionally and physically drained by the chaos of the marketplace, unaware that there was a time when it was abandoned for fear of bombing. But for the people here, these things are all signs of life and better times. They signify an end to hopelessness and a future to work towards.
Still, as close as hope is, it’s still far off. Although the fighting has stopped here in the south, it continues in the north. My prayers are with those people, still waiting for the horror of war and suffering to end, peace to become a reality, and life to begin to come back.

5 thoughts on “Hope is there

  1. What a great reminder for all of us. Clcinging to the hope of keeping our liberties and blessings in the future.

    Keep up the good work! I know you will becuase you have a heart for them.

    B

  2. Thanks, Elizabeth, for sharing your wonderful stories and insights. We love you and are so proud of you! Mark and Mary

  3. Hi Elizabeth. I haven’t checked facebook for awhile. I just read your story. It softens my heart and makes me cry out of both saddness and HOPE. Thank you for being there and sharing. Miss you. You will always be in my prayers (but I think God already has you in his arms:) Cheryl

  4. Hi Elizabeth, Michelle Ferguson sent me your blog just yesterday. I started reading your stories and couldn’t stop. What an interesting life you lead. The teaching and the learning from both sides is wonderful. Also, now I can open your blog and see your smiling face every day. You are truly an amazing gift. Can’t wait to see you in December and hear more about about your adventures. Think about you everyday! Brenda

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