Friday, March 31, 2006

Daily Bread in Southern Sudan
More from the Rev. Bob Towner, rector of Christ Church, Cape Girardeau

Our team of Missouri missioners was kept very busy twelve hours a day. For the other twelve hours, we were glad to return to our compound. This tall grass enclosure with several mud and grass guest houses, a common room, and service buildings, came to be “home.” Rick, the carpenter promoted to Master Builder, was my roommate. I was not left alone with the curious goats and hungry chickens and rats, the lizards and the toads. The extreme dryness which was a curse by day was a blessing by night. We did not have mosquitoes (malaria delivery systems), so we soon through off the stifling bed nets.

We would sit up in the dark, around a dinner table that had been carried into the open air. Kerosene lamps reflected off the faces of my companions. We had a whole new world and an entire new adopted family to discuss. A lull in the conversation led my eyes up to the huge, silent heavens, more loaded with stars than anywhere else I have ever been. I felt so small and yet, curiously, more a part of this beautiful little blue, green and brown planet than ever before.

Our compound was tucked between the two larger compounds, that of the Cathedral of the Diocese of Lui, and that of their hospital, staffed and funded by The Samaritan’s Purse (Read Luke 10:29 ff to refresh your memory of the meaning of this strange name.) Peter was the overseer of the guest compound, and he saw that his staff of two women and two men kept us safe and comfortable, clean and well fed.

How humbling it was to realize that they were sleeping with one eye open outside our huts. They were up before daylight, boiling water for our coffee, heating the huge drum of water for our sponge baths. They were quiet and gracious and ready with a smile, if they caught us looking at them in wonder. It amazed me to realize they stood ready to put themselves between us and any harm or danger that came our way. So deeply runs the privilege and duty of hospitality that they would rather die than see their guests die. “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” Jesus said that. Our Moru guests enacted it.

Only those who’ve camped in the rough have any idea of the great lengths our caretakers went to provide us with twelve hours of comfort and safety. Gathering wood and water are huge undertaking. Cooking over a fire is slow and hard on the back. Laundry was another daily chore, necessary because twelve hours of travel on red, dusty roads left us all caked in dirt. Once, sometimes twice daily, the whole hard dirt compound was swept with great grass brooms.

Hardest to understand was the generosity of our hosts when it came to food. We knew more than 90% of the children were malnourished. We knew that civil war and drought created the need for families to daily decide who needed most to eat and who could afford to go hungry. Yet, morning and night (and noon if we weren’t traveling), our caretakers arrived with white rice (imported), and large red beans. Sometimes there was homemade wheat bread, a rare treat in the Sudan. It is delicious served with stone ground sesame seed butter and back yard honey. Sometimes there was a Sudanese staple, stone ground sorghum seed, rolled into a big, floppy tortilla. We had a great laugh watching a young man chase down an old, wiry rooster one afternoon. His days of ruling the roost were over. He tasted so rich and nourishing, even if he was tough and stringy. Tomato sauce, scrambled eggs, small potatoes, and mixed garden greens were rare treats.

Our hosts spared no expense. Since returning three weeks ago, we have certain news that the last of the stored food in many of the villages we visited is exhausted. Even if rain comes, it will be many months before any crop can be harvested. Famine is a real and present danger. Since 1980 most of the rest of the world has been able to reduce extreme poverty and famine from 40% to 20%. The tragic exception is sub-Saharan Africa, where these figures have taken a turn for the worst. Extreme poverty has grown in this generation from 42% to 47%. This means almost half the people do not know where there next meal is coming from or if there will be one. When they pray, “give us this day our daily bread,” they know only God at work in the hearts of God’s people, will provide it.


Lisa said...
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Lisa said...

Thanks for these rich reflections, Bob. You sure have a way with words!! Your recollections brought back waves of memory for me.