Monday, April 03, 2006

A “Typical” Village Visitation

Deborah has warned us of the risk that any of us will think our visits and experiences are “normative,” whereas there are many variances from village to village. While I recognize that’s true in the particulars, I think there are also some commonalities that future missioners can anticipate.

First, there’s the welcome to the village. In every village, they met our truck on the road and paraded us into the village, to the accompaniment of singing and drumming. We always stopped the truck, and more or less of us would join them in this parade. [In this photo, Sandy is visible at the extreme right. Here, and on every village I saw, the Lui folks carried the generic Christian flag at the head of the procession. Personally, I'm not enamored of that flag. I sure wish we could get Episcopal/Anglican banners to them!]

Then there would be formal welcome remarks. The Bishop always pronounced a welcome. And there were typically also remarks from the Archdeacon, a tribal elder, or other dignitaries. And there were prayers. We were never asked or expected to speak formally in this ceremony. [In this photo, the man in the center (with the t-shirt) was the official representative of the SPLA/SPLM -- the new military/government presence created in the Comprehensive Peace Agreement in January 2005. I sense he had much authority.]

Then we would be led into a payut or tukel. This gave us a time in the shade where we could cool down. Usually, one of the people from the village would come with a basin of water to wash our hands. If there was time enough, we were offered something to drink – either hibiscus tea or coffee – and sometimes a bit of bread also. In my experience, only an “inner circle” were included in this respite – only us travelers and the Bishop and clergy accompanying us. It seems this was viewed as relatively “private” time.

All the visits we made were to archdeaconries, where we were going to worship with the people and where the Bishop was to do confirmations. So the next step was that all the clergy (including Mothers Union) would move into another structure to vest.

In every village, there would come a moment where all the clery would come out for the processional. And every time, I got teary-eyed. Here is one of the many processionals we saw. This one is particularly special because Mama Janifa is smiling and waving. (She did not do that a lot!)

Then we would worship together. As I’ve mentioned already, all of us “honored guests” were seated in special chairs in the chancel.

At a certain point in the service, all of us guests were directed to introduce ourselves and offer greetings. This is very stylized. Here’s how it went for us. The Bishop would ask us to come forward and greet the people. One by one, we would stand and move to the edge of the chancel. There was a somewhat formulaic greeting, along the lines of, “I greet you in the name of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” Then we would tell them our name and say we brought greetings on behalf of our home parish. Sometimes some of us would also say a little more – or a lot more – by way of greeting and compassion! One odd (to me) thing about this was getting used to having a translator working with me. I had to get into the habit of saying just one phrase at a time. And I had to get used to the fact that the people of Lui would applaud after almost every line I spoke.

After the service, and the greetings, we would be escorted to the payut again to have a meal.

In our visits, we also had meetings with the clergy and village leaders. These meetings were generally before the meal. (I took this photographs from the chancel. You can see Archdeacon Robert and (at right) Sandy in the foreground, and the many people who attended the meeting in the rest of the photograph.)

At the end of the worship and meetings, we would all move back out toward our truck, and all the people of the village would gather around us. They would sing to us, then we would have prayers, then load into the truck. Then they would sing us on our way.

Every time we departed a village, those faces would haunt me. I could see it in their faces – the question, “Will they remember me once they return to the comfort of the U.S.?” They would sing, and reach their hands out to us. And I would feel another piece of my heart being left behind.

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