Thursday, December 18, 2014

This is not a game...

This is not a game...this is reality. A reality the children of South Sudan have to live with every day.

Monday, December 15, 2014


We are able to access our blogsite...because we are in Villiersdorp, South Africa. Apparently, Ethiopia ranks 78th out of a list of 79 with regard to internet access...sigh. Here is our latest prayer letter and a new poem.

“We regret to inform you that flight 809 to Johannesburg has been delayed.” I am glad some things in life never change. In fact, the longer I live here, the more I have come to appreciate the unpredictable – it helps to mortify any remaining vestiges of Western punctuality and to create a peaceful sense of Hakuna Matata. Louise and I are seated at the departure gate area in Bole airport awaiting the arrival of the plane that will take us to the one stop on our way to Cape Town. Thankfully, no one has started the useless wailing noises otherwise known as complaining. While some hopeful souls have taken to standing in a queue, most of the seasoned travellers remain seated with their noses in books, laptops, or cell phones. A few are actually talking to each other. (We just had another announcement encouraging passengers to return to the Lounge area. This is going to be an interesting day).

Louise and I left a rather warm Gambela on Sunday, en route to sunny Villersdorp where we will visit with family and friends until the day after Christmas. I have not seen my brother (other than on Facebook) since my dad’s funeral, 24 years ago. But this is more than a short holiday. We hope to meet with a few of our supporters and a professor from my old alma mater, George Whitefield College. It still strikes me as semi miraculous that anyone from GWC still wants to talk to me, but there it is. Perhaps I wasn’t all that bad a student.

The best news since we heard that Lauren was pregnant with our second grandchild is that we have the government’s blessing to start St Frumentius’ Anglican College in late August 2015. This means we can forge on ahead with plans other than building and fund raising. Last week, we visited several seminaries, colleges, and Bible Schools in Addis to learn more about how things are done around here. I am thrilled to report that everyone we spoke to was more than helpful and genuinely happy to have a Theological College open in Gambela since the closest Bible School is a day’s drive to the West.

I am also chuffed to say that our College will be open to all denominations and, thanks to an agreement between respective Primates, to students from across the border. This camaraderie restores one’s hope that the High Priestly prayer of Jesus might not be a pipe dream after all…perhaps we can all be one even as He and the Father are one.

I am now writing from a cool, sunny, gorgeous Villiersdorp. Needless to say, we did get here eventually…three hours delay made up en route so that we were only an hour late in the end. We did miss our connection but ran on the next flight just before the gate closed.

We will be here for Christmas, but we will be leaving the next day for Addis where I will be preaching at St Matthew’s on Holy Innocents Day…not much time. Then John Macdonald and a team from Trinity will be coming to Gambela…but that is a topic for January.

Happy Advent and Merry Christmas to one and all.
Here is a poem I wrote about an incident at one of the Camps.

The Camp

“A refugee has no god,”
The camp official said.
“You shall not worship anything –
You are as good as dead.
A refugee has no rights;
You’re aliens in this land;
Don’t ask for leave; don’t ask at all,
You may not make demands.”
But still the people meet to pray
They meet to worship Him
Who gave them rights as children who
Believe upon His name.

There was a priest who lived within
The borders of this camp.
He could not go, he could not leave
The place without a stamp.
When leave was once again denied
This priest began to pray.
‘Twas his desire to attend
The clergy-training day.
To whom or which should he submit;
To man or unto God?
He searched his heart until he got
From Him the divine nod.

He left the camp; he went his way
The meeting to attend,
And as he feasted on the Word
His soul began to mend.
What honour this, what privilege!
To sit before the throne
Of Him Who suffered just like him –
He’d never be alone.
He was imprisoned on return
But joy still filled his heart.
No matter what man did to him
The Spirit quenched each dart.

The Bishop called th’ authorities
To plead with them the case.
“But he had broken all the rules,”
They argued to his face.
What rules are these, you might well ask,
That make the refugee
A nothing and a nobody –
No better than a flea.
They did release him from his cell
With stern admonishment,
“As long as you live in this camp,
Our rules may not be bent.”

How long, O Lord, must this go on
How long, ‘til human kind
To ploughshares beat each bloody sword
And seek peace ‘till they find
That there is never reason why
That any harm should come
From coveting or harbouring
A grudge ‘gainst anyone.
Prosperity and harmony
Are twin advantages
That come when men lay down their arms
And sign agreement pages.

Yet nonetheless, the fact remains
That wrong can n’er be right
The people in the camp still are
Engulfed in darkest night.
Displacement comes with every war
As people flee for life –
But they should be our honoured guests
And not reduced to strife
With camp officials and the like
Who seek to bring them low,
Make living hard – unbearable –
Just adding woe to woe.

Johann Vanderbijl © 2014

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

A (lengthy) update and a poem...

WARNING: This is a rather long letter, but I am afraid we may not be able to communicate with you again in the near future and there is so much to tell.

What an honor and a privilege to work shoulder to shoulder with our brothers and sisters in Gambela and to share with them the trials and struggles of every day life! Louise and I are reminded on a daily basis of how much we have been taking for granted for years and how we have forgotten to trust our Father quite literally for our daily bread…or water, for that matter. Stripped of many of life’s comforts, we are learning what it means to be incarnational, even though we still have far more than the average person here. It is humbling, but it is also so rewarding, and the pros far outweigh the cons. How the Father has shared His love for all with us!

The Gambela market is an extraordinary place…a hustle and bustle of people and animals and vehicles…all sharing the same narrow little mud streets. The stalls are filled with colorful items for sale…”everything and anything a chap can unload”, as the song goes…ranging from food to soap powder. Everything tastes so much better here…the flavors are so enhanced because everything here is ‘organic’. The eggs – which can be dicey at times – are a bright yellowy-orange.  The papayas are fleshy and juicy. The beets are red and sweet.  Of course, we are limited as to what we can buy – there is no cheese, milk, yogurt, or butter to be had here – but these things can be found in Addis and brought here by those who visit. We really have no reason to complain…the Lord is very gracious and kind to us all.

I (Johann or Johannes, as they call me here) have been working rather hard on getting a patch of barren soil prepared for the planting season next year. Part of our instruction at St. Frumentius College will be on sustainable methods of food or even income generating ideas. Mulching and composting are very important in an extreme climate such as Gambela, but these practices are not known here. It has been very interesting to explain to our folks and curious onlookers (I seem to be a kid magnet wherever I go) what I am doing and why. Thankfully, we have a slaughter-house just across the street from us with loads and loads of good cow manure…the rotting heads and other body parts are a problem, but only when the wind blows from that direction. J

I have been preaching in the local churches, leading staff devotions, and have just completed an intensive training session on the Ten Commandments with the Clergy and Lay Leaders. Needless to say, I have been as happy as a warthog in mud!

Louise is currently teaching the Mother’s Union Representatives along with Dr Wendy. Her message this morning about love and forgiveness was amazingly powerful...remember how much these women have been wronged over the years! She gave each woman a stone to hold, and asked them to imagine that the stone was something that had happened to them in the past – something they needed to release to the Lord – some person they needed to forgive – and then to lay it at the foot of the cross. It was a holy moment as each one went forward and knelt before the Ethiopian processional cross.

Bishop Grant and Dr Wendy leave for Addis this Friday. Please pray for them, especially for Grant as he travels around the Horn. There are many, many wonderful things happening throughout the area!

The remodeling of the library continues, but the end is in site. The new windows and offices are such an improvement on the previously dark and awkward interior rooms. Once this project is complete, we hope to start with the (very much needed) wall around the property and the construction of the College chapel, which will also serve as home base for St. Barnabas church…they are now far too large for their small meeting space!

Praise God! He is doing a mighty work under the Anuak! Please pray for our attempts to reach out to the local Anuak community in whose territory we are situated. We showed the Jesus film in Anuak to a crowded room of children and their parents…this is the first moving picture these people have ever seen in their own language! Imagine! The first time ever…and what they saw and heard was the Gospel. This film will be shown at a large Anuak gathering – brethren from all over the area – this Saturday. I will be preaching to this gathering on the Sunday morning. Please pray that the Gospel will go forth in power!

We are so grateful to our Lord for bringing us here…all thanks and praise to Him!

Praise items:
We have received more support from new partners! Praise the Lord and thank you all so much. We want you to know that we pray for you all daily.
We have moved into our new home, even though there are a few problems yet to fix!

Prayer requests:
The dry season is at hand and has not started well. It is very hot and we have no municipal water. We have water from the Baro River, but this is not safe to drink without boiling and filtering.
Pray that we bond well with our new family in Christ.
Pray that we have the grace to die to self each and every day – that the Holy Spirit will help us to “mortify the flesh”.
Pray for wisdom and grace as we continue to plan for the opening of St. Frumentius Anglican College. We already have far more prospective students than we can handle!
Pray for our churches, our clergy, lay leaders, the Mother’s Union, every parishioner, and all they seek to serve.
Pray for our brethren in the refugee camps.
Pray for talks concerning the work of the Anglican Church on both sides of the border.
Pray for peace in South Sudan and peace here.

I will be posting photographs on our blog site and Face Book site.

Finally, here is a poem I wrote (a true story) about the power of forgiveness.

My Children’s Foreign Mother
He gazed at me through darkened eyes,
This man who fled from war.
“I had to wait until my wife
Had died from all her sores.”
“Her sores?” I asked without a thought
Of how this mem’ry might
Uncover pain too deep – too raw –
Too close to fear and flight.
He blinked and turned his face away
As if to hide inside;
And then with measured words he told
Me how it was she died.

“You see,” he murmured quietly,
“We were from different groups.
When we were joined in matrim’ny
We were not split in troops.
But now the war has pitted us
‘Gainst one, and ‘gainst the other…
My people just could not accept
My children’s foreign mother.
At first there were just angry words
And insults flung her way,
But soon there followed slaps and blows
And threats if she should stay.”

But then things got quite out of hand,
As I was pushed aside.
The mob was now out of control
And she was trapped inside.
I pushed and pulled and sobbed and cried
Until I found her there,
A bloodied mess of flesh and bone
With blind and vacant stare.
She did not die that fateful night,
But fought and fought for life.
How could she leave me all alone
With children, but no wife.

As in the dawn began to creep
Her soul began to leave…
One light come in and one go out…
A family left to grieve.
We buried her under the tree
Where we two once were wed.
And with her in that sandy grave
I lay my heart to bed.
And then we packed up all our things,
The little we still had,
And started out on foot towards
The good or t’wards the bad.”

“And now we live within a camp
Together with those who
Had dealt the blows that killed my wife
And left me with these two…
Little ones too young to know
Such sorrow and such strife;
Too young to know that they will ne’er
See her in this life.
How can I speak to them of heav’n,
When hell is all they know?
How can I speak to them of love,
When hatred brings us low?”

He sighed a sigh and closed his eyes
Perhaps to recollect…
Was that a quiver in his voice
Detected, but soon checked?
He turned his face to me once more
As if with pleading eyes
He sought from me, a mortal man,
An answer to his whys.
“But there are some,” he softly said,
“Who suffer more than us…
You see the ones who dealt the blows
Now live among the just.”

“And they must look into our eyes
Each and every day,
Their conscience pricked when every time
We choose instead to say
That we forgive and we still love,
In spite of all the pain
That by their actions they have caused…
For only one thing will remain…
For faith and hope, the Bible says,
Will all too quickly pass,
But love goes on beyond the grave
And on beyond our past.”

He slowly rose as if to go
But then he turned and said,
“I miss her so, my foreign wife,
And even though she’s dead,
A part of her I always see
Within my children’s eyes.
And when I think I may forget
I find her in their smiles.
And by their lives they testify
To one and to the other,
That bitter hatred could not kill
My children’s foreign mother.

© Johann Vanderbijl 2014

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Visitors, tiffs, puppies, and rain...

“Oh hello, we have a little visitor,” I said to Roger, our priest in Addis, as I was talking to him on the phone. A juvenile Boomslang had just made an appearance on the porch of our Bishop’s house while I was telling Roger of all that had transpired since our return to Gambela. But I have begun the story in the middle…

Since we left the United States for Ethiopia, we have been busy mostly with documentation, meetings, and conferences. We only had a few days in Gambela before we left, Louise for Holland to meet with her mum and family, and me to Egypt for the Province of Jerusalem and the Middle East Conference held in Luxor. It was a marvelous time of catching up with good friends, my bosses (Archbishop Mouneer Anis, and Stewart Wicker from SAMS), and meeting so many new and wonderful people from all over the Near Middle East, the Middle East (the Gulf Region as well as Iraq), Cyprus, and North Africa. Some of the stories from the front-lines of some of the world’s most difficult countries were very moving indeed. One man remarked, “We are told, ‘You are not like us therefore we will kill you.’ We respond, ‘You are not like us, therefore we will die for you.” And he wasn’t speaking metaphorically.

There was time for more leisurely activities and I got to see some amazing sights as well as enjoy a Felucca trip on the Nile. Mind blowing.

From Egypt we returned to Addis for a Faith2Share Consultation. It too was a great time of catching up with old friends, making many new ones from all over the world, hearing stories from martyrs and saints, learning so much from the breakout sessions, and, most importantly, praying with and for each other. We met dear brothers from Kenya who specifically wanted to meet us as they want us to collaborate in a mission to a people group that straddles the border between our two countries. This is a dream come true for Bishop Grant and Doctor Wendy – I remember them talking about reaching this particular people group the first time I met them years ago!

Another piece of good news is that Bishop Grant was asked to reopen a church that had been "lost" decades ago in an up until now closed country. Please keep this in your prayers, as there is still much to do.

And then finally, the blessed reunion of husband and wife in Addis! Louise returned two days before we left for Gambela and we spent the one day shopping for supplies and food one cannot get here.

Our flight to Gambela was uneventful and oh, the joy of being back home again! But as we were driving in to town we were told that the whole town was on lockdown as two people groups had a bit of a tiff in a nearby town. The unrest had spread and the local government was not prepared to have it get out of hand. The town had been shut down – not a single store was open – and was filled with troops and police armed to the teeth. Their overwhelming presence was strangely reassuring…no one in their right mind would dare to make trouble while they were around!

When we go back to the Anglican Center I called Roger to let him know what was going on. It was then that I spied our unwanted green guest (about 18 inches or 46 centimeters) peeking out from under a blue barrel of emergency water. I called to Louise to bring me my sjambok and one whack settled the matter. Roger expressed astonishment that I was killing a snake while still chatting on the phone…well a man must do what a man must do, I guess.

That same night, I heard strange squeaking sounds outside the lounge window. Louise thought it was a cat, but it soon became apparent that one of the local dogs (which seems to be perpetually pregnant) had decided to have her new litter under the bougainvillea on the side of Bishop Grant’s home. Sigh…it never rains, but it pours…and that’s exactly what happened. The heavens seemed to open up and it poured down intermittently for two days. I guess that’s one way to keep the curfew!

Today the town reopened and we were able to go stock up and get out Internet taken care of. Meetings are still going on to resolve the dispute so please pray for wisdom, cool heads, and peace.

Building has ceased as the builders too had to stay home, but so much has been done! Our home is move-in-ready, but far from complete…it still has a few, shall we call them, character flaws…especially with regard to the plumbing. But slowly by slowly the egg walks…one of the first lessons one must learn here if you are to survive.

We now have a mattress for our bed and an ill-fitting mosquito net…our shower and toilet works…well, sort of…and we have redeemed a few bits of furniture here and there. This makes the place quite livable we think.  I have also been preparing a piece of land for a vegetable garden that, hopefully, will one day serve the College and have created a composting area. The slaughterhouse across the way does have its advantages.

This is a long letter…I apologize for that, but so much has happened in this short space of time and there are still so many things left unsaid.

Items for Prayer:
Bishop Grant and Doctor Wendy are in Australia speaking to churches and various Anglican Aid Societies. Pray for these meetings that they may prove to be fruitful.
For our clergy, lay leaders, Mother’s union, and churches in the Horn.
For the approximately 300,000 refugees – some of the camps were flooded recently.
For the situation in Gambela and for peace and harmony among the various people groups in the area.
For Louise and me as we try to finally settle and get things unpacked.
For the Area conference in November.

Finally, I have added a poem I wrote about the present situation. Thank you for your love, concerns, and support.
You are much appreciated. Please do let us hear from you.

Much love and blessings.

Johann and Louise

The Lockdown

The lockdown of the town became
The lockdown of us all.
“Go home!” they said, “Go home and stay!”
A curfew was installed.
A cry for vengeance had been heard,
For blood that had been shed.
Two children’s argument the cause,
An adult’s death now fed
The raging fire that had spread –
That could not be resolved –
And now engulfed entirely
The people groups involved.

What feeds this love for violence;
This craving for revenge?
One moment friend – next moment foe
A lust for bloody binge.
Lord, you revealed yourself to be
The Author of our peace.
Light of the world bring light to all…
From bondage bring release.
Foul ruler of the wicked hearts,
Your rule shall not prevail.
As Christ our King leads on the fight
Your evil deeds will fail.

Lord of the Harvest, hear our prayer
For fruit at harvest time.
Cause us to hear Your blessed words;
“I know those who are Mine.”
Instead of hatred, let Your love
Be poured out on us all.
Release Your angels ‘gainst our foe
Let his advance be stalled.
Let enemy love enemy;
Let groups be made as one;
Let us not cease our efforts ‘till
We hear Your words, “Well done.”

Let not the lockdown of our town
Prophetic words become.
Speak Father, Son, and Holy Ghost,
And let your kingdom come.

© Johann Vanderbijl 2014

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

An update from the Gambela Anglican Centre

We arrived in a cool Gambela on Saturday past. As Addis had been so cold, we had wondered how our bodies would respond to the usual heat of the low country, but our gracious Lord had taken care of that already! Be not anxious, as your Father already knows…ah yes, another lesson on faith and trust.

The Anglican Centre is undergoing some major renovations thanks to the generous donations of many supporters of the Lord’s work here. For the present, it is our home-to-be and the library.  Pray with us for more donors, as there is much yet to be done before the College will be fully functional.

The library used to be dark because the open holes that were mean to serve as windows let in dust (and ashes during the burning season) rather than sunlight. 

But that has all changed now, as walls have been knocked open to accommodate large windows, and other walls erected inside to better utilize the space for books, computers, offices, and study areas.

The old office block has undergone a bit of a transformation as well, and is slowly beginning to morph into our new home. Thanks to one wall knocked out and one wall built in, it now boasts an open plan kitchen and longue area, and a shower! We hope to move in soon…perhaps when we return from Addis in October.

 Yes, Addis. Louise will be companion to the Queen on her trip to Holland, and I will be attending a Provincial Assembly in Luxor, Egypt, and a missions leadership conference in Addis after that. Bishop Grant and Doctor Wendy will be visiting churches in Australia later in the month, but we will return home. Home…that is what Gambela is to us now.

We have been working hard on the Nuer language, but the going is slow. Having taught English as a Foreign Language, I know that there is such a thing as muscle memory and when it comes to the mouth and the tongue, muscle memory is a hard thing to overcome. Some of the sounds in Nuer are so foreign to the English mouth that it takes a lot of practice before the word spoken sound anything like what we hear with our ears.  And even then, our Nuer brethren first frown when we address them and then, recognizing the mispronounced greeting or statement, smile widely and repeat what we should have said several times. They are ever so gracious and patient with us!

Electricity has been a problem since we arrived, which means the cell phone and Internet network does not work either. Also, Louise and I have yet to purchase the adapter needed to access the Internet. But today, we have power and everyone is furiously catching up with their correspondence. +Grant let us use his adapter last night, so we did manage to Face Time with Hanno on his thirtieth birthday, for which we are grateful.

We have also been working hard on the grounds, pruning trees, cutting down those that are too close to others, fertilizing some with manure bought from the butchery across the street, planting vegetables and so on. There is still so much work to be done, but a vision of the future drives us forward. It is important to us to have this centre be totally self-sufficient. Green visions of solar power and wells and water storage tanks dance in our heads…but all in due time.

For now, work revolves around getting our home ready for occupation and learning the Nuer language. Everything else is a bonus…