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!
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!
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