It is strange how one forgets the calamitous, cacophonic chaos of security and check-in lines at Ethiopian airports. Private space is not something people seem to be aware of here and one learns to tolerate the constant prodding of the suitcase from behind as well as the double queues. The urgency to board the plane may have something to do with the excess pieces of hand luggage most of the passengers seem to carry in spite of the regulations. Thankfully, there was no livestock on board.
Gambella has cooled down since we left. Rather than a stifling 140+ F (60+ C) we are enjoying 95+ F (36+ C)…but this time we have high humidity added to the mix. The heat in March was so severe that a number of our trees are quite literally burnt and a few are dead.
What a wonderful surprise to have Ajikune, one of our Anuak students, meet us at the airport together with our driver Gutu and Joshua, a linguist from SIL working with the Opo! Karen Salmon, shortly back from Ireland, was on the plane with us and Rosemary Burke had a delicious supper ready for us on arrival. Thankfully no wildlife, other than odd daddy-long-legs, had moved into our home and Louise worked wonders within a few hours. Ah, what a sweet reunion with our beloved brethren here! We continue to have visitors throughout each day!
Linda Abwa from CMS Ireland arrived the day after. We arranged for our students and other interested parties to come hear her speak on pastoral care for those suffering from HIV/AIDS, but unfortunately the tension between Nuer and Anuak has not yet been healed, so we had to have two classes, one in each territory. As Gambella has the highest percentage of HIV in Ethiopia, our folk were more than interested to hear what she had to say and her efforts were well rewarded.
Unfortunately that night reports came in from three neighbouring towns that over 160 people had been killed, an as yet unnumbered amount wounded, many children, food, and cattle taken. This is quite a shock, as usually these types of cattle raids do not claim so many lives. But people are hungry at this time of year, especially since food trucks could not reach these areas due to road closures resulting from the ethnic clashes, and often hunger leads to violence. We are praying that there will be no revenge killings, but rather that the grieving will find solace in the arms of the Prince of Peace. Somewhere…dear Lord…somewhere the hatred has to stop.
While we were in the US, we met with a security specialist. After having drawn a basic map of the area and of our compound, he came to the conclusion that we are not secure at all. I think we have known that for quite a while especially since the Nuer/Anuak incident two months ago, but he gave quite a few good ideas of how we can protect ourselves if evacuation is not an option. The library building seems to be an ideal place of refuge if it comes to that. Of course, we do need to complete the wall around the compound, but that will take funds we do not have at present. The wall and the drilling of a borehole for safe drinking water is a priority as we remain at risk without them.
Also, communication is a problem. Often cell phone and Internet connectivity is disrupted when trouble erupts…we have not had Internet access on the compound since we arrived…until now…YAY!...but satellite phones are expensive and consequently not a viable option for us now. Obviously, this is something we need to think about…soon.
The College reopens on Monday. We will continue to hold classes in two locations, but we are hoping that this will not be a permanent reality. Fear is almost tangible here and understandably so. It is just so sad that our brethren can no longer live together in unity…
As you all know, I had heart surgery six weeks ago. Recovery is taking a lot longer than I had hoped, but I am getting stronger every day. Louise gives me the stern motherly talk often…I haven’t had the strength to disobey.
I have included a poem I wrote about the recent massacre…writing poetry helps me process the unthinkable.
Thank you all again and again for your prayers, your love, and your on-going support. You are very much appreciated.
With much love and tons of blessings.
Johann and Louise
Massacre at Gikuo, Lare, and Nininyang
The murderous hordes stole in at night
Our people were at ease
No one would ever have believed
That they had come to seize
Our cattle and our little ones
…the bit of food we had…
To slaughter all who could not hide…
Had hell itself gone mad?
As Jesus said, the devils’ hour
‘Tis darkness and t’is gloom
As Judas marched with soldiers armed
To send Him to the tomb.
Our Lord was slain through cowardice
Of each and all concerned
Of Priests and Roman Governors
Not one would overturn
The sentence of the Innocent
The slaying of the Good
The only One Who had not sinned
Hung on a cross of wood.
But out of death our Father brought
Salvation to the world
And through the resurrected Christ
Our freedom flag unfurled.
So in the ashes of our lives
Those who believe must find
The light that comforts even those
Whom horror seeks to bind.
The sovereign attributes of God
Unwithered by man’s sin
Remind us in the aftermath
That love will always win.
Oh Gikuo, Lare, Nininyang
Your wailing voice is heard
By God Himself who is the judge
Who has the final word.
For Satan plunders, Satan kills
But Jesus grants us life
And shepherds us through deepest vale
Through sorrow and through strife.
Seek not revenge, but rather stretch
Your hand out to forgive
Those who in sinful ignorance
Do not know what they did.
For Satan blinds the eyes of those
Who do not know the Lord
They are the lost who have no hope
Beyond the things they stored.
For all they have is of this world
They know not of the next
And so from war and so from theft
They simply cannot rest.
But we have not an earthly aim
Our sights are set above
The witness of our lives is this:
We serve a God of love.
We do not ask our fellow man
To give us victory –
All other nations and their kin
To bring to bended knee.
But rather we serve Jesus Christ
Who sits on Heaven’s throne
And bids us go to all the world
To call the peoples home.
Over 160 people were slaughtered in the area, many children were abducted, and cattle and food stolen.
Johann van der Bijl © 2016-04-16