As was reported here last month, a mission team from the Episcopal Church traveled to Southern Sudan.
The purpose of the trip was to do groundwork for the expansion of diocese to diocese relationships:
The Episcopal Church of Sudan has 24 dioceses in an area roughly the size of the United States east of the Mississippi. Four dioceses are located in the northern part of the country, while the other 20 are clustered in the southern portion. Of these 20 dioceses, only six have relationships with U.S. dioceses in the Episcopal Church. This February, a mission team from the Episcopal Church, including members of the Diocese of Virginia, [traveled] to South Sudan for a month to develop relationships with many of the remaining 14 dioceses.
Buck Blanchard, world mission coordinator for the Diocese of Virginia, [joined] Phil Darrow of the Diocese of Chicago and missionary Robin Denney of the Diocese of El Camino Real in a tour of eight different dioceses.
Mr. Blanchard and Ms. Denney [continued] their trip at a bishops’ retreat in Yei, where they were joined by the Rt. Rev. Francis C. Gray, former assistant bishop of Virginia and newly appointed commissary to the Church of Sudan, and the Rt. Rev. David C. Jones, bishop suffragan of Virginia.
In February 2009 Archbishop Daniel Deng Bul convened the first ever Bishops’ and Spouses’ Retreat for the bishops of the Episcopal Church of the Sudan and their wives in Yei, Southern Sudan. The retreat was led by three visiting bishops: Bishop Frank Gray, retired Suffragan Bishop of Virginia, Lord George Carey of Clifton, retired Archbishop of Canterbury and Archbishop Henry Luke Orombi of the Church of Uganda.
The main retreat was also attended by several partner representatives from overseas, including +David Jones and Buck Blanchard of the Diocese of Virginia, Emmanuel Sserwadda of The Episcopal Church of the United States (TEC) and Canon Trevor and Tina Stubbs of the Diocese of Salisbury, as well as ECS Provincial Secretary Canon Enock Tombe and International Co-ordinator in Archbishop Daniel’s Office, Nicholas Ramsden.
Thank you, Bishop Deng, for bringing Bishops Orombi and Jones together.
Robin Denney made several blog posts during the trip. This one titled “Abundance” gives a good taste of the group’s travels among the dioceses of southern Sudan.
The first of several email reports sent by Buck Blanchard is beneath the fold.
February 9 , 2009
Background: Buck Blanchard, diocesan coordinator for world mission, and other representatives from the Episcopal Church are currently in Sudan on a month-long trip to build and strengthen relationships. The Rt. Rev. David C. Jones and the Rt. Rev. Frank Gray have also traveled to Sudan to take part in their House of Bishops meeting. The following is an update from Mr. Blanchard.
We have been in country about two weeks and yet this is the first time that I have had the opportunity to sit down with my laptop and write about it in any detail. We have been busy seeing the country, visiting dioceses and meeting bishops and their people. So far, we have traveled to the Dioceses of Torit, Rejaf, Juba, Bor, Twic East (in formation), Mundri, Maridi and Ibba. Now we’re back in Juba catching our breath. On Wednesday we will pick up Bishop Jones and travel to Yei for the Bishop’s Retreat.
I realize that no one wants a travel log. But we have seen some sights: roads that the Toyota Land Cruiser had to think about before trying; communities starving as they were in the “gap” time between when United Nations food runs out and when their crops will be ready for harvest; kids tending a cattle camp with several thousand longhorns, each child smothered in the ash of dung fires to ward off the flies; a community praying over the site of previous massacres committed by the Lord’s Resistance Army, asking God to forgive their enemies’ sins, “for they know not what they do.”
But a couple of things stand out. The first is the sincerity of the welcome we have received everywhere we have gone. In several places, we are essentially, if not literally, the first visitors from the U.S. Episcopal Church in anyone’s memory. The joy expressed by the people is indescribable. Here, they absolutely love to receive visitors: “It is a blessing from God when we have visitors – when no one comes, we are not happy.” We worshipped last week with the bishop of Rejaf, who has been quite ill for the last year. He commented, “Never did I dream in my lifetime that visitors from the U.S. would come and pray with us in our church. I feel as though I am alive again.”
The other stand out is Ibba. Ibba is a small town in Western Equatoria. It’s about 180 miles west of Juba – a rough 10 hour drive. But Ibba is now home to 69 families (270 people) who have fled from a January 22 attack by the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), most from the town of Wowo 14 miles south. The LRA not only killed a number of village residents, but then proceeded to hack up their dead bodies with machetes. It’s no wonder that these internally displaced people now huddle in fear, with no intention of returning to Wowo any time soon.
We walked out behind the church property to where the families had set up, typically each family under a mango tree. They have nothing, and so they scrounge for food each day (sweet potatoes leaves and forgotten manioc root). Recently they have been sending the men back to Wowo during the day; while some stand guard, others collect what food they can and then walk the 14 miles back to Ibba.
We stopped and visited one family. They had a few possessions, but clearly lacked cooking pots and other utensils, plastic sheeting against the sun (and soon the rain), jerry cans to collect water – and food. There are no NGOs (United Nations’ non-governmental organizations) currently working in the area to assist (although some Episcopal Relief & Development resources are on the way). The people are looking to the Episcopal Church to help. Ibba, though, as a diocese, has no funds.
We thought we should say a prayer with the family under their mango tree. Frankly, I was too choked up to do it. So I asked Robin Denney, a missionary from the Episcopal Church who just arrived to spend one year in Sudan as an agricultural consultant, to lead the prayer. She didn’t hesitate, and gave a prayer that showed more compassion and grace than I will have in three lifetimes. She’s 27 years old.
The people blessed us for coming – for “suffering the hardships of travelling to this part of Sudan.” It was wrenching – them blessing us. We told them that the Episcopal Church in the United States would be praying for them and would try to help.
I hope we will.