Learning to be in the image of Christ.
Each morning at 7:00 am in front of my room few faithful gather for morning prayer. In the evening same group gathers for evening prayer. We sing Hymns in Dinka, prayer is offered by Mary Magdelena, a lay member of our community. Lessons appointed from lectionary are read. I am asked everyday to give reflection on the appointed lectionary lessons. During my stay here at St. Andrews Cathedral compound, Bor, I have realized I live among a worshiping and praying community. At 4:30 am youth Mama group which is choristers of the cathedral community play drums and gather for morning worship. On the other side senior class at St. Andrews is preparing for their final exam to graduate from high school this month. Boys and girls are living here on the compound of St. Andrews. It is a class of 123 boys and girls. They meet as their own group for worship in the morning and evening. On my side of St. Andrews compound there are six small huts where six individuals including me live. Mine is the largest room beautifully decorated in Dinka Style. We gather twice a day for worship. I have realized that it matters not that we are a tiny cluster of Dinka elders mostly uneducated, poor but dedicated people of faith. We meet to praise, pray, hear the living Word of God and offer our intercessions before God. It is such a sacred moment of worship, as I truly feel and believe that Jesus the risen Christ joins us when two or three gather in God’s name. This morning one of our reading was from Hebrews:
“Now Faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see. This is what the ancients were commended for” (Hebrews 11: 1).
My community of faith in Bor has been tested for five decades of war, persecution, lack of medical services, housing and food. They have kept their eyes on Jesus while lifting high the Cross as a strong and vibrant church. I experience their faith as I live with this community and find the words of Jesus ringing in my ears: “whoever finds his life will loose it and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” Faith in Jesus Christ is no crutch but a source of inspiration. During their time of suffering and pain they find in Jesus and in carrying their Dinka Crosses to worship that Jesus is present in their suffering in their everyday living. As Finnie Lou Hamer an American Negro use to sing in the cotton fields of Mississippi, “O Lord you know just how I feel.” God of the Bible who stands on the side of the poor and suffering people we learn here that faith is not “opiate of the poor people” but God is real, Jesus is living and Holy Spirit gives them hope and courage to move forward in their lives. Jesus said, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthews 5:3). Here in my living with them I learn these poor are blessed, I experience it but words cannot do justice.
I find among them courage, love and a willing dependence on God. I feel their love as I cook with them, eat and pray with them. Comparing with us living in the west these people have few possessions but I feel their love throughout the day as dozens of people offer their warmth of hand shake to me during the day. Since my arrival here all Covid-19 pre-cautionary requisite rituals are dismissed. As Henri Nouwen would say, “ I see humanity as a see of people starving for affection, tenderness, care, love and acceptance. Nouwen learned that we minister to the needy not only to take Jesus to them but also to find Jesus within them. Jesus said Blessed are the poor,” not “Blessed are those who care for the poor.” (Philip Yancey, Soul Survivor, p. 295).
I have served as a Rector of large and affluent communities in the United States. I had large and beautiful churches to lead worship services with expensive looking vestments, a handsome salary and loving missional communities I served. Now since June 2019, I have been called to serve as Bishop among the poorest of the poor. In JESUS the CHRIST, in the incarnate God, we see an action of downward mobility. The Word of God “became flesh” and made his dwelling among us” (John 1:14). He emptied himself: “Who, being in the very nature of God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness” (Philippine 2: 6-7).
In my call to serve in the Diocese of Bor. South Sudan I am learning about the downward mobility (Henri Nouwen used it first time in 1981 in an article in Sojourner magazine). Jesus is calling me to follow his model of service to be a servant bishop to show the same compassion to my people who just walk into my room unannounced, shake hands, and sit down and talk with me. They do not take appointments or have any specific agenda. Simply visit me throughout the day to share their love as I have come to visit them from USA. Jesus is calling me to reach out to the broken and the needy, offer them warm welcome and cup of cold water on such hot days or cup of tea and a cookie in the morning and in the afternoon. What a privilege being transformed in the image of the Servant Christ to my people in Bor, South Sudan.