So much has happened in the past few weeks, and it is long overdue for an update on what has been going on! My apologies for the lack of blog posts, but it is my prayer that you all had a blessed Christmas and very Happy New Year!
The time leading up to Christmas was very busy with preparations. The students finished the school term in early December and most of them went to visit relatives, work on their compounds making bricks, work in the garden, cook, or clean their homes. I continued to work at the clinic in the mornings; however, with the holiday season, apparently sickness went away! We were only seeing 10-20 patients each day leading up to Christmas, and so when the patients were finished we closed up shop. So my afternoons were spent helping the community in any way possible. I spent most afternoons making Christmas decorations--cutting and coloring paper so we could decorate the Church. I even got the job of drawing baby Jesus for the manger scene. Even though baby Jesus looked very feminine this year, He still was proudly hung right in the middle of the altar on Christmas Day. Christmas time in South Sudan was such a unique and equally perfect experience. This year there were no cookies, no gifts, and definitely no snow. But there was so much love, joy, and pure happiness. I truly got to experience the real meaning of Christmas, complete with a four hour Church service! We sang and danced, and the kids showed off their brand new Christmas outfits with the biggest smiles painted on their faces. We also welcomed 26 new kiddos to the Catholic Church through Baptism which was a whole new experience for me. The mothers stood in line and the priest went right down the line first with the oils and then followed with water. After Mass, Ariel and I went to a student’s home and we shared a small meal together and enjoyed each other’s company. Something so simple, but I couldn’t imagine a better way to celebrate Christ’s birth. I saw Christ in so many people and events on Christmas, through people’s generosity and their genuine joy. This year, Christmas definitely was a celebration, and Maridi truly was the perfect place to celebrate His birth.
Unfortunately the situation at Christmas was not the same in many other parts of the country. As shown by the many, many messages I have received from family and friends, I am sure you all are well aware of the current situation in South Sudan. First of all, thank you for your concern and prayers for the people, my community, and the country. I know most of you are staying up to date with the current news so I won’t go into details. But fighting broke out in the capital, Juba, a little over three weeks ago. The effects of the fighting, luckily, have not been seen in Maridi and as far as I know, everybody there is safe. Before the fighting began, Ariel and I were planning a trip to Uganda for a short holiday and retreat. Since the school was closed and the clinic closed for 10 days during the holiday season, we figured it would be the perfect time to recharge our batteries before the responsibilities of the New Year started. We were supposed to return 4 days ago, but here I am still sitting in Uganda. Unfortunately the situation in South Sudan is continuing to worsen, and there is no safe way for us to enter back into the country. The plan now is for Ariel and me to be moved to the Salesian community in Nairobi, Kenya. We don’t have any details and are taking things on a day-to-day basis. We will most likely be staying there and volunteering until the situation in South Sudan calms down and we can return.
All of this has been happening so quickly, and it has been a struggle to comprehend the entirety of the situation. There are definitely some blessings in disguise—the fact that we already have safely left the country, and there is still no fighting or tension in the community where we stay. However, it is hard to think about the sweet kids we left behind. So many questions and feelings start to flood my mind. What will happen to them? When can I go back and see them? Will the fighting spread to them? Feelings of guilt because I can leave, but they have nowhere to go. The only thing I can do now is place all these worries and concerns in God’s hands knowing that He alone can provide, and trusting that He will wrap all my little nuggets in His comforting and protective arms.
So as you can see things have changed a bit since my last post, but being flexible is part of mission, and I am trying my best to go along with the twists and turns of this great unknown journey. Although I had no idea that four and a half months into mission I would have to leave South Sudan for the time being, I am doing my best to put my trust in God’s plan as He leads me through the next few days and weeks. Thank you for your continued prayers and thoughts. Please keep on praying for the people of South Sudan and for peace in the country!