South Sudan Odyssey
Mission worker Sharon Curry begins ministry
By January 2012, at least 150 people, mostly women and children, were reported killed after fleeing attacks by fighters from a rival ethnic group. The government of South Sudan declared Jonglei a disaster zone and asked humanitarian agencies to accelerate life-saving assistance.
Visit www.pcusa.org/southsudan for the latest developments. Pray for the PC(USA)’s South Sudan partner churches and organizations as they continue to provide a witness to the grace, peace and love of Jesus Christ during this crisis.
A letter from Sharon Curry preparing to go to South Sudan
“See, I am sending an angel ahead of you to guard you along the way and to bring you to the place I have prepared (Exodus 23:20).”
As we begin to enter the Advent season and a time of preparation for Christmas, I was thinking of Mary as she prepared for her journey to Bethlehem and the arrival of her son. I wonder: did she have the same worries I do?
I am reminded that Joseph and Mary didn’t begin this journey without a little fear and trepidation. Neither Mary nor Joseph knew the reason why—they just trusted God and obeyed. That is a question I am asked frequently: “Why South Sudan?” I don’t know why. I am just trusting God has his reasons, and I know this is one of those times in life that I will just trust and obey.
Another question I am asked is about being afraid. I know that this is not one of the safest places in the world for a single woman to be on her own. Part of serving in an unstable place is knowing that at some point I might have to be evacuated on short notice.
As I continue to read the story of Mary and Joseph, I am reminded that they too had to make a hasty retreat—pack up what they could carry and travel to Egypt. God provided for their protection, and I know he will provide for mine. I know that God is with me or I would not have been called to serve in Akobo. No. I am not afraid.
Sharon is evacuated
January 5, 2012
Nothing in my wildest dreams could have prepared me for my first two and a half weeks in Akobo.
This story begins shortly after Christmas with reports of intertribal fighting between two rival tribes in the Jonglei State in South Sudan. The Lou Nuer are from Akobo, where I am living, and the Murle are from an area maybe 100 miles south. Approximately 6,000 Lou Nuer descended on the Murle territory. The Nuer burned one entire village to the ground; women and children were kidnapped.
A few days later we heard reports that the Murle were involved in a revenge attack in West Akobo, about a day’s walk for me. There were reports of which NGOs were evacuating and when, how and who. Everyone was worried about my safety.
I should say everyone but me! I was having the time of my life getting to know everyone in Akobo and finding my way around, proving that this American girl really can cook with a wood fire and trying to find my way to the latrine in the dark. I have been getting to know the women, laughing over my blundering efforts to learn their language.
It was with great joy in my heart that I watched hope bloom in the middle of this hard, dry, cracked ground that will someday be my home.
I had marched through the town with the elders, leaders and youth of the church, singing and dancing, and we gathered on Christmas morning to worship the “the new baby Jesus.” I was a part of their annual baptism—of 158 people, from teeny, tiny newborn twins, to an elderly lady leaning on her walking stick. I didn’t realize how important it was to them until people stopped me on the road to say, “I saw you singing.”
The boys in the cattle camps across the way started to trust me enough to come close, and the girls laughed as they braided my hair one afternoon. And that is how in such a short time the people of Akobo came to be such an important part of my life and my heart.
I think I sat there in numbed shock as I heard the words, “We can’t guarantee we can keep you safe. You should go now, while we can get you out.” I sat trying to hold back tears. I was on a U.N. flight out of Akobo the next morning.
Sitting in the sanctuary, offering up prayers of thanksgiving for all the ways I have been blessed during the past two weeks and for all the prayers that have been and continue to be lifted up for me and the people of Akobo and Pibor, I picked up a songbook and found “Lord Prepare Me to Be a Sanctuary.” I thought of all the people that are sanctuaries for me—the pastors, the friends, the family who give me strength and courage and who are the refuge in the face of storms, the wings that lift me, and the hearts that hold me in love, support and prayer. And I thought of the amazing, amazing job that the PC(USA) and [the Presbyterian Church of Sudan] staff have done in keeping me safe, in preparing for any possible scenario and all their prayers along with so many others that I probably don’t even know about.
So, as I sat in the quiet and peace of the sanctuary tonight, I prayed, “Lord, prepare me to be a sanctuary” for the people of Akobo if they need refuge from the storms of the intertribal violence they are facing when I return. Lord, let me be the sanctuary to them that others have been for me.
The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) celebrates more than 100 years of ministry in Sudan. Independence on July 9, 2011, gave the people of South Sudan a chance to chart their own future. Despite more than 50 years of civil war and an infrastructure that is in ruins, a sense of hope now pervades the people of South Sudan. The Republic of South Sudan began nationhood as one of the world’s poorest countries, but it has a landscape with rich natural resources and churches with abundant faith. The PC(USA) is working with its partner churches and organizations, the Presbyterian Church of South Sudan (PCOS), the Sudan Evangelical Presbyterian Church, Nile Theological College, RECONCILE, Across, and the Sudan Council of Churches to help craft a brighter tomorrow for the people in South Sudan.In addition to Sharon, the PC(USA) has the following mission co-workers in South Sudan:
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