“We do not grieve as those without hope”: Update from Gambella

“We do not grieve as those without hope” (1 Thess 4:13-14)

Next to Gambella, South Sudan is at war. Refugees are flooding into Gambella, and many have lost loved ones.. Please hold Bishop Grant and Dr Wendy LeMarquand, the clergy, the Mothers Union leaders, refugees, the 70 Anglican congregations, and those affected by violence in your prayers.

Dr. Wendy writes: “As we all sat in the tukal (hut), sisters, brothers-in-law, father, mother, grandchildren, friends and relatives, the sunlight streamed in the door, glancing off the feathers of inquisitive baby chicks, and falling softly on the faces of those who had gathered to share their grief. War had a face. It was the suffering face of our friends and colleagues in Gambella as family after family heard of this son killed, that brother gone missing, that dear friend no longer alive. I was struck that there was no denial of grief as parents and relatives shared their hope in Jesus. Death had taken the one they loved from them, and Jesus had taken their loved one from death. Both hope and grief had equal place. And we were privileged to share in this with them.”

Bishop Grant writes: “Although Gambella has thus far escaped the violence taking place across the border, one horrible incident did occur a week ago. It is unknown whether the perpetrators of this had come from across the border or were local. Last week, as the sun was setting and people were sitting down outside their tukals (huts) to eat, armed men of a different ethnic group suddenly appeared from the bush and opened fire on an Anuak village near Abol killing three people (two women, one pregnant with her first child, and one newly married young man). The men kidnapped eight children and headed back into the forest. Three of the children escaped, but five are still missing. The entire village swam across the river to escape further violence and have been living in the small village of Abol Kir where we have a small Anglican congregation. I went there today with a member of the Gambella Anglican Centre staff who is himself an Anuak priest. We brought a truck load of maize, cooking oil, coffee, sugar, mosquito nets, tarps, ground sheets, soap, and some cooking and cleaning supplies. 

The whole village gathered and I asked to hear the story of what happened. Two women spoke clearly and calmly recounting the details. I spoke about how it must be so easy to become angry and want revenge, but that taking revenge would just  make the other group want to retaliate again. I spoke about one of the hardest things that Jesus ever said: love your enemies – it doesn’t mean we don’t have enemies, obviously they are there, but he wants to change hearts – their’s and ours’. Then we prayed. One woman broke down weeping at the end of the prayer and had to be held by several other women who were afraid she would hurt herself. “She has a mental problem,” said my priest friend. “Her children are among those who are lost.” If my children had been taken like that, I would have a mental problem too!

The clergy were at the Gambella Anglican Centre this week for two days of training. We were able to talk about how the refugee situation is having an impact on the region, their churches – and themselves personally. At least half of the clergy have lost relatives in the fighting in South Sudan: one priest has lost six cousins, one has lost a son. Several have friends and relatives who are missing. Afer the clergy training days Wendy had 35 Mothers’ Union leaders here for two days of training on nutrition – but the war in South Sudan also had to be addressed. Wendy talked on Wednesday afternoon about grief and then led a time of prayer, especially for those who had lost loved ones. The demonstrative weeping that followed was intense, but neither unexpected nor inappropriate. It was a bit like a cloud burst which was briefly violent, but ultimately cleansing.”

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