It’s about six a.m., and I have been sitting in the cool of the darkness here in Juba for about half an hour. The roosters and the muezzin are both seeking to get things moving, although in the quiet courtyard of the Episcopal Guest House, neither party appears to be gaining much traction.
The good news is that six people and four suitcases from Pittsburgh Presbytery have arrived safely in Juba (two of our suitcases, apparently, were so impressed with the stark desert beauty of Dubai that they’ve elected to remain there for awhile). Our flights were timely and smooth. It was my first experience on Emirates Air, and it was simply amazing. Those folks have thought of everything – from 800+ in-flight movie/TV options to lamb kofta for lunch to a gracious and attentive staff… a thirteen hour flight is never pleasant, but I mean to tell you that these folks did everything they could to take the sting out of flying that far, that fast.
Because of that, we arrived in Juba in pretty good shape, and we were greeted by an enthusiastic delegation from the South Sudan Presbyterian Evangelical Church (SSPEC), our partners here in South Sudan, several of whom came out onto the tarmac to greet us as we disembarked from the plane. The radiated from the pavement as we walked past a couple of other commercial airliners as well as a fleet of other planes and vehicles bearing the logos of the Red Cross, Doctors Without Borders, the UN, and other relief agencies. The first stop was the medical tent, where we were all given a health screening.
In spite of having undergone a year of civil strife, the infrastructure here in Juba is at or better than it was during my visit two years ago. The roads are about the same, although the signage and the traffic controls are improved. The Guest House now has internet access and a new breakfast hall, and there’s a new breakfast building on site. We’re staying in the same place as I did two years ago, and when I joked to Ken that I was really looking forward to my “memory foam” mattress, he said, “Yes, your back will remember that same sag in the middle from 2013!”
The highlight of our day was a welcome banquet that our hosts had organized at one of the city’s premier hotels, The Juba Bridge. There was a long table set under a giant mango tree right on the banks of the White Nile, and as we listened to the river rush past, watched the sun set, and went through the exercise of familiarizing our teams with names and ministries, it was just perfect. We feasted, all right – not only on chicken and beef and talapia and rice and fresh pineapple and watermelon, but on the stories that were shared of God’s provision, guidance, sustenance and presence. Earlier in the day, we’d had a team devotion wherein Sharon asked each of us to think about Paul’s analogy of the church as the body of Christ in I Corinthians 12, and then to consider which part we’d like to be in the weeks to come. Many of our team indicated that listening, processing, and reflecting were gifts we’d like to exercise, and our colleagues in SSPEC were kind and gracious as we began our time together. There was laughter and joy and hope shared around that table. It was, as I have said, good. Very good.
Those interested in some of the more mundane aspects of our trip will be interested in knowing that the ECS Guest house (images here), our home for the bulk of this trip, is a ministry of the Episcopal Diocese and consists of a number of housing blocks with double rooms and shared baths. There is a spreading canopy of trees (filled with magnificent birds!), a large open-air tent for shade, and several administration buildings. It’s fenced, guarded at night, and even has electricity from 7 pm – midnight daily. For the daily weather in Juba, click here. No, we’re not in Pittsburgh anymore.
Well, it appears as though at least the roosters have experienced some success in their ministry, and I can see the sky lightening and hear the voices of some of my colleagues. Today we will have a full day of visiting various sites in and around Juba, including the South Sudan Council of Churches, a prison ministry, some government officials, and more. We continue to ask for your prayers and delight in God’s provision for us.