Each year I spend a couple of weeks in late April or early May working like a dog. I am lifting, shoveling, digging, shifting, smoothing, raking, pruning… I am doing the work of a gardener, planting seeds and preparing my beds for a season of productivity, growth, and nutrition. And each year, I find myself at the middle or end of May and the beginning of June and I’m, well, stopped.
The garden isn’t finished, of course. That won’t happen until a couple of weeks into October at the earliest. But there comes a time when the work of preparation ends and the work of nurturing, of waiting, of anticipating, and of cultivating begins.
In a few hours, we’ll get on a plane and fly for five hours to Dubai, UAE. Not long after that, we’ll get on another plane and spend fifteen hours winging our way towards Washington, DC, where we’ll unearth my old Toyota and head for Pittsburgh. Our time in South Sudan has come to an end.
If you were to ask me what we’ve done, the first thing I’d do is point you to the six prior entries in this narrative. But the reality is that each of these only provides a description of how we’ve spent our time. In reality, what we’ve done is the work of the gardener. We can’t stand here now and point to a school or a church that’s been built because of the work of our hands; there were no rallies or crusades. Just as my garden doesn’t look all that fruitful on Memorial Day, there is not much apparent in South Sudan or ourselves that is different now as compared with eleven days ago.
But of course, planting seeds is a significant and prophetic act. Even when the nature of the landscape has not significantly been altered, the reality of that place has changed as the seed lies latent in the soil. And so it is when the seed lies latent in the soul. There is change, growth, pushing, stretching, breaking, climbing and…eventually, Lord willing, a harvest.
Since returning from the Team Building, Trauma and Healing retreat in Yei, here are some of the ways that we have been worked over by the Gardener who called us to this place:
- We have met with a team of church leaders from the Nuba Mountains, a region in Sudan that is facing daily atrocities at the hands of the Sudanese government. Some have termed this “genocide” – and it surely seems like the Christians and others in that area have been targeted for destruction. You can learn more about this situation by clicking here or here.
- We re-engaged the churches of the South Sudan Presbyterian Evangelical Church by participating in worship. On Sunday January 25, five of us were privileged to preach in congregations, and Pastor Gary accompanied our friend Pastor Thomas into the women’s prison, where he had a deeply moving experience.
- We have shared space here at the Guest House with our colleagues from the PC (USA) Mission Agency. A small team of leaders from our denominational headquarters and the denomination’s Washington Office is in this region and it has been a blessing to share our experiences with them.
- We have been humbled to spend time with seven of our church’s Mission Co-Workers. Normally, these pastors, educators, development specialists, and evangelists are scattered throughout the nation, but because of the tense situation throughout the country these days, they are all concentrated here in the capital. We were thrilled when they accepted our invitation to dine together and share a some of their heart with us.
- For a few hours, we were just tourists. We visited the markets, lunched along the Nile, and explored the city. Particularly moving was the opportunity to visit the monument to Dr, John Garang, the man who is most deeply associated with the independence of South Sudan. As I have said, when visiting another place, it’s always a good idea to learn about the person whose face is on the money, and here, that person is John Garang.
As we prepare to get on the plane, I’m ready to tell you that we feel a little like my garden must feel in mid-May: torn up, plowed under, turned around…and ready. We have been given this experience. We carry seeds that as yet have not borne much, but we trust that the work of this trip does not end when we get on the plane.
Pray with us, and pray for us. Pray for seeds sown in our lives and in the lives of those with whom we’ve come in contact these days. Pray for those who live in fear and uncertainty, and for those whose days are shaped by the horror of what one human being can do to another. And pray for those people anywhere and everywhere who would seek to live in a way that reflects the Lord’s intentions of peace, wholeness, and prosperity for all of God’s people.
The past two Sundays I have preached from Isaiah, and pointed to the ancient prophecies of healing and redemption. I’ll close this narrative of tilling, toil, plowing and seed-planting by offering his words. Just as the seed packet bears an image of the fruit that is to come in due time, so these words from scripture describe the end for which God has destined his creation.
On this mountain the Lord Almighty will prepare
a feast of rich food for all peoples,
a banquet of aged wine—
the best of meats and the finest of wines.
On this mountain he will destroy
the shroud that enfolds all peoples,
the sheet that covers all nations;
he will swallow up death forever.
The Sovereign Lord will wipe away the tears
from all faces;
he will remove his people’s disgrace
from all the earth.
The Lord has spoken.
In that day they will say,
“Surely this is our God;
we trusted in him, and he saved us.
This is the Lord, we trusted in him;
let us rejoice and be glad in his salvation.” (Isaiah 25:6-9)
Oh Lord, hear our prayer.