Thursday, November 8, 2012

Being Here

I am exactly where I’m supposed to be, without question.  I find it still to be a bit of a mystery that God has called me to such a radically glorious life.  My days are full of smiling faces.  From across the compound I hear, what feels like one hundred times each day, the children calling out for me, “How are you, Sister Grace?!” and “Good morning, Sister!” or also the popular line, “Sister, look at this one!” (pointing to an injury that needs care) or the ever frequent arm-tapping as a child walks by wanting to shake my hand and say hello.  Each greeting is paired with a massive smile, and joy bubbling from the heart, written plainly on the face.  It’s incredible how loved they make me feel. 

My roles have shifted slightly in the past two weeks, and I’m finding my daily lifestyle to be absolutely perfect for me.  There is no doubt that Our Lord picked out each individual task for me; from time to time am overtaken by amazement of this very fact.  He planned this journey for me as a gift of love from the moment of my conception, even from the beginning of time.  Here's a glance at what is going on in my life. 

I am surrounded by the students of Don Bosco Primary School from the time the sun comes up in the morning until it sets in the evening.  Morning mass begins at 6:45 am, and each day the church is filled with children, and almost exclusively children.  It is a beautiful sight, and with each passing day it continues to move me.  Their faith is inspiring.

I teach an average of four class periods a day, but the school schedule changes daily.  I continue to teach English to the Informal Class of students that cannot pay school fees. (These fees, I should add, total about 33 US dollars for the entire year, but their families are far too poor to pay this amount of money.  Additionally, a majority of the children in the school work after school and on the weekends to pay for their own educations.  They value their schooling so much.)  I am also still teaching Scriptures to Class 6, and I have added Class 5 Scriptures to my duties.  The 70 rambunctious, talkative students in the Class 5 make teaching Scripture a bit more of a challenge than the 35 *generally* well-mannered, eager-to-learn pupils in Class 6.  As I see it, I am learning as much about being a teacher as they are about the Scriptures.  It evens itself out in the end.

One of the teachers has begun her maternity leave now, so I will pick up an additional six periods each week, teaching Arts and Crafts to Class 5, 6, and 7.  I’m excited for this one!  While I’m well acquainted to teaching 5 and 6, the students of Class 7 happen to be phenomenal  so I’m really excited to spend some time exclusively with them.   

Last week we completed our second term examinations.  Written at the bottom of the test paper of my Class 6 student, Emmanuel, was the message: "Sister, thank you for being happy."  No words in the English language could have said so much. 

My students and there many ailments!
In addition to my classes, I have now distinctly taken on the role of school nurse.  Father John Peter has now given me my own office, which becomes a small clinic during morning break and lunch break.  Somewhere around two dozen students stop by my “medicine room” during these times, and 90% of them are for the purpose of wound care.  So many of the children have wounds for various reasons, some are very large and deep, and they have a very difficult time keeping them clean.  Band-Aids are definitely not a household item around here.  Almost all the wounds I treat are on the ankles and feet, and they quickly become infected because they are walking miles to school in sandals and playing football in every free moment with bare feet.  I’m trying to do as much education as possible with them for keeping their wounds clean, and so far I think it’s working a bit!  They are learning not to come to my office until they’ve washed their dusty, dirty feet and legs at the water pump. 

Making friends!
I’ve been making South Sudan my home for two months already!  There is no way to describe how fast the time has gone.  I feel like every time I stop to think, it’s already Saturday again, another weekend to wait eagerly for school to start on Monday.  The most gratifying part of being here for two months, and in Maridi for six weeks, is the relationships that each day become a little deeper and more meaningful.  A glance around my nurse’s office the other day to find the patients gone and the chairs filled with little friends is all the affirmation I need.  I love these kids with my entire heart, and I want them to know how true that statement is. 

The other day I was sitting and watching the school boys play (yet another!) football match at recess.  It is certainly the most popular pastime in this place; they can never get enough!  I have, without a doubt, watched and played far more football in the past 6 weeks than I have in my entire life combined- and probably doubled!!  Truly.  I still really don’t even like it that much, if I’m being honest, though it is growing on me.  While sitting with a group of girls watching the boys play that day, I had a moment of realization.  I experienced real joy watching them play.  I began thinking about my parents, sitting through hours upon hours upon hours of baseball, soccer, American football games, etc over the years.  I’ve always admired their perfect attendance record at every one of our games, and I didn’t know how they could do it!  I love my little brother, Ben… but I can only sit through maybe one of his baseball games in a week.  Enthusiastically, Mom and Dad watch those games with joy always, proud of our achievements and supportive through our mishaps.  As I sat watching those boys play, I had a glimpse of understanding in the motivation my parents have-- in loving us so much they are able to value and enjoy the things that make us happy.  In that moment, I felt like I could begin to understand that affection and motivation.  I’m certainly not a parent to any of the children here, and my relationships with them are only a few weeks strong at that.  And of course, my love for these South Sudanese children is not even close to the love I have for my little brother!  What I am realizing is the gift that God has given me in being an authentic part of these children’s lives.  God sent me here for one reason, and that reason is to love.

Today, Father Stan, one of the Salesian priests here, commented that this situation at the school is ideal for me, knowing how much I love both teaching and nursing.  My response sprung from my heart, “I don’t think I could be happier!  It’s perfect.” 
His response countered, “…Only in heaven.” 
I laughed and told him he was absolutely right, but right now heaven seems to be the only possible scenario that could trump this one.

What’s Next?
As good as things are right now, transition is ever approaching!  We have some great things coming soon.  We are awaiting a group of three religious sisters to arrive next week!  Some of them will be working with me in the new hospital, which is set to open on November 23rd with a big ceremony and mass.  At the mass, the whole student body will be present, and many of the children will receive sacraments of First Eucharist and Confirmation!  The bishop will be coming, along with the governor and several other official people.  It should be a great event, and lots of planning is going on in preparation.  Also, the school year will come to a close the first week of December, just in time for me to start working in the hospital.  I’m excited to start this new work, but also a bit nervous to experience the intensity of illnesses here in South Sudan, and I’m so deeply going to miss the constant interaction with the school children.  I trust God’s plan will continue to be as joyful and fruitful as it has been thus far!  I’ll take one day at a time.

Prayer Intentions!
--For the children here, especially those in formation to receive sacraments.  
--For the sisters as they travel from India to South Sudan this coming weekend! 
--Please keep me in your prayers through the upcoming transition from teaching to hospital nursing.  -- I’m still working at learning Zande language, and my progress is so much slower than I would like.  Any prayer for my language studies would be greatly appreciated! 
Know that each one of you is on my heart in prayer each day!  All of the children here are praying for God's will in America's presidential election.  We thank you for all your prayers for us here in South Sudan!  


  1. Dear Grace - this is your Aunt Colleen's sister, Shelly. I hope this note finds you doing well. I wanted to let you know how truly inspiring your blog and experience has been to read. You are an amazing young woman and I hope this journey fills every crevice of your hearts desire. We will be praying for you and your new family abroad. Safe travels. With love and prayers - Shelly.

  2. Hi, Gracie! Still catching up on my blog-reading. I agree with Shelly that you're an inspiration: not only for what you're doing but for your whole faith-filled attitude. (Thanks be to God for that gift!) You also have touched on one of Don Bosco's insights--to love what the kids love, which helps establish rapport with them (not that you're having much trouble with that, apparently); and then you have an opening to lead them to love what you love, as in Jesus, education, respect for others, etc. Keep up the great work. God bless you!

  3. Grace - I am so happy to read your different posts about your missionary work! Thank you for your sharing, witness, fidelity, and above all your missionary vocation in service to God and his people. God bless you as you remain in my prayers!
    Sincerely, Fr. Gregory, TOR