Saturday, December 8, 2012

Busy at Rest

Happy Advent!  I pray God is blessing each of you in every way during this beautiful season of anticipation and expectation.

It's still funny to me how comfortable I feel despite a lifestyle that so unlike the one I have been living for the past twenty-four years.  I am shocked to not be craving Panera Bread or Dunkin' Donuts.  The cold shower doesn't even faze me.  The mosquito net over my bed has become second nature.  It's hardly odd that as we move deeper into December, the temperature hasn't plummeted, but in fact grows warmer every day.  But knowing that I have stepped out of the known, the comfortable, and entered into God's Will so entirely, I am certain that it is solely and completely by His grace that my heart feels more at rest than I can remember ever before. The moments of consolation and confirmation of this call often come at the most unexpected times.  One evening, after attempting to scrub my feet clean for five solid minutes, at the recognition that they have become as rough as sand paper and inconsolably dirty, I could do nothing but smile at how much more perfect they have become in this place.  The day when I felt like a total mess and really wanted to put on some "normal" clothes, blow dry my hair, and look like a girl again, exactly then did one of the boys pass me by and tell me I was looking nice today. Even a better day was receiving the most rare and ultimate of compliments, "Sister, I think you are an African," once because of the crazy braiding in my hair and again due to the scarf I had thrown haphazardly around my head for shade.  God's heart has been revealed in the most simple, unanticipated moments.  Just yesterday, I found myself in a pitiful mood for a variety of reasons, and one of my smallest friends, a boy called Anbeko, having only three years, came sweeping past me in a full sprint, and shouted over his shoulder, "Sister Gracie!"  The day I started hearing the boys call me "Gracie" was a big hug from God, telling me I’m home.  

When I daydream, night-dream, think about the kids at any random point throughout the day, I sometimes catch myself mid-thought, forgetting color in my mind's eye.  When I recall the memories I’ve made with the children, I subconsciously see no distinction between us.  There have been several moments when I have been among and interacting with the children, gotten a quick glance at my arm, and been genuinely surprised by the color of my skin.  The eyes of my heart has become blind to the worlds that separate us.  I forget that they have been through war, that they’ve all tragically lost parents and siblings, and that they aren’t going home to electricity, a toilet, or enough food.  I am not ignorant of their many needs, but when we play, they are simply my friends.  I feel so much a part of them, a member of their community and family, that the lines dividing us have so beautifully blended together.  It's a strange realization in these moments that I am coming from a completely different world than my sweet little friends, because our hearts are so much the same.

"You have made us for Yourself, O Lord, 
and our hearts are restless until they rest in you." 
-St. Augustine

Let me next apologize for the lapse between entries, blogging has been ever on my mind these weeks, but a free minute to accomplish the task has been impossible.  So many BIG things are happening at Manguo Mission in Maridi, keeping us all so busy!  I will attempt to take you quickly through all of them! 

Our Beautiful Sisters!!!
The sisters have finally arrived! They are a perfect addition to this family here in Monguo Mission.  Three sisters have joined our ranks, all of them young, energetic, personable, motherly, affectionate, tender, nurturing, adorable, and deeply holy.  I love them so much!  Our laughter is constant.  One more sister will join us before Christmas.  

The Hospital here at our mission was inaugurated with a massive celebration on November 20th.  We had government leaders and politicians from all over the state and even some from Juba and Khartoum travel to Maridi for the event, in addition to the 1500 villagers who gathered for the event.  If blessing our beautiful, new health facility wasn't enough, as Bishop Eduardo was celebrating the [five hour long] Inauguration Mass, he took a moment to administer the sacraments of First Holy Communion and Confirmation to ninety of our school children- twenty-two of whom were anointed and brought into the Catholic Church from the Anglican rite.  What a gift for our Church!  The whole day was beautiful and profoundly impressive.  Two moments of greatest impact for me occurred as the dignified guests gave speeches after mass.  First, the Minister of Health shared a powerful message, commenting on the health care statistics in South Sudan’s Western Equatoria State being among the worst in the entire world, and he then praised the Salesian order for being part of the “solution to this problem.”  He continued on to parallel the new nation as a “one-and-a-half year old child with a handicapped mother” and called the Salesians “the good neighbor, who comes to aid the child in his time of great need.”  I was overwhelmed with gratitude and profoundly humbled to consider myself among the Salesian family after hearing this strong word of praise.  
Receiving the Sacrament of 
Confirmation during the 
Hospital Inauguration
The second most exciting moment occurred during the Governor’s speech, when he responded to the request of our Rector by promising before the whole assembly, "Within seven days, Monguo Mission will be given land for building a secondary school!"  You can only imagine the cheers and applause that poured from the audience.  The children are elated, both to attend a secondary school as awesome as their primary, and, of course, also at not having to walk the six miles daily to the nearest secondary school in town.  We cannot wait for the new project to begin! 
The hospital is now inaugurated, but it will not function for several more weeks.  We are still in search of a doctor and laboratory technician, and all our medicines and equipment need to be purchased from Uganda.  Slowly things will come together, in God’s timing!

Loving my students
The school year has ended!  I walked proudly out of my last class period with the seventy rambunctious fifth graders, having survived the chaos, and wistfully from my class six students, who have really loved me and taught me to love the teaching profession over the past few months.  Exams passed smoothly last week, and now I am left quite sad that all the children have gone.  Holidays will go on until the last week of January.  We are used to a compound packed with children from day to night, and now it’s become significantly quieter around here, of which I am not particularly fond.   I can’t wait for the next school year to begin! Though, I don’t quite know in what capacity I will be serving Don Bosco Primary when the 2013 school year begins.  God’s will be done!

Sister Grace at work in the office!
Our Diocese is preparing to celebrate a Centenary of Faith.  It’s hard to believe that it wasn’t until 100 years ago that the Catholic Missionaries of St. Daniel Comboni arrived in Western Equatoria State to introduce the people in this place to the person of Jesus Christ.  A massive week-long celebration is taking place in a city called Mepoi, within our Tambora-Yambio Diocese.  The community here will be traveling the 9+ hour journey on Monday for the celebrations.  I don’t know what to expect, but it should be a once in a lifetime experience!  When will I ever again experience a place that has only known Christianity for 100 years?

Thank you for your continued prayers, and know of mine for each of you.  On this great Feast of Our Blessed Mother’s Immaculate Conception, may she wrap you in her Immaculate Mantle and send her holy angels to guide each step you take.  Mary, Help of Christians, pray for us!