Friday, March 1, 2013

Lenten Sacrifices

This has been by far the most interesting Lent up to date.  I began the season with the typical penances; I’d given up bread and all beverages apart from water, and I’d promised God I’d be more faithful to personal daily prayer.  What I’ve discovered is this: Mission is in itself is a penance.  Paralleling the satisfaction and joy of daily life is the daily commitment to sacrifice.  This joy masked the small struggles of daily life for many months; and without coincidence, the Lord chose this holy season to open my eyes to this daily sacrifice, offering me the opportunity for growth and a greater dependence upon His grace.  It’s truly a gift, but it hasn’t been easy! 

As well as continuing in my daily nursing responsibilities at the Health Center, my heart fell right back into its home among the students of Don Bosco Primary as we begun the new 2013 school year in late January.  One my missionary highlights, and probably one of the most uplifting moments of my entire life, took place amidst my first lesson in my Religion class with Grade 7.  After I had strategically mapped out how the class schedule would unfold, what the course outline would look like and had all my notes ready to go, I woke up the morning of that first lesson and said to myself, “I have to teach them about LOVE!”  How could I start my Religion class any other way?!  Love, the aim of our Christian life, the greatest of the virtues and commandments, my personal mantra.  So I quickly scrapped my plans and during slow moments at the hospital was looking up Bible verses and putting together the key points.  It was during that particular class, as I was proclaiming how loved we are by Jesus with all the passion and fire in my being, that I suddenly felt the weight of what I was doing.  I was taken aback by the silent movement of the Holy Spirit in my heart:  “This is why you have come, to love them and to teach them how to love.”

I adore the many fascinating personalities and discussions that fill up my class periods every day after lunch, and I keep myself quite busy in the mornings working at our Hospital.  We’ve been open to the public for one and a half months now, and it seems we are developing a nice rhythm and routine in our facility, despite the unpredictability of each day.  A few favorite moments stand out in my memory.  The first was an adorable, spunky little boy from our Class 1, who came for a dressing.  Despite his endearing presence in our clinic, that particular day I was in a less than pleasant mood, feeling overwhelmed and thereby rushing to get the work done.  Though this small boy doesn’t speak much English yet, as I sat there like a stress-ball trying to accomplish the task at hand, he suddenly began to sing a popular church hymn under his breath, “Whatsoever you do for the least of my brothers, that you do unto me…”    How quickly my attitude then changed.  A similar experience occurred this week as I was again dressing wounds for another one of our school children.   While I knelt on the ground, pouring water and wiping clean this boy’s dust-covered, little brown feet in preparation to then cleanse his wounds, I was suddenly jolted by the realization: I am washing the feet of Jesus.   I am so unworthy to serve Jesus in these beautiful people, and I so often forget the gift that sits right before me.  I love being able to love them!

A special gift in the past few weeks also included the widening of our Salesian Lay Missionary family here in Maridi.  Two of my brother SLMs came to join in our community, Tom for two weeks and Dan has come permanently!  It's been a gift to enjoy friends- I love my Sister Cait, but a fresh English-fluent, young American face in the mix has been so much fun for all of us!  We miss Tom now that he's gone back to Juba, and we are loving the addition of Dan to our family!  He already fits in perfectly.

There are certainly many unanticipated challenges within this Lenten season, opportunities to recommit to my call here in South Sudan, through both the good and the... less good.  The intricacies of different relationships within the community are certainly stressful at times for all involved, and learning to live as a unified whole in our work and in our recreation isn’t always easy.  I’m also suddenly more and more aware of the rice and beans we eat for 95% of our lunch and dinner meals, and I find it hilarious how my subconscious mind has been recalling food like memories lately.  I’ll be walking down the path to my house and suddenly envision the Seafood Alfredo dish from the Olive Garden, or a Chicken Bites Wrap from the Pub at Franciscan University, or a Cheese steak from the Perk.  Working so much and hardly having any down time is certainly taxing over a period of so many months.  My computer broke and is being sent to America for repair, so in the meantime I have to borrow from my site partners or deal without one.  I’m running out of topics to give talks on after evening oratory.  Sometimes I just want to be in charge of my own schedule.  I’m still like an infant trying to speak Zande language.  How do I respond to a love letter from my student!?!  So many little struggles, small Lenten penances, that are hardly but a bother in the big picture of my incredible life in South Sudan.  I thank Jesus for giving me these tiny opportunities to unite myself to His Passion and Death, so that come Easter Sunday, I will not just have been missing mango juice for forty days, but hopefully I’ll find myself renewed and invigorated amidst His glorious Resurrection. 

"The world offers you comfort, 
but you were not made for comfort; 
you were made for greatness."   
-Benedict XVI


  1. Gracie, you've hit on a key concept of Christian asceticism (and of Salesian spirituality as well): daily life has lots of penances when we accept and deal with what it brings--the weather that we can't control, the people who come to us with their joys and sorrows and human failings, our own responsibilities, etc. You bring a wonderful attitude toward all that. Very glad Dan has landed well--glad for all 3 of you, and for the whole community. God bless y'all!

  2. Grace, When you come home, we're having a big old Rice & Beans feast. Woo hoo!