Years of hard fighting, extensive losses, and deep personal struggles typify recent decades of the region’s history that should not be ignored nor forgotten. In one large multicultural center in the US, I watched individuals and families arrive all day, well dressed, and with anticipation in their faces. As I sat at a table with other guests, a young man in his late twenties spoke openly and with emotion. This was his day of celebration; he invited us to share in the speeches, cultural dancing, and special food.
My new acquaintance found his emotions flaring, his fellow Sudanese cautioned Achbar to control himself. His passion first showed when he stood and pulled me tightly to his chest as the new country’s flag was brought in. I could not even struggle against him. He wanted me to know how important it was, yet had no words to speak. After the flag ceremony, the words tumbled out: he saw his mother killed in conflict, now he wished she could know this moment. Achbar also was a child soldier and demonstrated to me how he carried a rifle against his shoulder. I understood better his struggle. Such a contrast - remembered pain and a day of celebrating.
That wasn’t the last story I heard on the first day of South Sudan’s existence. A woman nearby sought me with her eyes and invited me to sit closer as she recounted how her own disability saved her. Twenty years ago, Roda was a university student who witnessed the killing of fifteen of her siblings and many other relatives in her village. Her inability to walk unaided marked her as not worthy of spending bullets, her torturers taunted. After everyone else around her was brutally murdered she waited a very long time . . . then slowly climbed over the bodies, dragging herself away from the scene. Today’s festivities stirred yesterday’s pain.
I feel prepared for this time: being with others outside my culture who have experienced deep pain, participating in transformation, knowing them as image bearers of the Divine. I’m honored to hold these stories and respond with compassion, to see beyond the moment. My current work takes me throughout Africa where my focus is HIV and AIDS. I have the unique privilege of spending a large part of each year as a mentor where I guide local leaders, build capacity, listen, and share their pain.
The AIDS pandemic, now thirty years old, and like civil war in Sudan, has also obliterated families, created orphans, and left deep wounds on entire countries. Yet, I find hope in my work, a desire to see grass root efforts to effect holistic change. My own strengths in psycho-social and spiritual care lead me in paths I find sometimes surprising and always tapping the depths of my faith. I find good listening can lead to transformation. I would choose no other way but by the leading of the Holy Spirit; coming alongside individual lives, among other cultures, and challenging beliefs that continue to mar the beauty of humanity. The Trinity is actively at work in each place I go and it’s my delight to discover places of movement and light no matter where I am.