A letter from Sharon Curry in South Sudan
It’s a Time of Preparation!
“See, I am sending an angel ahead of you to guard you along the way and to bring you to the place I have prepared (Exodus 23:20).
“Prepare for a chance of a lifetime. Prepare for sensational news” (The Lion King).
“I did it!” “I did it!” “I did it!” shouted my 18-month-old granddaughter Haley, sitting in my lap, as she very carefully picked up package of food after package of food and placed them in a larger bag of food as she helped me prepare the meals I will take with me to Akobo, South Sudan, in a few short weeks.
Granddaughters Alison, Jessica and Julie too spent a Saturday afternoon helping. We laughed and played and had fun together. I realized those times are precious.
The dehydrator has been running full steam. The trips to the market have become a weekly affair. What is on sale? What is lightweight? What can I package to take with me? Almost every trip has been with my good friend Annie, who patiently walks the isles pointing out things I would have never thought of and making the best suggestions.
My friend Sherri is preparing people at my church, and my Bible study group is busy preparing me by asking questions. My pastor, Greg, has been amazing in his wisdom, insight and ideas for helping to make this mission trip more visible to our congregation. And my good friend Fritz is mentoring me in preaching and writing sermons. I’ve taken training through the PC(USA) and a great language acquisition school. I now have a great language teacher I have come to love. And I know the PC(USA) staff is working hard on all the final details. It seems everyone is in on this act of preparing me for my next great journey, and words will never be enough to express my deep appreciation and gratitude.
I have spent hours and days pouring over online websites looking for the things I will need to take with me as I begin my new life in my tent. My grandson Alex was an invaluable help as we made the rounds of the sporting goods stores looking for my tent. He and my other grandson, Aaron, spent one Sunday afternoon shopping together as we made the final purchase of the tent I will take with me. I realized how big they are when I watched them walking through the store with a tent bag hoisted on their shoulders on its way to my car. They are no longer the little boys I remember but are turning into fine young men.
The past several months have been a great time of preparation. A time of preparing myself to make sure I have the skills I need to be productive in South Sudan through orientation, language learning and Community Health Evangelism training. I have been busy preparing my house and belongings. Preparing to leave family and friends behind; preparing for new beginnings.
As we begin to enter the Advent season and a time of preparation for Christmas, I was thinking of Mary as she prepared for her journey to Bethlehem and the arrival of her son. I wonder, did she have the same worries I do? Am I taking enough food? Do I have the things I will need? Where will this journey really lead? Will we be safe? Like me, she was making a journey into the unknown. My journey will be much easier than hers. I will fly across the world in the comforts of an airplane; she traveled on the back of an animal.
I wish I could join her in a cup of tea and share the journey from her perspective. I would like to ask her what kinds of things she packed. How was it, traveling all those miles on a donkey, heavy with child? Was she afraid? What joys and blessings did she experience along the way, besides the obvious—the birth of her son? And the list goes on…
I am reminded that Joseph and Mary didn’t begin this journey without a little fear and trepidation. They, too, trusted God to lead them where they were going. Luke tells us Mary asked the angel, “How can this be?” After hearing the answer she replied, “Here I am.” Matthew tells us that Joseph, being a righteous man, didn’t want to disgrace her and was planning to dismiss her quietly when the angel came and told him, “Do not be afraid.” After waking from his dream, Joseph trusted and did as the angel had commanded.
All this reminds me of a quote I recently read and use in my presentations now: “Sometimes we know the reason why and other times we are supposed to trust and obey” (Steven Vail). Neither Mary nor Joseph knew the reason why—they just trusted God and obeyed. That is a question I am asked frequently, “Why South Sudan?” I don’t know why. I am just trusting God has his reasons and I know this is one of those times in life that I will just trust and obey.
Another question I am asked is about being afraid. I know that this is not one of the safest places in the world for a single woman to be on her own. I recently asked about taking my dog with me. He’s a great therapy dog and I thought he might be good for the people. Part of serving in an unstable place is knowing that at some point I might have to be evacuated on short notice. Could I leave my dog behind? No. He will stay in the United States. I will miss him terribly, but God has provided the angel that will take care of him until I come home.
As I continue to read the story of Mary and Joseph, I am reminded that they too had to make a hasty retreat—pack up what they could carry and travel to Egypt. God provided for their protection and I know he will provide for mine. Am I afraid? Not really. I know that God is with me or I would not have been called to serve in Akobo. No. I am not afraid.
This is another time I would like to sit and share a cup of tea with Mary. What was it like to make a hasty retreat in the dark of night? What things did she leave behind that she wished she had taken? What did she take that she really didn’t need? I can think of a lot more questions.
All the questions floating through my head are part of the time of preparation. As you enter this time of preparation and Advent, what questions would you like to ask? Who would you like to sit and share a cup of tea with? I pray that you have all your questions answered and remember the words from The Lion King…
But we're talking kings and successions
Even you can't be caught unawares
So prepare for a chance of a lifetime
Be prepared for sensational news
A shining new era
Is tiptoeing nearer
And as you begin your time of preparation and Advent I hope you will remember me and the people of South Sudan in your prayers as we remember you in ours.
May the love of Christ bless you and keep you, and may peace be with you.
For my time of preparation as I begin my final days in the U.S.
For the people of South Sudan as they prepare for my arrival
For Christ’s blessings on us all as we begin our new lives together
The 2012 Presbyterian Mission Yearbook for Prayer & Study, p. 94
Write to Sharon Curry