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A letter from Sharon Curry in South Sudan

December 2011

I have been tossing around in my head all day how to describe this whirlwind of thoughts, sounds, pictures and emotions that the last two months have been.  I can’t.  I can’t even begin to.  It kind of reminds me of the ants that are scurrying around trying to escape the ant spray I just shot in my room after they decided to attack me—running crazy in all kinds of directions! 

Perhaps one of Vincent Van Gogh’s swirly paintings like “Starry Night,” except that is too dark; perhaps “Sunny Meadow in Aries”—it is full of light and happiness—is a good description.

A Grass Hut - You would be surprised wht is inside - satelite tv and lots of electronics charging!

What I do know is that God has taken this swirling mass of light, color, sound and emotions and wrapped it into a beautiful tapestry that will become my life in Akobo, South Sudan.  It is the early afternoon, shortly after lunch, when life slows down and becomes much quieter and people tend to avoid the hot sun.  I lay on my bed listening to the sounds around me . . . the cows lowing in the distance, children’s laughter as they sing their songs and play their games, the myriad of birds calling to each other, and women’s chatter as they sit in the shade; sounds not too different from home. 

The difference is, I am in a room that has limited electricity.  My air-conditioning is the wind that may, or may not, blow through the windows.  There are no street sounds from cars whizzing by, and my water supply is the two bottles I have purifying in the sun in the window and the bucket I keep for washing my hands and cooling off during the day.  I won’t turn the tap on to fill it.  I will bale water from the storage bucket when I am ready for my “shower” tonight.

One of the sounds that is amazing to me is the sound of an American soap opera coming from the TV room.  I should explain this TV room, and I will give you a picture of it.  It is a round mud building (tukel) with a grass roof.  A few feet off the ground are “windows” made from sticks placed close together to allow the wind to come through.  Inside this tukel is much like any American home—a satellite TV, where the men gather to watch football (yes, American) and soccer and movies.  There is a table that is home to charging all things electric—cell phones, iPods, batteries, and who knows what else.  It is a technology buff’s dream come true.

I am a bit disappointed that I didn’t get to move into my tent, but I understand the reasons why.  So, for now, I am still living out of boxes and suitcases and it appears I will for the next three months or so while they work on building me a house and office.  I have a room with a bed and a plastic table and chair.  There was another bed, but I turned it on its side to make a little more room to move around; it was a little cramped with all my boxes and bundles stacked on it.  I look at it all and think, I could have brought one suitcase with clothes.  That is all.  How much simpler life would have been.

I am not complaining at all, I am very grateful for my room with its bed and table and sometimes electricity.  I am grateful because I have made new friends here, experienced love, sharing, and generosity beyond measure as I learn to live in this new land.  I have been exposed to people and things I would not have been if I had been living alone on the church compound.

I woke up this morning thinking of the story of Ruth and how it is the story of God working through faithful relationships and how God is at work in the actions of ordinary people.  It tells the story of experiences and attitudes of the major characters, which mirror those of the Judeans who returned from exile and attempted to rebuild their lives among the ruins.  And I just couldn’t help think about the parallels between the story of Ruth and the story of so many I have come to serve in this land. 

Over and over I hear the same story—I used to live here, now I have come back.  I went to (Khartoum, Kenya, Ethiopia, and the list goes on), but I came back because this is my home.  Just like Naomi, they are returning, and many are bringing new family members with them.  They are not returning to a land of "milk and honey." They are returning to a land suffering from years of famine; a land that is filled with the bitterness, emptiness and hopelessness that were such a part of Naomi’s life and are remnants of the years of war and displacement they have survived.  And my prayer is that, just like Naomi and Ruth, their lives are turned around, the famine turns to abundance, and together we can have a part in building a better tomorrow. 

I am excited about the building of my new home and office.  It was a day filled with joy when I walked with the church elders and saw the excitement and hope on their faces as they discussed which would be the new place for my house and office.  I can’t find the words to describe watching them walk back and forth and decide this will be the women’s place and the pleased looks on their faces when they told me this is where we can come to learn from you.  It brought tears to my eyes.

Of course there have been many times since I arrived that have brought tears to my eyes, from the amazing welcome as the women gathered on Friday to greet me at the airport and later in the same day when more could come.  The next day was another welcome with more people and the day after was a welcome by the church.  They showed up day after day to teach me language in that hectic week before Christmas and soon we will begin to learn new things as they teach me how to live in their country like they do.

In the 10 days I have been here I have laughed until I had tears.  I have had tears because of the generosity and loving spirit of these people who will be my friends and neighbors. I have had tears from the children as they excitedly pulled and braided and stroked my hair because they had never seen such a thing as soft, straight, light brown hair.  And shared more with the displaced people on the river near where my new home will be as they welcomed me to their area and brought me to see their preparations for Christmas dinner.  It is where I go to watch the river and ponder on the life the boys in the cattle camp across the way live, as they try to figure out who I am.  They are starting to come closer—they swim across to look at me, then jump back in the water and quickly swim back.  Then one day one smiled and shyly waved, and I knew we were making progress.

Be still and listen . . . that is what this time of adjustment and learning is about.  Not just so I can listen and learn, but so they can learn to trust me, trust me to be here and not go away. Kind of like the little girl on the road. 

The little girl who was afraid - big steps for a little one, she was VERY afraid of me.

The first day I saw her, her eyes became big as saucers and she ran screaming and crying away from me as fast as her little legs could carry her.  I squatted down and reached my hand out and she dove for the first tall legs she could find; nothing was going to bring her out.  The tall legs and I greeted each other, “Mali,” “Maamwigaw,” in the traditional Nuer greeting and laughed as I stumbled over the words.  The next day she saw me and started to run, but stopped, slowly turned, and one big tear fell down her cheek. Again I squatted down, reached out my hand, and away she ran.  The next day she didn’t run, and no tears. She stood still and waited for me to come to her level and reach out my hand.  When I did, she very slowly, inch by inch, reached out one tiny finger and touched mine, felt my skin and looked at hers and smiled this huge wonderful smile.  The next day she was waiting and reached her whole hand out, and brought some others.  And now they wait for me on the side of the road to go to market, and the group seems to be growing by a few more every day.

I think of all the things that will stand out in my mind as a reminder of my first days in Akobo, South Sudan, it will be that little girl, whose name I don’t even know.  She symbolizes, for me, everything this job that God has entrusted me with.  She symbolizes the patience to go slowly, the willingness to come meet people on their level; she symbolizes being the first to reach out and wait for the other to meet you in the middle, and that with time, one will lead to more and the programs will grow. 

I could stay here and tell you stories all day¸ but then I wouldn’t get any work done and I wouldn’t have any more stories to share.  But I have been and will be updating my blog on a regular basis—I am trying for weekly—as we begin this journey together.  I have also created a Picasa Web album site where you can see pictures of where I am and daily life here.  I hope you enjoy them if you have time to stop by for a visit.

May God be with you until we meet again,
Sharon

Blog: The Journey
The 2012 Presbyterian Mission Yearbook for Prayer & Study, p. 94
Write to Sharon Curry

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Comments

  • I admire you and wish I were healthy enough to do as you are doing. I went to Korea in the 60's and joined in village activities. They were living in mud huts with grass roof's,as well ,were they all bathed outside.Farm animals in their near activities. Proably a major difference was that those families were we ll fed and on the cusp of much bigger things and a up to date civilization. I get info about the villagers lives now with real hous3es and cars. I was not there to assist them in a better life, but as a soldier in a country we helped lift from the ills of subversive rule. Democracy was in their sights and it came with my help. Those were good days. Keep up the good work and I'll keep you on my prayer list. I'll check on you from time totime Bill W by Bill Whitaker on 03/26/2012 at 9:00 a.m.

  • Sharon , You are such a wonderful person to share your thoughts & to let us know whats happening in your life. It takes a special person like you to meet people in an unknown place & teach & make a better life for them. Keep up the good work. Peggy & Oscar by Oscar Culp on 01/13/2012 at 9:21 a.m.

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