A letter from Sharon Curry in South Sudan
For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. (Jer 29:11)
God has entrusted me with a gift beyond all measure. It is so big I can’t hold it in my hands it has to fit in my heart. It feels like a giant bubble that will float away if I don’t hold on tightly, and if I hold too tightly it will burst. It is the gift of meeting Jesus at the cross, the gift of fulfilling his command to “go, teach, make disciples of all nations”. It is the gift of working with the “least of these”. I am awed and amazed that God has entrusted me with the position of Community Health Evangelism Facilitator for South Sudan.
I wanted to go back to Ethiopia. God said, “I know the plans I have for you”. It all began with an email to Debbie Braaksma, Area Coordinator for Africa. That email changed the direction of my life. Debbie said she had something better and better she had. From the first moments we talked my heart raced with excitement and anticipation of the work to be done in Akobo, South Sudan. I began searching for more information. I read first-hand accounts of others who had gone to Akobo, reports from NGO’s (Non-Governmental Organizations), and I poured over pictures. The more I learned, the more pictures I saw, the more I was filled with longing and anticipation.
It was the eyes in the pictures that called to my heart; eyes of mothers holding their starving children, eyes of people living in a land torn by decades of war and inter-tribal violence. Eyes of people others found hard to look at; eyes that called out to me with a tiny glimmer of hope. It was the eyes that began this journey for me.
It will be a journey filled with challenges and joys beyond imagination. I look forward to learning to live in a culture that is new for me, where wealth is measured by the number of cows you own and not the number of dollars in your bank account. I look forward to more days full of laughter as the villagers, hopefully, find joy in my blunders. I remember the villagers in Ethiopia frequently laughing as I walked down the road whistling. One of my last night’s there, a friend told me, whistling is flirting! We had a great laugh about that. I look forward to building new relationships as we learn to get to know each other and share our faith, history and cultures.
I woke up to the sound of rain yesterday morning, the first we’ve had in months in Texas. I was swept back to early mornings in Ethiopia, the fresh breezes blowing through the window, the scent of fresh rain during rainy season, the creaks of the neighbors’ doors and the smell of wood smoke as they began their days and the sounds of children’s laughter and voices as they called to one another. As I lay there listening to the rain and the sound of my granddaughter waking up, and remembering, I wondered what sounds will I wake to in South Sudan.
I was transported back to the time when I began my day bailing water from the water barrel to start my coffee, prepare my breakfast and brush my teeth. Instead of breezes blowing through my windows, they will be blowing through my tent flaps. (My tent will be my home until a house can be prepared for me). I will take my own food if I am going to eat. I will have to prepare it using limited resources and water. I will be back to bathing in a bucket of water, rather than my rain shower head flowing from my ceiling. I anticipate using my old Girl Scout training again as I return to washing dishes in buckets of water and drying them in the sun to purify them. And as all these memories fled through my mind I also wondered about the issues we will be facing together.
Their issues are not unlike our own – how do we feed our children in these hard economic times? How do they feed their children when there is no food? How do we address the issues of human trafficking in our own country while they are facing the disappearance of their own to rival tribes who need the child labor? How do we keep teenagers without enough to do, occupied in meaningful activities rather than resorting to destructive behavior and violence?
I am excited to be a part of facilitating learning and training new community leaders in God’s love through evangelism and discipleship as we initiate the Community Health Evangelism programs that best apply to their local communities.
Our work in South Sudan will be to implement Community Health Evangelism programs. I will be working with the Presbyterian Church of Sudan to help transform individuals and communities by integrating community based development, evangelism and discipleship. I will be working alongside the staff of the Presbyterian Relief and Development Agency, assisting in training community development committees and supporting them as they initiate and manage efforts towards bringing about sustainable change.
I am awed at the gift I have been given to be a part of the birth of a new country that is steeped in history going back to the 10th century according to oral traditions. I am going to a land that has virtually no infrastructure. Roads and highways as we know them don’t exist. The airport is a dirt strip where relief aid planes land. Vacations and leisure travel are unheard of. Business travel consists of moving a herd from one grazing location to another. Instead of grocery stores there is substance farming or waiting in lines for the latest relief aid. They long to educate themselves and their children through better schools and higher trained teachers. Like us, they take their children for medical care at the local clinic – ours is on the next corner, theirs may be under a tree. Their teens, like ours, with too little to do, often resort to violence and wrong doing.
I am challenged by a new language to learn along with new ways of living in this harsh land. It will be a journey filled with joys and heartaches, challenges and the wonders of God at work. I go forward secure in the knowledge that God is with me. I read today that “God takes the missionary and God got there first”. Jeremiah 29:11 “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” These words, that have been such a part of my prayer and discernment process, do not just apply to me and my service. They apply to the people of South Sudan as well as we embark on this new mission together; as we learn to build new lives, a new country, and new skills, together.
This is an exciting time and I invite you to join with me, and the people of South Sudan, in partnership as we move forward. There are many ways – prayers, financial and others that I don’t even comprehend at this point, but will be sharing with you as we go along. Any time I have been involved in mission work, at home or across the world, I have always said I do not go alone, you go with me. Those words will never be more true than as we move forward in South Sudan.
Like us, the people of Akobo have hopes and dreams of a better tomorrow. I am blessed to be a part of their lives and I hold that gift lightly in my hands and tight in my heart.
May God bless you as richly as you bless me.
- Prayers for my time of preparation and planning for all my needs
- Prayers for my language immersion and Community Health Evangelism training.
- Prayers for the Presbyterian Church of Sudan and people of Akobo as they prepare for my arrival