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A letter from Sharon Curry in South Sudan

February 2012

For I know the plans I have for you…  (Jeremiah 29:11)

Blue luwalla

It is a good thing God knows, because I don’t have a clue!  Those words have been the theme for my mission trip to South Sudan.  They go on to say, “…plans to prosper you,” and oh, how I have been prospered.  A little less than three weeks on the ground in Akobo and I was evacuated, an unauthorized passenger on a U.N. flight, and relocated.  Every step of the way God’s plans, not mine, were in place and working to prosper me and make me grow beyond my imagination.

First of all, who would ever dream that two meters of pretty, silky, flowing, blue cloth would build a community??  Never in my wildest dreams, but that is exactly what happened!  I was in the market one day, and I thought, the luwallas sure are pretty, but I just couldn’t justify spending the money on one.  Then I turned the corner and this beautiful blue piece of cloth shook itself loose from the rest and soared in the wind. It seemed to be reaching out to me.  As it fanned out, I noticed it had every shade of blue flowers you can imagine on it.  All of my favorite things were on this simple piece of cloth, and my heart soared.

I couldn’t help myself.  I went to look.  I was just going to touch it.  I went to the back of the souk—really three poles lashed on supports and many, many luwallas tied to them.  Just as I started to the back a young boy smiled, reached the blue one and said, “For you.  God sent it.”  I said, “No. It is very pretty.”  Just then a lady reached for it and I gave it to her and held it up to her and said, “Very pretty.”  She shook her head, held it up to me and said, “God says yes.”  What could I do!?  I bought it!!  And so began my beautiful new community…

I stopped at “my” tea shop on the way home.  The ladies are trying to teach me Arabic.  We do a lot of laughing, but I am not learning much.  One grabbed her bag and said, “Market.”  I lifted mine and said, “I go,” and then I showed them my luwalla.  Let me tell you, a 3-year-old on Christmas morning has never been as excited as that tea shop!  They oohed and ahhed and stood me up and “dressed” me right there on the side of the road!

I guess I should stop and explain what a luwalla is.  It is a large piece of cloth—like a silky tablecloth—that the women wrap over their clothes. It goes under your left arm, over your right shoulder and is tied, just in front of your shoulder blade. They reach almost to the ground, and it is like being wrapped in a big sheet. 

A dusty road

I have learned that there are “rules” for wearing a luwalla and not everyone’s are the same.  Apparently each tribe has its own way of tying them.  Let me tell you, I have been “dressed” more times in public than I can count—on the road, in the church, in the restaurant! And every time it is met with great peals of joy and laughter. 

Your shirt or dress must match exactly one of the shades in your luwalla, or the women will stop and tell you about it.  You don’t have to know the language to understand a woman pulling on your shirtsleeve and pointing at the colors in your luwalla with an unhappy look on her face means business! 

Teaching in Renk

I have learned that the beauty of the luwalla is not in the colors or designs on the fabric—don’t get me wrong, they are all beautiful.  The beauty of the luwalla is in the joy and happiness it has brought to the people I meet.  Before, walking down the road, I would get a few nods or smiles. Now, when I wear it, I am stopped, waved over, greeted, chatted about, and feel like a princess because of all the joy and happiness it brings to people—from the old men leaning on their walking sticks to the teenage girls who giggle and smile, to the young men who stop to say, "Thank you, you look very pretty, like us." 

I didn’t understand why all the fuss, just because I like them and think they are pretty.  Then a man told me one night.  He explained that by wearing a luwalla, I was showing that I had great respect, not just for me, by covering 70 percent of my body, but for their land and their culture.  He said, “You make yourself open to us.  You tell us that you care. You say that you want to learn our language and culture.”  WOW!  Who would have thought that two meters of pretty cloth would say all of that!

“…plans to prosper you”… two meters of blue cloth, blowing in the wind, that reached out and showed me a whole new community… Amen!

You will have to read my blog to get the whole story of this adventure; it is too long to tell here, but I will give you the highlights of my recent trip north to Renk, South Sudan:

Women in a tea shop.

As we headed out of town, someone made the comment, "It will be a fast trip.  We are in a government vehicle.  We won't get stopped at the checkpoints."  Wrong thing to say!! At the first checkpoint at the edge of town we got stopped.  The driver goes into the office, comes back, and turns back toward town.  I ask what are we doing?  Elizabeth told me we don't have the documents to travel.  So I assume we are going back to get them.   We all know about assumptions....

We take all these back, windy bumpy roads and head back out of town.  We have gone around the checkpoint!  Now we are driving this road that would make a great roller-coaster ride, complete with hills and valleys and places that make you wonder if things will return to their right places when you come down from being airborne at speeds that are totally unsafe and made me wonder what we were running from…

…I am not sure the expression "driving like a bat out of Hades" is enough to describe the rest of this trip!  Straight through checkpoints, not slowing down for bumps or dips in the roads—did I mention the mounds of dirt left from years of war?  These are launching pads!  In the meantime there were five adults and six children flying around the back of this Range Rover, bouncing off the roof and the windows, with nothing to hang on to for dear life…

… We are flying down the dusty road, occasionally encountering a vehicle that stirs up enough dust to create a cloud so thick you can't see anything on either side of you.  Blind faith that God is out there protecting us led us through.  All of a sudden we have three vehicles chasing us, down this narrow, winding, dusty road with trees close on either side.  I think we would call it a trail, not a road.   Let me tell you, this could have been a chase scene out of the best action/adventure movie around, high speeds, twists, turns, flying dust, cows and goats scrambling to avoid the vehicles, flying in and out of switchbacks, and more. One vehicle overtaking another as they met at the place the switchbacks merged, neither driver taking their foot off the accelerator.  Passengers flying through the air and trying not to land on each other as we returned to our seats after being airborne.  And suddenly the dust settled, the road widened, the trees spread out, and we slowed down to a reasonable speed as we entered Renk….

For I know the plans I have…not to harm you…” Thank you, God, for letting us arrive safely in Renk and giving me a great story to tell!

I came to South Sudan, not certain that I could really come here and teach in a language I didn’t know.  Being a part of the Women’s Leadership Conference taught me I can—with a good translator!  We had 37 women from eight different tribes and languages, if you count me.  We learned together, we worshipped together, we laughed together, we meditated and broke bread together. 

It was a glorious week, filled with the presence of God that proved to me, I can.  I can teach, and they will leave excited and wanting more, even if we don’t speak the same language.  I can lead worship and we can offer up our own commitments, prayers and dedications to God, all in our own languages.  But God’s love is universal and we all shared in that love throughout the week.  It was most evident as the sun broke through the clouds on the last day as we all said goodbye.

…For I know the plans I have … to give you hope and a future…

Thank you all for your love and your support—both financial and prayers.  I hope you will continue with me on this journey and invite others to come along.  God alone knows his plans for my future—here in Malakal—returning to Akobo—or somewhere else I never considered.  I know, in the words of my good friend Annie, “God’s got it.” Yes, he does, all wrapped up in the words to Jeremiah 29:11, “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future.” He doesn’t just have it for me, he has it for you as well.

May God bless each and every one of you…

Prayer requests:

  1. For peace in Jonglei State, Akobo and the whole of South Sudan
  2. For the families that are suffering loss because of the fighting
  3. For the women who attended the Women’s Leadership Development workshop as they return to their homes and villages to continue God’s work
  4. For God’s special blessings on those returning to Khartoum and to the Nuba mountains and to other areas where they will face danger and persecution for leading the church in these difficult times
  5. Many blessings for each and every one of you

Sharon

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

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Comments

  • Hi Sharon, I have been reading your blogs and letters. I am so very touched by your courage, faith and commitment to your mission. Helping the poor in South Sudan is a huge project and with the plight of the people in the Nuba Mts an International problem to feed the people and free them from the government, which adds to the work in S. Sudan. I pray for you every day. Marge...Mali's mother by Marjorie E. Borgerding on 03/14/2012 at 9:14 p.m.

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