A letter from Sharon Curry in South Sudan
Some stories don’t have a clear beginning, middle and end. Life is about not knowing, having to change, taking the moment and making the best of it, without knowing what’s going to happen next. Delicious ambiguity.—Gilda Radner
Delicious ambiguity—that about sums up my last few weeks; months, for that matter. Doubtfulness, uncertainty, unclear, indefinite—all those words that ambiguity encompasses describe the time since my evacuation on January 4.
Delicious—very pleasing, highly pleasing, delightful—those words that delicious encompasses also describe the time since my evacuation.
Gilda Radner is right some stories don’t have a clear beginning, middle or end. We may think we know, and perhaps sometimes we are right, but when we leave room for the Holy Spirit to work in our lives and to write our stories sometimes it all gets jumbled up into a swirl of delicious ambiguity.
I read once, or perhaps heard it, that we don’t know the ending of the story until we get there. Oh, how true that is. I have come to the end of some chapters, for now. Perhaps they will be revisited later. God knows. But don’t panic—as you read the first part of this letter, new chapters are being written every day.
I have lived the end of the first chapter of my time in Akobo. It was a short chapter filled with God’s mercy and grace as I was wrapped up in the arms of the community and filled with love, caring and welcome. If I am never able to return, they are still a huge part of my heart.
I remember the laughter of the women as they dug in purses trying to dress me properly for church. I will remember the blackboard propped against the tree trunk where the people gathered to teach me their language. I will remember the woman who would pick a piece of fruit off the ground and, with laughter in her eyes, say, “WEEEEEIIIII” with a belly full of laughter as she teased me with something she knew I liked. I will take the day I was told by the commissioner I had to leave in my heart as well and the seriousness of the church leaders as they did what had to be done to assure my safety. That is a chapter that I feel in my heart will be revisited, with more chapters to come.
I have left Malakal and may go back and visit in the future, but that chapter too is closed for now. And what a wonderful chapter it was! I was welcomed by a fellow mission co-worker into her home when I landed after the evacuation. I was welcomed into the Catholic Hostel when I branched out and found my own place to stay. I was welcomed around the table as I met our other mission co-workers in Malakal. And I was welcomed by the village and the church during my stay there.
I will miss Malakal. I will miss walking the road, visiting the ladies in the tea shops, talking with the old men leaning on their canes as they gather around to comment on my lowalla, or talking with the students. I will miss long visits with church members, pastors and leaders as we gathered on the veranda at the church offices.
One memory I will always remember is the giggling coming from a rubbish pile. I don’t know if I will remember because of the poverty it symbolized or the joy. I was walking to a meeting one morning, in my typical “American” mode—head down, full of purpose and determined to get where I was going without looking or paying attention to what was around me. It was a particularly dusty day and that didn’t help my disposition as I wiped the dust and dirt from my eyes. I had jumped the gutter running full of green, slimy “stuff” that smelled horrible. I had jumped over the ditch, just barely missing the mud from the early morning “relief,” and headed down the path to my destination.
Out of the corner of my eye I caught the sight of a big rubbish pile where it appeared all the rubbish from the bus yard the day before had been piled. I thought briefly, this might be a good place to start a CHE (Community Health Evangelism) project. As I neared the edge of the rubbish area I heard little voices calling, “Hawaja, hawaja, mali” ("Foreigner, foreigner, peace”) followed by great peals of laughter and joy. I stopped, I looked, but I couldn’t figure out where they were coming from.
And there, in the piles of rubbish were about four or five little ones, not much more than 5 or 6 years old. A couple were climbing out of boxes that had been folded into triangle “tents.” I think perhaps they had slept there the night before. One or two were sitting on the piles of rubbish and at least one was using the “latrine” and smiled and waved as I walked by. They were so happy, so excited, and so full of joy that I couldn’t help but stop, smile and wave.
They were too shy to come close that morning. When I returned from my meeting they were gone. I will never know the ambiguity that makes up the beginning, middle or end of their stories. I know that they left an impression on my heart that won’t soon go away and became a part of the delicious ambiguity of my story. I take the memory of their complete joy in the morning, climbing through the rubbish, as a lesson to me. When I think things are rubbish, there is still joy and laughter to be found.
In the delicious ambiguity of not knowing where I will be next or when, it seems the Holy Spirit is flying again. It has been decided that I will be relocating to Gambela, Ethiopia, for the next several months as we wait for the tensions to die down in the Akobo area. It is not a bad move; it is a good move. I will be living in a Nuer community where I can concentrate on language and culture learning. I will be living in community with other PC(USA) mission co-workers, Michael and Rachel Weller, and I will be close to the people of Akobo who have been fleeing to Gambela in recent months.
I sit back today and contemplate the move and the delicious ambiguity that have encompassed the first few months of our journey to South Sudan. I look forward to a new delicious ambiguity as I make preparations to move to Gambela in the next week or so. I am reminded of the Trinity window in my home church. My pastor, Greg Garis, recently included it in a sermon he shared with me. Besides the words that it represents for our church members, it also is a good representation of delicious ambiguity.
This window represents not only a connection to “home” for me, but as the church brochure describes it, the triangular window by its very shape suggests the Trinity. God the Father is symbolized by an equilateral triangle delineated within the window. The color within the triangle suggests an overlay of golden yellow, which implies fight, power and majesty. God the Son, coming out of and yet a part of the triangle, is represented by a cross that is formed by the color red, which stands for love and sacrifice.
The idea of the Holy Spirit makes itself manifest through the swirling movement that underlies the whole composition.
The orange areas coming off the cross within the triangle are suggestive of flame.
The circular motif seen running throughout the window speaks first of the Three in One, second, of never-ending power, and third, of eternity. The colors of purple, blue and green that form the basis of this window are respectively suggestive of contemplation, grace, and life.
I love this window. It sits high in the back wall of the sanctuary and you can’t see it until you leave or turn around and look. It is like God is sitting there watching, waiting and spreading His blessings on all that enter and worship there.
I happen to be caught up in the swirls at the moment that are the middle of this story, which Gilda Radner reminds us "is about not knowing, having to change, taking the moment and making the best of it, without knowing what’s going to happen next.” That, I believe, is what following in the footsteps of Jesus, making room for the Holy Spirit to go swirling through our lives, and being open to the will of God is all about.
May the Spirit of the Living God go swirling through your lives as you write the rest of your stories and we continue to write the story of our mission in South Sudan together. May God bless you all.
- For a successful disarmament in Akobo
- For an end to the recent fighting in the area
- For a smooth transition and language learning in Gambela
- That all your needs be met
The 2012 Presbyterian Mission Yearbook for Prayer & Study, p. 94
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