A letter from Nancy McGaughey in Sudan
Of all the holidays I have celebrated with my Dinka brothers and sisters, I enjoy Palm Sunday the most! There is so much singing and dancing, almost everyone (including the children) have crosses made from palm leaves. Praises for the Lord just seem to flow from their hearts and the joy is seen in their faces.
This year was no exception. The youth group came from the neighboring village of Bun thorou. They were in uniform, with a new drum, a good drummer, singing and dancing. It was a thrill to behold. Our church in Adol follows a set ritual — we read the same prayers almost every Sunday. Following the prayers, the Scriptures are read, announcements are made by anyone in the church who wishes to, then there is the sermon, offering, closing hymn, prayers. On Palm Sunday I was a bit disappointed that the Scripture reading had nothing to do with Jesus riding the donkey into Jerusalem, the activities of Holy Week that followed, Good Friday or anything leading up to Easter morning. Announcements came. For some reason unknown to me, this Sunday I was invited to “greet the congregation” — I had been here for several weeks, so why the special invitation I do not know. I walked to the front, asked for a translator, said “Praise the Lord” in Dinka and was moved to talk about the events leading up to Good Friday and Easter morning. I gave a little mini-sermon before the sermon. I could see the leader of the service moving around behind me — I think he was trying to find a polite way to get the kawaaja (white foreigner) to sit down. But I got to give my Easter message! We will see how long it is before I am invited to the front of the church again!
The staff of Across have both Good Friday and Easter Monday as holidays. I wanted to make the devotions on our last day together special. The leader for that day was a friend of mine, so we planned the devotion together. Normally we sing three songs, English, Arabic and sometimes Dinka. Then there is opening prayer, Scripture reading, preaching (10 minutes), comments, collection of prayer items and closing prayer. This is how it is done, every day. It was a challenge to change the pattern. When I walked in, even though I had not assigned people for the above parts to anyone, they had started singing. They were shocked when I said this was not how we were conducting devotions today. We started with the passage from Luke on the Last Supper and washing of the disciples’ feet by Jesus. Immediately following the Scripture, Simon and I went out of the room and returned with towels and basins of water. He started at one end, and I at the other, working our way to the middle. When people realized what we were doing, reactions were mixed. Some were reluctant to allow especially me to wash their feet. But we completed our task. We followed with the holy communion Scripture from John, and then the local pastor led us in communion. We did a responsive reading in which the refrain was “for God so loved (name of person on their right) He gave his only Son.” It was very special to hear the names of everyone mentioned. We watched a PowerPoint presentation from Tommy’s Window (a website with short PowerPoints on almost every topic, which can be downloaded) on Jesus’ words from the cross. As people left the room, they were invited to take a felt cross from the communion table as a reminder of what Jesus had sacrificed for them.
I was told that Saturday evening, people would gather at the church and pray all night. While there was no sunrise service, the regular church service would be very early (8 a.m.). I listened Saturday evening for singing, dancing, praying but never heard anything, so I showered and went to bed. I was ready for church early Sunday and went to church around 8:30 a.m. The only person there was the woman sweeping under the mango trees to clear the area of leaves before church. I sat down, read Scripture, prayed and then started reading. Soon my Dinka sister came, saying, “I don’t know if the pastor is coming. All the pastors were to gather with the bishop over the weekend.”
“He is not coming,” I replied. “He told me on Thursday he would be gone.”
“Who is to preach today?” Rebecca asked.
“Pastor told me on Thursday you were going to preach today.”
“But I haven’t prepared anything. You be the preacher and I will lead the service,” she said.
And that is how I came to give the message on Easter morning!
As we move closer to July 9, the birthday of this new nation, please be in prayer for:
- Peace throughout the land. Tribal and interclan fighting continues.
- A sense of national unity and pride for these different tribes with differing languages and cultures.
- Integrity and a desire to serve the people of their nation by the leaders of the country.
The 2011 Mission Yearbook for Prayer & Study, p. 54