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A letter from Nancy McGaughey in South Sudan

January 2013

“Eastern Jonglei Presbytery would like to thank God for the arrival of Dr. Nancy Maggie* in Pibor County, we want to say welcome to Pibor County and feel free as you are in America.

As you heard from America about Murle people in South Sudan, some people describe them as if they are not human beings.  But you came and observed by your own eyes, you become part of this community, we share whatever we have whether sweet or bitter.  Let us share and pray for the situation we are in so that God will intervene.  As it is written ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news’—Romans 10:15b.”

Church neighbors in Pibor

Thus began the welcome letter I received from the presbytery and pastors upon arriving in Pibor.  Yes, I have finally made it here!  I arrived in Pibor on December 24—God granted my desire to spend this Christmas with the Murle.  Christmas Day dawned with a beautiful blue sky.  By 9 a.m. we were in church.  Five glorious hours of singing praises, dancing, sharing and worshiping with 3,779 of my Murle brothers and sisters.  Even though my ability to understand what was being said was limited, I could feel the presence of God’s love and spirit.

I was given the name "Thocolech" upon arriving here.  I am told it means "spreads light."  It is a name that has caught on quickly.  No matter where I go, I hear adults and children calling, "Thocolech, Thocolech."  I have become so used to it, that when the few people who know me as Nancy call my name it sometimes takes me a minute to realize they are speaking to me!

Christmas day.

I am presently staying in one room of the new presbytery building.  Mostly the room is used for sleeping and storage.  Everything else is done on the verandah.  That is my place to read, entertain, study language, and in the evenings I bring out my charcoal cooker to prepare a meal and boil drinking water for the next day!  I have not yet learned to light the charcoal on my own, but instead go around to neighbors each evening saying, “I need fire,” and they share some of the hot coals from their cooking fire.

Living around me are many Murle who have been displaced from their homes and villages.  Some came here following a Nuer attack over a year ago; others have come when rebels attacked their outlying villages.  I am amazed at their ability to laugh and smile in the face of such adversity.  Families with five children are living in rooms much smaller than mine.  Oh, for the language to hear their stories firsthand.

Relationships are important here.  You do not just greet someone with a "Hi, how are you?” as you walk by.  It is a process—"Hello, how are you? . . . How is your family? . . .  How is your wife/husband? . . . Is everything of yours ok? . . . How is your morning/afternoon? . . . How are your cattle?"  It can go on and on.  And then you must greet back in the same manner.

I continue my efforts to learn Murle.  The more I learn, the more I realize there are different opinions on how to say something.  One morning I picked out a couple of words to try using through the course of the day.  At the teashop with my friend Maria, I used nonche, which means "take." 

“What did you just say?” she asked.

“Nonche,” I replied.

“That is not the right word.”

“It is what Pastor taught me in Juba.”

“It is not correct.  I am 100 percent Murle, and I know.”

“Next time I will bring my notebook and show you.”

Main street in Pibor

Next time at the teashop, I brought out my notebook and showed her what was written.  It started a huge argument among the  people sitting there over which word should be used when.  People were shouting at each other as I sat there smiling at them and drinking my tea.  I was reminded of what my friend once said, “Language is for communicating.  As long as you understand what I am saying that is all that matters!”  I have learned that there is a big difference between village and town Murle.

At the close of the welcome letter I started with was a list of things the church representatives asked me to pray about with them.  I share those now with you as well, asking that you pray for wisdom and discernment for the leaders in these areas:

Church construction

Renovation of old mission clinic

Peace mobilization for cattle camp

Establishment of Solomon Nyanthi Shalom Bible School

Vocational training for women

Youth training

Women’s office

HIV/AIDS awareness

To which I would add my own request for peace in this area.

Thank you for your dedication and commitment to supporting my work with the Murle—both in prayer and financially.  Without you I could not be here.

Standing with you in prayer for the Murle,

Nancy (Thocolech)

*No, I have not received an MD.  It is the custom here that anyone associated with medical field is referred to as doctor. 

The 2013 Presbyterian Mission Yearbook for Prayer & Study, p. 103
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