A letter from Leisa Wagstaff on home assignment transitioning from Cameroon to South Sudan
July 15, 2013
Dear Partners in Mission,
Packing up and leaving Cameroon, a place I have called “home,” was harder than I ever could have imagined. Since returning there at the end of January to complete the training of primary school teachers for this academic year my wish had been to slow down the hands of time. The days, of course, flew by and the day of departure dawned too soon. My concern was not with the sorting of “stuff” representing nine years of living in that community, for the four small footlockers to transport the things I deemed most cherished were already packed, weighed, locked, labeled and nestled by the door. I wanted, however, much more time to be with the wonderful community in which I shared life together.
My community and I bore a common humanity that day as the tears continued to flow on both sides with sincere biddings of “go and stay well” and tight embraces. The “sending-off” of a member of one’s community is such an important part of African culture. The departing member is not allowed to go before visits, fellowship meals, and prayers of thanksgiving are offered for the shared experience, the new community one will meet and the journeys ahead. Someone from the community is also appointed to accompany the leaver as far as possible in the steps away from the village. For me, a dear colleague at the teacher training college and sister-friend was chosen to escort me during the six-hour drive to the nearest airport and even “up to the door of the airplane” as a sign of their love and respect for me and that I would be missed in the community.
Entering the plane, I knew that I carried with me many good memories, memories that will sustain me during our absence one from the other and serve as a reminder to keep the members of my community always in my thoughts, prayers, and witness to the world. These memories, more valuable than the belongings in my footlockers, will be guarded in a heart of gratitude for the ways in which I have been blessed by this encounter with God’s children. Henri Nouwen, a renowned author, states, “Ministry is, first of all, receiving God’s blessing from those to whom we minister. What is this blessing? It is a glimpse of the face of God.”
One of my earliest memories of experiencing community and making room for one more took place during a trip into town by local transport. After spending almost two hours in the taxi park waiting for the taxi to fill (meaning six adult passengers plus children and the driver), seemingly I was the only one anxious to get on the road and feeling uncomfortable with “wasting” time. The other waiting passengers took the opportunity to relax or share opinions on a gamut of topics from family to theology to crops to international politics, and invited me into the discussion. When the vehicle was loaded but would not start, no one complained about getting back out to “shake the moto” (push it to get it started). On the way, riders again exited without complaint to push the vehicle through a muddy spot, took turns holding another passenger’s three children, and eagerly made their bodies tighter to make room for a seventh adult passenger met along the road. Over loud music the conversation continued and laughter abounded as all expressed happiness in being with others.
Meals, no matter how sparse, are always shared and never eaten in solitude. Everyone, even unexpected guests or strangers in your midst, is invited to partake of what is available. It is believed that the food digests better when it is eaten in fellowship, so room is always made at the table for another. As one reaches into the communal bowl of sustenance, each is aware of the other’s needs, kindheartedness and dreams, and does not eat more than what is needed but enough. Truly, God,
“who gives seed to the farmer to plant, and later on, good crops to harvest and eat, will give you more and more seed to plant and will make it grow so that you can give away more and more fruit from your harvest. Yes, God will give you much so that you can give away much, and when we take your gifts to those who need them they will break out into thanksgiving and praise to God for your help. So, two good things happen as a result of your gifts—those in need are helped, and they overflow with thanks to God. Those you help will be glad not only because of your generous gifts to themselves and to others, but they will praise God for this proof that your deeds are as good as your doctrine. And they will pray for you with deep fervor and feeling because of the wonderful grace of God shown through you. Thank God for his Son—his Gift too wonderful for words.” (2 Corinthians 9:10-15)
As I journey to South Sudan as an education facilitator in fellowship with the Presbyterian Church of South Sudan (PCOSS), I ask you to continue walking with me in faith—just as you so generously did while I was in Cameroon—through your prayers, interest in learning more about this area of the world, correspondence, advocacy, and sharing the gifts of God. We can magnify the Lord by promoting human and spiritual development and growth and reconciliation, knowing that great things will happen. Together, within the PC(USA) World Mission Poverty Campaign*, let us provide quality education for 100,001 children in South Sudan and around the world by the year 2020.
In Ministry Together,
Leisa TonieAnn Wagstaff
c/o Post Office Box 85
Leasburg, NC 27291
(Until October 1, 2013)
* To learn more about the PC(USA) World Mission Poverty Campaign, visit: http://www.presbyterianmission.org/ministries/call-mission/poverty-alleviation/