Every day brings news of developments from Sudan, and what has come today makes this an significant Tuesday for us.
The link below will convey you to a sad story. I discovered this interview of an Uduk man who had been living in the Northern town of Kurmuk, but last month was forced to flee with wife and children across into Ethiopia to escape the violent bombing and strife in eastern Sudan. Despite the anguish he must feel, returning to a bleak existence in a refugee camp where he spent two decades of his young life, his lament is for his elderly parents left behind in Chali, an important Uduk village just 30 miles from our clinic in Doro but well within the war-torn area beyond the new international border.http://allafrica.com/stories/201111170031.html
Suddenly, I recognize the name of the young man! Santino John!! He is the godly grandson of the first Uduk believer, a man named Mona whose black-and-white photo with son Kona Samuel graces the pages of Malcolm Forsberg’s 1958 book ‘Land Beyond the Nile’. Crippled from childhood, little Santino was carried 400 miles to safety in Khartoum during the long war, and there he received a good education before rejoining his people in an Ethiopian refugee camp and beginning a family of his own. The years passed. War finally ended in 2005 and Santino returned, limping, to Sudan where he became a key member of our first HIV-education team in Kurmuk back in 2007. He proved to be a man full of integrity and deep commitment to Christ. I’ll not forget his deep emotion in Kurmuk when I played for him old video footage retrieved from the mission archives, of the baptism of his grandfather.
Our hearts sank to think of Santino limping along muddy paths, heavy-laden and heavy-hearted, leading his children to an all-too-familiar refugee camp; now safe with his family in Ethiopia, but in anguish for his elderly parents in Chali. Did they escape the bombing? Are they still walking toward Ethiopia? Did they flee toward Doro?
We sent an email to Vicki in Doro: ‘Can you ask our health worker Masir to look among the 19,000 refugees streaming into the Doro area, in case there is word of the parents of Santino?’
Imagine our joy when we received this response yesterday: “Masir sa
ys that he saw Santino's sister the other day and she's in the camp with their parents!” Then today: “Had a wonderful visit with Santino's family today… They arrived less than a week ago. It took them a long time to travel from Chali… They hid in the bush for several days and
collected as much food as they could… Samuel was quite pleased to hear that Santino was safe in Ethiopia. I gave them one small packet of tea and a small packet of sugar…”
Sometimes we lay awake at night, wondering if we are up to the challenge ahead. We consider our limited resources, the vast needs, the complicated situation. But returning to Forsberg’s thoughts encourages us tonight, as we trace the gracious hand of the living God in the lives of Forsberg and the first Uduk Christians. Those early years passed and Santino’s grandfather Mona became the leader of the young Uduk church. Forsberg moved on to Khartoum, but returning to Chali for a visit he attended church, and recalls (p.231): “The communion service followed. My head was bowed. Two African hands holding a dish were stretched out to me. I took the bread and ate with thanksgiving, and when the same African hands were extended to me again, I took the cup and drank. The bread and the cup were memorials to the Savior who died for me, but the hands that served me were Mona’s. I remembered the communion service when I first served the bread and the cup to him. Then he was surrounded by missionaries. Now he had served me and I was surrounded by Uduk Christians. Many books have been written about unity and brotherhood. Our only source was the Bible, and we had found unity with some of earth’s most unlikely people. We had found that unity at the cross. Mona had first come to us because the birth of his son had made work taboo for a while. He had sat on the floor of our house while we gave him the bread of life, the Word of God. He had reached out to understand. Now I was sitting low on the bamboo slats, the pews in Chali Church. Mona was bending over me and I was reaching out to understand… The communion service brought it all into focus… We (missionary and Uduk alike) had sought to make God Himself our goal and He had embraced all our need.”
The living God who revealed Himself to Mona, carried his family through decades of bitter war, and entwined our path with his son and grandson, is for us also our goal and the One who has embraced all our need. His gracious hand, through much travail, has transformed their lives; His grace will do the same for us.
Forsberg closes the book, as we conclude this letter: “Now unto Him that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us. Unto Him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus throughout all ages.”
Love, Rob and Nancy