A Smile as Long as the Nile (Heading to South Sudan’s Camps)
By Mommy Emily
“In Christ we who are many are one body, and each member belongs to one another…” Romans 12:4
As I write, a cool breeze carries the purr of a neighbor’s lawn mower, the smell of laundry on the line, and the giggle of my daughter in the sandbox with her friend.
But when you read this post, I’ll be thousands of miles away, tucked in the sweet coconut-heat of Africa — a heat that clings like a thousand hands to your skin and whispers, “Welcome back.”
I’ve filled two duffles with 400 reusable pads made by women in my church, dolls for the teen mamas’ babies made by Trent’s grandmother, baby blankets made by someone else’s grandmother, dozens of children’s clothes and used reading glasses, Bibles and pastors’ suit jackets. My African skirts have been aired and folded, and malaria pills and bug spray packed away.
And I’m shaking a little.
Because unknown places will do that to you. Though I will land in my beloved Uganda, we’ll immediately drive eight hours to the edge of the country, to the refugee camps bordering South Sudan. A place filled with more living sadness than I’ve ever faced.
A place where mothers constantly scan the horizon for some sign of a husband or child they lost when fleeing the war.
A place where orphans cling together in child-headed homes, trying to make some semblance of family.
A place where pastors hold church services under Acacia trees, their only Bible the one they carry in their minds — Scripture verses memorized before fleeing.
The heat in these camps is a heavy tarp drawn tight across countless temporary huts, pressing against the hollow ache of distended bellies waiting for the UN trucks to pull up again with more rice or millet.
And amidst it all stands Pastor Santos, a man with a smile as long as the Nile. He wraps that smile around the children, drawing them to himself, the smell of dry sweat clinging to his shirt. He’s a man known throughout the camps as a uniter of tribes — gathering churches together since the beginning of the war in an effort to teach peace, forcing antagonistic tribes to dwell alongside each other to practice living in harmony.
This trip will mark the handing over of leadership to this faithful father of nations. Our Uganda team has been traveling to the camps for the past year, training him and preparing him, and now it will be my humble joy to officially pass the torch.
Pastor Santos has already registered Lulu South Sudan in Juba, in spite of the civil war, and we’re eager to partner with the pastors who remain in South Sudan — who’ve stood the course in spite of guns and machetes and death all around them.
He’s already established a training school for women in the refugee camps, and he oversees a micro-loan program that allows mothers to start small businesses — selling charcoal, groceries, or toothbrushes — making enough to pay school fees and to buy a meal or two. He already embodies the Lulu Tree vision — preventing tomorrow’s orphans by equipping today’s families through the local church. We didn’t raise him up. God did.
My daughter’s opening the screen door now, soaking wet from the “pool” — a cow feeder filled with rain water — her friend laughing behind her, and they’re wanting towels and a snack. My love for her almost makes my heart explode.
I don’t know how to merge these two worlds, but I serve a God who does — a God who gathers all the world’s children to Himself. I know I’m not sufficient for these things, but I go with my holy and big-hearted God to these aching places, a witness to God’s sufficiency and grace, a vessel longing to be filled with His vast, redeeming love — a mother who wants the best for her children going to embrace mothers who only want the same.
I go as a small, trembling member of the body of Christ to grasp hands with strong, beautiful souls whose experience may be very different from mine, but whose membership in the body of Christ means we belong to one another.
And I invite you to join me, too. Will you pray? The God who sent Pastor Santos to the refugee camps is the God who sees, who goes before, with, and behind us all, and who unites unlikely tribes around the world, teaching us to live in harmony. Someday He will present us to His Son, a spotless bride from every nation and tongue.
Jesus will gather us into His arms, wrapping us in His love. Every tear will be dried, and every belly full. Wars will cease, praises will rise, and our smiles will be as long as the Nile.