The Long Winding Roads of Africa – (Emily’s Trip, Part 5)

By Mommy Emily

Our days are spent under the leafy Tamarind tree, there in the church compound of Nimule, South Sudan.

It’s a sanctuary of its own, this tree, providing refuge from the mango-colored tropical sun. Mothers spread woven blankets beneath its shade and count their micro-loan money while their babies play. Kids laugh and chase each other, and occasionally we see soldiers walking past, guns at their sides. The war is over now, but former soldiers have no future, the government giving them no options, so they’re stuck making charcoal and trying to forget one of the most brutal civil wars in history.

Pastors pull up chairs, and a table is brought. Fresh fish from the Nile is served, along with piles of rice, potato, groundnut sauce, steaming matoke (a light orange squash), and tall bottles of water. Later they pull out guitars and we sing under the canopy of this refuge tree in South Sudan. The night air is thick with the smell of campfire and jasmine, and flashlights ignite like fireflies, dancing across the dark.

A few stone-throws away, the widows and teen mothers who live here are cleaning pots and dishes, tucking babies into bed. My bed is in the long cement building with the teen mothers. A lace sheet covers the door, and my bed is a neatly tucked mattress raised off the ground, surrounded by mosquito netting.

There’s nothing but peace here. In a land that, just a year ago, flowed with the blood of hundreds of thousands, a shaky treaty is beginning to solidify. Villagers are starting to reach for the hands of those beside them and feel the warm grip of hope in return.

Yet how much they’ve lost. Half of them are still in refugee camps beyond the border, mothers separated from children, fathers sacrificed to the war, child-brides stripped of their futures, young boys scarred from being forced to kill even their own families in initiation. How does one recover from that?

Only Jesus.

The needs here are great, but the Lord is greater. And even as we gather together, I beg Him for words. I’m not sufficient, but I know He is, and He loves them beyond comprehension. I pray for words, and then I speak.

To encourage the pastors, I point to the clay “pot” that they use as a refrigerator to keep things cold, and I remind them that we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that the surpassing glory is from God and not from us (2 Corinthians 4:7). I remind them that God uses the humble to shame the proud. But the key is to stay empty, so He can fill us.

To the mothers, wrapped in African scarf, their eyes filled with un-cried tears, I remind them that even though Abraham received the promise, Sarah bore the vision. I remind them that they are daughters of the King, they are vision-bearers, and even as Moses’ mother wrapped him in a boat by faith, we are to wrap our little ones in prayer. They may be the next leaders to save our people.

And then I turn to the young men, and I speak to them of Josiah, who became king at 8 and through a fear of God, overthrew all of his father’s idols and sinful practices and turned his nation back to the Lord. I commission them to do the same for South Sudan.

Here in the compound, healing is taking place in His name. The women sing, the children dance, the pastors cuddle babies and gather children around at night to tell them Bible stories in the dusk.

To honor our visit, Pastor Francis throws a party every evening, spending what seems like hours setting up the generators and keyboard and electrical circuits, and finally he gathers everyone and we’re led in worship by the youth. Then one of us is invited to share a message.

They serve steaming Hibiscus tea and homemade donuts, warm flat bread and fruit, and we watch worship videos on a white-plastered wall.

It’s a love we’ve witnessed since getting off the bus from Uganda and being enfolded by Pastor Santos and Pastor Francis. It’s a love we witnessed when we climbed out of their van into the arms of teen mothers who then ushered us into the church service. It’s a love we witnessed following the service when, instead of rushing home, the congregation took time to greet each other, one at a time, shaking hands and then forming a line, clapping and dancing to music, as in turn, every child of God received a handshake and a smile. It’s the love of God on glorious display, and it humbles me. I learn as much from them as I ever give.

The actual “lulu” tree (or shea nut tree) is known for taking root and sending shoots completely on its own to war-torn, famine-struck, or fire-damaged countries, and for gently but firmly rising up in that soil, rising so strong in the most battle-worn of lands to provide a refuge so sweet because of the sorrow that surrounds it.

This is what I see here. I see the deepest of roots, the deepest of joys, the deepest of faiths, because of the roughest of soils. And living water rising up through those roots to satisfy a thirsty generation in South Sudan.

And as they drink deeply and reach their branches high, they will become the next sanctuary. The Lord who loves them will accomplish this, and many will find refuge in His shade.

You have been a refuge for the poor,
    a refuge for the needy in their distress,
a shelter from the storm
    and a shade from the heat.

~ Isaiah 25:4