"I'm what the world considers to be a phenomenally successful man. And I've failed much more than I've succeeded. And each time I fail, I get my people together, and I say, "Where are we going?" And it starts to get better." - Calvin Trager
As Bishop Smith had preached at five services over three days, he asked me to preach at the Sunday services at the Cathedral in Lui. The first service was a 9 am English service, which used the 1892 Book of Common Prayer. My assumption was that this was the liturgy they preferred ... like the Elizabethanish liturgy I found in Accra. Actually ... no. They used 1892 BCPs because that's all they had. Note to self ... contact the folks at Church Publishing and see if they can ship a batch of new prayer books to Lui.
Preaching in Lui was an incredible joy and honor. At the English service, I didn't need a translator (I hope ... at least I didn't have one). There were about 40-50 people at that service. The main service was the 10:30 in Moru and Arabic, with about 150-200 people (I'm so bad at judging numbers). There my translator was Steven, an amazing young deacon (soon to be priest) with incredible depth, passion, intelligence and humor whom I would love to bring here to study in America. Here we are preaching together (thanks to Lisa for the photos)
Bishop Smith was to confirm at this service as well, but just after I started my sermon, he started to feel weak and his vision started to fuzz out (he swore it wasn't my preaching, but I'm not so sure). Susan, being a good deacon, got him back to his tukal and lying down and Bishop Bullen took over the confirmations. It was just his turn. Except for Reynolds, who I believe is nuclear powered, all of us got one degree of sickness or heat exhaustion (in all cases a low degree) sometime while we were there.
So Bishop Bullen did the confirmations. As he went down the line confirming people, he stopped at one child and announced that this child had the "nodding disease". It's a neurological disorder that effects only the Moru people of Southern Sudan ... and only the children. It's not completely understood or even really partly understood. They don't know how the kids get it or why it is only Moru who contract it. The children who have it stop growing and their brains stop developing as well. The nodding of their heads (where it gets its name) is really one of the more benign symptoms. More insidious are other effects which are extremely painful. The disease is fatal. There is no known cure.
Then again, it's not like the world's best and brightest are working on it. As I watched Bishop Bullen lay his hands on these children with nodding disease and as I saw them around Lui and the surrounding areas, I couldn't help but think if this were happening in Seattle or St. Louis or Washington, D.C., that we would have isolated it and found a cure 10 years ago. But here in Southern Sudan ... well ... frankly, it's just child after child that the world doesn't know exist dying painful deaths.
As I sat there watching Bishop Bullen confirm this child with nodding disease, a lyric ran through my head:
Where you live should not decide Whether you live or whether you die
It's from "Crumbs From Your Table" by U2 (of course). I saw lots of children in Lui. Some seemed pretty healthy, some were living with death sentences. It's a terrible thing seeing a child and knowing that child will die a painful death. I would see these children and in my mind I would see Schroedter and Hayden ... and I couldn't keep myself from imagining them with the same future.
It tore my heart out. It should tear my heart out. The reason Hayden and Schroedter don't have nodding disease is geography ... plain and simple. Where you live does decide whether you live or whether you die.
And there was Bishop Bullen confirming them ... affirming that indeed they are my children -- members of my family. And they knelt there, unable to keep their heads and bodies still, with dull, glassy looks in their eyes, being supported by a parent or older sibling or aunt, uncle or friend and the Bishop asked the Holy Spirit to grow more and more in these bodies that would never grow again.
If we don't do anything about this ... then all we believe is just words and our saying them is blasphemy.
It was a wonderful occasion ... like all the others. But a haunting one, too. Our burial office reminds us that "in the midst of life we are in death" ... the past two days were a reminder of that ... and of how life and death intermingle. Mama Jarusa's funeral was death and life. The confirmation services were life in the shadow of death ... but also breaking through it. The absence of so many men from the congregation and the strength of the mother's union in pesevering and being the backbone of church and community.
Tomorrow, I'll post about our trip to the Samaritan's Purse hospital with lots of photos.
| Mike at 4/26/2005 10:12:00 AM
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"Christ's example is being
demeaned by the church if they ignore the new leprosy,
which is AIDS. The church is the sleeping giant here.
If it wakes up to what's really going on in the rest
of the world, it has a real role to play. If it doesn't,
it will be irrelevant."