Australian theologian Brendan Byrne, in his study of Luke’s gospel, writes over and over again of how this gospel demonstrates the enormous generosity of God, God’s overwhelming hospitality to us human beings, inviting us in, taking care of us, ensuring we are comfortable and feel that we belong. To visit ABM’s partner, based in the Diocese of Machakos in Eastern Kenya, is to experience this generous hospitality.
ABM’s program in Kenya is new – less than a year old. This was my second visit to our new partner, Ukamba Christian Community Services (UCCS), and the bishop of Machakos, the amazing Joseph Kunaku. The bishop and his wife, Josephine, had invited me to stay at their home during my 6 day visit, and I knew I would be overwhelmed by their kindness and hospitality. I was not to be disappointed. Each morning I joined the bishop and his wife and assorted visitors for breakfast, and from there my day would be jam-packed with visits – to the Wanzauni Community that the Diocese of Brisbane has so generously supported through its Millennium Development Goals commitment, to the humble headquarters of UCCS out of which so much excellent low-budget community development work is done by the Anglican Church, to schools and water projects that the diocese has instigated, to innovative projects involving conversion of cow dung into electricity, and on Sunday to a Eucharist and Confirmation Service in an outlying part of the diocese.
Again, on these visits to communities around the diocese of Machakos, I was offered more wonderful Kenyan hospitality. ABM is welcomed warmly, and the visits give me an opportunity to explain a little bit about who ABM is, and about Australians on the other side of the planet who give so generously so that God’s kingdom may be brought closer to those in material need.
But this hospitality was not reserved simply for me. It is integral to the way the members of the Wanzauni Community solve problems. For example, in coming together to build what is known as a sub-surface dam, to capture water in the sandy river bottom from the brief rainy season to be used during the longer dry seasons, the community members found themselves building during the end of the dry season.
At this time of year, food availability (and intake) is reduced and energy levels are low. This makes it a challenge to engage in the hard manual labour of digging, carting cement, mixing it and constructing the dam wall. So these resourceful people decided to pool their food – a maize flour that is mixed with water to make the Kenyan staple, ugali – and bring it down to the dam site, complete with cooking pots and stove. This way the workers could be sustained adequately for their task.
After my (very full and busy) time in Kenya, during which the bishop thankfully pronounced that I had “passed the toughness test”, I flew the short (less than 1.5 hours) distance from Nairobi to Juba in Southern Sudan. Late January 2011 was a memorable time to be in this part of the world. On the day I arrived the government announced that the Referendum to create an independent Southern Sudan had been supported overwhelmingly, with around 99% voting for independence from the north.
The Episcopal Church of Sudan (ECS) comprises about 6 million members across the whole of Southern Sudan, as well as several parts of the north. The church is therefore represented at the most grassroots level in the most remote rural areas, as well as its base in the southern capital of Juba. It will be a challenge for the church to fulfil its intention of becoming a force in the rebuilding of what is almost certain now to be a new state. The church is highly respected by the southern government, and was very strongly involved in mobilising the people to vote in the referendum, as well as helping them to prepare for an influx of returnees from the north who have been victims of violence on their journey south.
ABM has become involved with the ECS in this rebuilding of Southern Sudan as part of work being done in Sudan by the Archbishop of Adelaide, ++Jeffrey Driver. The Archbishop and his wife, Lindy, have a passion for Sudan, motivated by the large number of Sudanese refugees living in Adelaide, many of whom are Anglicans. As readers would know, there are also significant numbers of Sudanese Anglicans in most of Australia’s state capitals and several regional cities. Many Sudanese living in Australia have been poised for some time to return to their home country to assist with the rebuilding, hopeful that the referendum has brought an opportunity for their country to grow without interference from an often hostile or indifferent north. ABM will be part of this work.
I was blessed to be joined during my time in Sudan, not only by ++Jeffrey and Linda (herself an experienced nurse), but also by two young Sudanese- Australian men from Adelaide – Garang, an Engineer, and Abraham, a nurse, both of whom were “Lost Boys” during the long war of the 1990s, and came as refugees from camps in Kenya during this last decade, having lost most of their own family to the war. I was completely inspired by the love and enthusiasm both these boys showed in returning to their homeland, anxious to bring their new skills to the service of their church and country.
When I left, Lindy, Garang, Abraham and another young volunteer from Adelaide diocese, Emma Riggs, were getting ready to go on an extensive trip through several rural dioceses rolling out simple birthing kits and working to ascertain the needs for basic health education at the community level. They were not swayed by the 43+ degree heat, exposure to risks of malaria and other illnesses that are endemic in the country, so great is their love for the Sudanese and their desire to make a difference. I felt very proud, on behalf of ABM, to be part of this new partnership in Sudan.
Dr Julianne Stewart