We had a great day in Duluth on Wednesday, but it got a little late so we’re posting this update before leaving for service sites Thursday morning.
One of our Zumbro/St. Pius groups with Ben, Sam, Max, Lily, Avery, and Maika spent their third day at a nursing home. Visiting with the residents has gotten easier each day they’ve been there, and they also enjoyed helping out with a taco party and taking residents out for some fresh air. They are excited to be at a new service site today!
Another Zumbro/St Pius group was at a community garden in the morning. Sarah, Nick, Jeremy, Luke, and Becca weeded and transplanted strawberry plants (and enjoyed a few fresh strawberries). After lunch they were inside at a community center’s office, helping to make thank you cards and posters for an upcoming car wash. They also learned how to make ceremonial tobacco pouches.
In the evening all of us went to Enger Tower. The kids had fun climbing the tower and enjoying the wonderful views of Duluth and Lake Superior. It was also a great opportunity to relax and spend time with friends from the other church groups that are here in Duluth this week.
The theme for our church group time on Wednesday was possibilities. As we’re coming closer to the end of our time in Duluth, it was great to talk about the new possibilities that have opened to us because of this experience and the possible ways we can continue our serving and giving after returning to Rochester.
For all intent and purposes, South Sudan is an idea not yet realized. Sixty-four tribes of people live in this area. The borders of the country are relics of colonialism, which took into no account how boundaries would unite or divide people. It is one of the sins of Europe and America that impacts people to the fifth and sixth generation.
Tribal violence has dominated the narrative of this country. Much of the fighting is happening between Dinka and Nuer. The sins of the past continue to breed sin in the present. From a distance the situation seems hopeless.
But today, some of those sins of division are being healed. Hope is finding daylight. Yesterday, I watched Pastor Wal Reat, a Nuer, walk down the street holding hands with Pastor Mawien Arik, a Dinka. (In east Africa, it is very common for men to walk together holding hands.) Mawien walked Wal to a small shop just down the road from the new Lutheran Center. The woman who runs the shop is also Nuer and is from Pastor Wal’s home village. It may seem like a very small gesture, but when you consider that people in each of their tribes have been killing each other for the last three years it feels like a pretty big bridge was being built. Relationships are forming like this throughout this new Lutheran church in South Sudan.
We spent the afternoon yesterday and the morning today at the Lutheran Center in Juba. The Center hosts a beautiful sanctuary that has room for about 450 people, a school that will provide learning and skills for adults to get better jobs in the community, and a clinic that will focus on antenatal care and house the first permanent fistula clinic in South Sudan.
The name of the church is Reconciliation Lutheran Church. Their key goal is to bring peace between peoples and tribes, bring hope through education and medical care. Little by little, hope is showing up and peace is being found. It will take tremendous courage to bring tribes together to worship and serve alongside one another. It has been and will continue to be messy. But that’s the way God works, in our messes and our struggles. That’s the way that sin is healed, and divisions mended – through digging in deep and trusting that God is already there. God is definitely up to some amazing things here in Juba. And it’s because faithful, messy people have been willing to jump into the mess and find holiness in it all.