When our partnerships with two Nigerian dioceses came to an end in 2000 we had some discernment to do. Several dioceses had approached us about partnership, and I wanted a partnership in Africa, but also something in this hemisphere. Sudanese Bishop Nathaniel Garang of Bor and I had shared small group Bible study during the 1998 Lambeth Conference, and our cathedral parish had a budding relationship with the Diocese of Brasilia.
We asked the dioceses of Brasilia and Bor about the possibility of partnership -- not only with us, but with each other. They agreed, and in April 2002 we made our first pilgrimage to Sudan, taking members of our own diocese, and the bishop and a translator from Brasilia. What we encountered was heartbreaking and immensely hopeful.
We stayed in a place called New Site, where men and women who had been injured in the war can learn skills to support themselves and their families. There was also a boarding school for boys and girls to learn basic reading and math, some English and Arabic, and a bit about representative government.
In the evening we turned on a generator to watch CNN out of Europe. We heard of trouble all over the world, but never a word about Sudan. The people were convinced that no one knew or cared about them. The Dinka have a saying, “Lord make me sick, so I’ll know who my friends are.” That visitors had come to them from the U.S. and Brazil was a miraculous thing. They still need all the miracles they can get.
Later that same year we took Sudanese with us on a pilgrimage to Brazil, where we learned of extreme poverty and the need for health care and education, and of the challenges faced by the indigenous peoples.
In 2003, groups from both dioceses came together to spend time in Indiana. They learned of our ministries, shared our worship, and gained understanding of our culture, including our conspicuous consumption of “stuff.” They were astonished at how hard we actually work -- there’s lots of “resting” and “waiting” in warmer climates.
This three-way partnership has enriched us in ways we could not have imagined. We have been privileged and humbled to share significant moments of each other’s lives. We have blessed schools and new chapels. I have ordained new priests for Bor, four of whom are women. We collect and send money for worthy projects of all sorts. All of that is good, but it is not the best of it.
The deep affection we have for each other is undeniable. The struggles of the landless peoples in Brazil speak a message of hope to the Sudanese. The prolonged suffering of the Sudanese speaks to all of us about the love and suffering of God in Christ. The inability to make all things new for our dear brothers and sisters is a lesson in humility and holy impatience for us. But together we are black, brown and white, north and south, east and west, male and female -- an image of the Body of Christ -- which we celebrate and cherish.