When you visit Sudan, people say that if you drink from the Nile River, you are destined to return. So while in Khartoum the summer of 2008, I concentrated on never drinking from the Nile. As fate would have it, I slipped up -- once. The result? An undeniable, intense yearning to return.
So what does one do while waiting to go back?
First, I have been raising awareness about the work of the Mothers Union in Sudan, a part of the Episcopal Church of Sudan (ECS). In particular, I've been focusing on their need for a vehicle to travel and do their work around the country. Maureen Lyons of Trinity Parish and Danny Schweers of the Church of Saints Andrew and Matthew in Wilmington have been working with me in this venture. More volunteers are needed and welcome.
Second, I am working with the ECS and the Diocese of Virginia and their volunteer missioner Larry Duffee, who followed after me and continues the work that I began there. Working with Larry and Jennifer Ernst, from the ECS staff, as well as Archbishop Daniel Deng Bul, has been rewarding as we coordinate what work has been done and what remains to be accomplished.
Third, I became involved with AFRECS, the American Friends of the Episcopal Church in Sudan. I became aware of the organization while working in Sudan, and actually met a board member on my initial visit to Juba in February 2008. Last year, Margaret Larom, my colleague from the Episcopal Church Center, an AFRECS board member herself, asked if I would consider serving on the board, if elected. I have learned that, if these opportunities present themselves, God is whispering. So, without hesitation, I said yes, as did the board.
I spent the first few months participating in conference phone calls, listening and learning. This past June, I attended the fifth annual AFRECS conference in Alexandria, Virginia, hosted by St. Paul's Episcopal Church.
The conference calls had not adequately prepared me for the spine-tingling feeling of being in a large nave filled with people all connected to and praying for our brothers and sisters in Sudan -- so many people working toward the common goal of "Building the Capacity for Human Rights, Peace and Security, and Governance in Southern Sudan." In attendance were representatives of the U.S. and Southern Sudanese governments, Sudanese representatives of the diaspora in the United States, lay members of many Episcopal dioceses, clergy representatives from England and Sudan, and non-profit organizations, such as Five Talents and Water for Sudan.
As an organization supporting connections between the ECS and the Episcopal Church, AFRECS has encouraged partnership between Episcopal women in Sudan and United States. The Episcopal Church Women (ECW) in the United States is eager to support peace and reconciliation initiatives in Sudan by introducing American leaders of the ECW to leaders in the ECS Mother's Union and RECONCILE (Resource Centre for Civic Leadership), an indigenous, ecumenical Christian peace-building institute. These relationships are growing and developing, and my connections to Mama Darias (for whom the vehicle is needed) and others have been helpful in this process.
My excitement at this conference led me to volunteer in the planning for the next, which will be held next June at the cathedral in Atlanta. Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori has accepted our invitation to attend.
On June 27, the presiding bishop preached at Holy Trinity Cathedral, Auckland. The following is from her homily that day: "We will call the whole of The Episcopal Church to prayer, to study, and to action in solidarity with the Episcopal Church of Sudan. The larger body, through advocacy, prayer, and ways we haven't yet discovered, may be able to help bring greater peace in Sudan. The world is poised to observe -- and influence -- the community in and around Sudan."
The Episcopal Church has organized "A Season of Prayer for Sudan," which began in September and proceeds until the country's historic referendum on Jan. 9, 2011, by which Southern Sudan will determine their future as a separate country from Northern Sudan. Dioceses are also invited to consider sponsoring resolutions in support for the people of Sudan, encouraging elected and State Department officials to take all possible steps to ensure the implementation of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement.
Members of AFRECS are encouraged to pray for justice and peace in Sudan. Please join us. Pray for the work of the church's missionaries and their safety and health. Pray for bountiful crops and an end to hunger and all kinds of instability. Pray for Archbishop Daniel Deng Bul as he serves God and leads his people in these difficult times. Pray for Sudan.