Come to the table
Rev Patti Johnston has been a good friend to CMS Ireland for many years. She is a priest from Albany Diocese, USA and also chair of the Diocesan Mission Committee. She has visited South Sudan and Ireland on several occasions and on her most recent trip she took part in our Ignite Conference. After the conference, Patti travelled on to South Sudan to visit partners in Maridi Diocese and she shares some reflections of her visit.
“Come to the table of mercy, prepared with the wine and the bread; All who are hungry and thirsty, come and your souls will be fed. Come at the Lord’s invitation; received from His nail-scarred hand. Eat of the bread of salvation; drink of the blood of the Lamb.” [Cloninger/Nystrom]
Over the course of 14 days, I traveled to and through 7 countries on 3 continents. USA, Canada, Ireland, Northern Ireland, England, Ethiopia, and South Sudan. I pulled my chair up to many tables, and enjoyed fine food and deep fellowship with my global family. The experience has definitely expanded my palate – I’ve enjoyed Irish Stew with wheaten bread, and stewed cassava leaves and peanut paste with kisra. But more importantly, these hours spent with friends and family around their tables has expanded my appreciation of the various cultures within the body of Christ.
My journey began in Northern Ireland at CMSI’s Ignite conference. Joining friends for international fellowship at Ignite is always a joy, whether competing in an uproarious game of Beetle Drive, or reverently sharing Holy Communion. God adds to my global family at each conference – another friendship made, another member of the family.
On the Sunday following Ignite, I attended the dedication of baby Joshua, the newest member of my friend’s family. The pastor preached about eight tables at which we are invited into the Lord’s presence: The tables of Grace, Forgiveness, Acceptance and Belonging, Comfort, Healing, Celebration, Victory and Power, and Intimacy. I was uplifted and edified by the message, and quickly pulled out my iPhone to take notes. I am so glad I did, as it helped me to perceive the tables at which I sat over the following eight days.
I pulled my chair up to the table of Grace, in the home of a long-time friend in Maridi, South Sudan. I have often told him that his family is larger than my home church congregation. The number of people around his table has grown over time, through joy and through tragedy. All of these children are now his. God has placed them in his tender care, and he offers all he has to the Lord in return.
There were fewer of us at the table of Forgiveness. Just three humbled people, and a light breakfast of eggs, bread, honey, and bananas. An apology for harsh words and attitude was offered, and quickly accepted. When God forgives our sins and offenses, how can we not extend that forgiveness to others?
The table of Acceptance and Belonging was set in Juba, South Sudan in the home of a beloved friend. God brought us together on two occasions in the US, but this was our first meal together in his country, in his home. The feast was abundant and flavourful; very much a taste of South Sudan. Superficial distinctions of language, skin tone, gender, and dining customs were not divisive – I knew I was accepted as a sister in Christ, as a member of his family.
The guest tukul in Maridi housed the table of Comfort. Morning and evening we sat together and prayed over the gifts of food we were blessed to receive, and the challenges faced by our family there. Comfort in such a situation is found only in Christ, and in knowing and believing that all things work together for good for those who love God and are called according to His purpose.
The table of Healing was spread at the home of the Archbishop and Primate of South Sudan. We shared a light meal and a heavy conversation. I poured out my heart and my tears, revealed my doubts and my fears. He quietly listened, then offered words of healing. Wholeness was restored, in Christ.
The table of Celebration was surrounded by family and friends in Northern Ireland, the day Joshua was dedicated to the Lord. Friends and relatives of all ages filled the rooms of the house with joy and laughter. Joshua is a member of a large, loving family which will expand exponentially over the coming years as he grows in the Lord.
Over 1,500 gathered at the table of Victory and Power in All Saints Cathedral in Juba on Sunday’s 9 am service. Men, women, and children of all ages joined to praise and worship God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The Holy Word of God was read, preached, heard, and received; God’s Word and Holy Communion together strengthen and empower the people to live the life to which God calls them. Lives of victory over sin and death; lives lived in the Power of the Holy Spirit, enabling each one to be a light in the darkness of violence, war, and extreme need.
Of all the tables to which I was invited over these eight days, none was more precious than the table of Intimacy. Three times a day the people of the household gathered to pray and eat, to talk and to share the everyday life in the service of God. The conversations were informal and relaxed. I asked a thousand questions about life in South Sudan, about the church, and about individual life experiences. I wanted to understand every little detail and nuance of relationships in the lives of these cherished brothers and sisters in Christ. Their humble and honest responses gave me new insight into how they came to be people of deep faith, personal sacrifice, and incredible resilience; and how this is lived out in daily life in South Sudan.
I am deeply appreciative of the generous hospitality extended by my global family. I thank my God every time I remember them. In all my prayers for all of them, I always pray with joy… and I thank God for inviting me to Come to the Table.
Shukuru Yesu and Amen