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  • Jenny Smyth

A very special day

The main centenary celebration (Maridi)

The posh chairs from the grandstand have been downgraded and new larger gold chairs have appeared, the dais is decorated with tinsel and there are two red carpets. It is important to observe protocol and everyone seems to know the correct way to manage and address special visitors. I find myself floundering, so resort to copying those around.

Bishop Moses has given me a special centenary shirt to wear today, but the speeches will be by the church and government officials. Thankfully.

Just after breakfast I was taken to visit the Mothers’ Union building. It is a hive of activity, overflowing with MU members from all over the diocese and beyond who have come for the celebrations. They are sleeping in and around the meeting hall and shop, in the craft tukul and in the half-constructed row of offices. Groups of women are milling around, coffee boiling on small fires, sweeping, brushing hair, dressing, some still washing in hastily constructed shelters behind. A quiet buzz of chatter.

I am filled in about the current programmes. The goat project has been welcomed and already some women have paid school fees from the kids produced. Some kids died, the medicine needed has run out in Maridi so has to come from Uganda. More goats would be very welcome. Widows of pastors and pastors' wives have been prioritised. A good size goat sells for 15,000 SSP – about £30. Local goats are generally hardy and survive on foraging and household scraps. The MU sewing project continues but many of the machines are in need of repair. They still make school uniforms and clothes. Masks are also produced and given to the local school girls. Another priority are the girls who have dropped out of school due to pregnancy. Currently 10 of these are being mentored and supported as they learn the skills of mothering. Every Tuesday the local MU groups meet to pray.

A long line of people passed, dressed in red, singing and carrying things. I followed. These are the evangelists who, throughout these days of celebrations, have been continuing to preach the gospel in the surrounding areas. Their items were placed on the ashes of yesterday’s fire, away from the main event ground, another opportunity to burn charms and idols. More things were added from a collection that had been placed by the cathedral door. Prayers were said by Rev Richard from Ibba, and the fire lit while the crowd sang.

People were gathering for the main function. Various dignitaries arrived, choirs sang and danced and lots of speeches made. It was hot. I slipped out as I wanted to visit Bethsaida clinic. Most of the staff were at the celebration, but the watchman kindly directed me to the hand washing area, asked me to put on a mask and said I could see the three patients admitted yesterday. Martin had a large head wound, one lady lay sleeping and Emmanuel complained of neck, shoulder and arm pain and seemed unable to move his arm. He lay holding a wooden cross. He spoke a little English and so we managed to communicate. It transpired that they are Maridi evangelists who had been out visiting the previous evening. One community had not reacted well and chased them away by beating them with sticks and branches. They said that their message sometimes provokes anger but that this was the first time they had been beaten up. I prayed with them for courage and healing, and assured them that people in Ireland would pray for the evangelists who bravely witness.

There is always another story to be discovered, another insight into life and witness here.

Back at the main event the speeches continued. The Speaker of the parliament and the Governor of Western Equatoria were special guests. Several pickups full of soldiers heralded the arrival of the 1st Vice President representing the President. Speeches were largely in Arabic, and there was some talk and trading of blame around the terrible massacres that happened a few months back in Tambura. Many people fled and are still reluctant to return. The diocese of Ezo hosts many, along with folk from Central African Republic. Eventually, the proceedings wound up with presentations of gifts and the cutting of a cake. It was 5.30pm, most people having been there since 10.00am. It was a happy occasion and an honour to witness the attention given to the Maridi centenary.

Tuesday morning was full on packing up and good byes. Motorbikes, bicycles and Land cruisers with loaded roof racks set off in all directions and many others began the long walk home. I wonder what William Haddow would have made of it all.

‘Truly, truly I say to you unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies it remains alone, but if it dies, it bears much fruit’ (John 12:24).



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