Joyous celebrations in Maridi
Sunday 30th January
"Today is Sunday, so you will eat another."
Joy has just come with another flask of clove and cardamom water for my second breakfast, along with cassava and bread. A bucket of warm water was waiting in the washroom at 6.00 when I woke. Overwhelming kindness, thoughtfulness and hospitality that touches my heart.
The children have swept the compound. I can hear the women chatter as they stoke the fire, wash up from last night and get ready for the day. The bishop’s chaplain has finished ironing a surplus – a tricky job with a charcoal iron. The archdeacons, all in their black cassocks, are outside gently preparing for the special communion service today. Their coffee is ready, brewing over charcoal, and someone fetched mandazi snacks. The steam rises in the early morning sun, and around the circle of chairs plans are being finalised for the procession.
There is such beauty here.
Last night, Bishop Moses told me that a disabled child was bought to him, the mother asking for prayer. The evangelists are going to pray for the child today. I asked if I could visit with the mother to see if there was any encouragement I could bring her. Bishop Moses also explained that there will be a burning of idols. The evangelists have been visiting around the communities and amongst the crowds gathered for these four days of celebrations, and many people have decided to give up their charms as they have accepted Jesus as Lord and Saviour.
One hundred years ago, after two years of work here in Maridi, William Haddow died of black water fever after contracting malaria. Eight people had become Christians. A hundred years is not a long time. The Church here is well established and is still growing fast, a Church that has not lost its first love.
The contrast with the old ways was bought home to me yesterday during the Mothers’ Union day of celebration. There was singing, drama, dance and speeches. Then the Baka Cultural group arrived. They seek to preserve cultural traditions and came in traditional dress of cloth, skin and leaves, bringing clay pots, gourds, spears, baskets, bows and arrows, and some chickens. They worked in groups to demonstrate different aspects of traditional life. One part related to sickness and death, the traditional healer visited a sick man and performed some rituals, but to no avail. Burial rites involved slaughtering two chickens before the body was buried, the burial place determined by the healer. I was struck by the hopelessness of people in the face of death, by the grip of fear and the search for some external power to help. The Mothers’ Union also performed a drama that contrasted this hopelessness in the face of death with the resurrection power we find in Christ. The Church here stands boldly against syncretism and compromise, boldly proclaiming Christ crucified.
The celebration was a full day, a service in the morning and an afternoon of singing, dance and drama, with parishes and schools sending choirs to perform specially written songs, the words ‘Haddow’ and ‘centenary’ featured heavily!
It is now Sunday evening. Today has been another marathon day!
Just before the main service started, the evangelists made a fire and all the relinquished charms and idols were burnt. A demonstration to the community that the old allegiances have to go, life has begun under different command.
All the robed church workers gathered by the cathedral and sorted themselves into a huge procession of bishops, archdeacons, ordained clergy, lay readers and Mothers’ Union members. They led the archbishops into the central area. A wonderful five-hour service, led by Archbishop Justin. Joy was not wrong about needing that second breakfast!
350 candidates came forward for confirmation, mainly young people in their early teens, but a few older ones too, some being supported in their frailty, or being led due to their sight loss. Four bishops laid hands as the confirmation prayer was said. All these people had been prepared through confirmation classes by their local pastors.
The sermon, by the archbishop of the internal province, Paul Yugusuk, was delivered with gusto. He spoke of the confirmation journey, one where we do not walk alone, but with others to encourage us. He also spoke of the journey Jesus took to the cross. Holding a large cross, he demonstrated how Jesus had suffered and struggled up to Golgotha. Archbishop Paul, in his red cassock, stumbled and crawled along the ground around the arena. Stirring up dust he called out in agony, "This is what Jesus did for you." One of the other bishops came forward and asked if there was anyone who wanted to respond to the message. One young woman came forward, then a trickle of people and after a few minutes the whole arena was filled with hundreds of people. After a short explanation, folks were asked to raise their hands if they wanted to pray and commit their lives to Christ. The evangelists moved among people to support and encourage.
Archbishop Justin then conducted the communion service. The key phrase for the centenary is ‘for now my eyes have seen your salvation’ and a reading from Ephesians ‘you have been made alive in Christ.’
Bread was broken and wine blessed in front of the congregation of over 3000 people. In an orderly and holy way, communion was taken by almost 2000 people.
After a late lunch, the afternoon was filled with more choirs, each having written special songs and dances for the occasion.
It is evening now and the archdeacons are sitting with Bishop Moses, having had their supper, discussing plans for tomorrow. Monday is the ‘actual centenary celebration day’. The programme has had to be revised as news arrived from Juba that the Speaker of parliament and the 1st Vice President have decided to come. They will arrive by plane in the morning. Programmes adjusted, protocols and security arranged. This is a huge honour and a mark of just how significant this centenary is and the amount of work that has gone into all the arrangements. A sterling effort by Bishop Moses and his team, a demonstration of how much can be achieved when a healthy community works together.
‘Though we are many, we are one body, because we all share in the one bread’
Read Jenny's previous update from South Sudan