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HomeLetters From South Sudan82. Simple but Strong
  • Around the pump

  • Br. Joseph & Fr. Mario at Makpandu

  • Br. Joseph speaks to class

  • Child care

  • Crowded in with kids & beans

  • I wonder

  • Makpandu classroom

  • Sr. Joana going to visit the sick

  • Welcoming Br. Joseph

  • Who are you?

  • Child carrying child

82. Simple but Strong

There was no priest available for mass last Sunday morning. So the communion service was
led by the parish catechists. Gabriel, the senior catechist, preached the homily. He is known
to be a man of strong faith and simple devotion to the Church he has served, for many years,
including the years of war. The parish now has an active parish priest and a deacon – to be
ordained in December – but they were absent from Riimenze this day at other mass centres
of this large parish. So once again Gabriel led his people in prayer and worship with a full
church as usual. Gabriel is esteemed as a decent, uncomplicated, honest man who deserves
the respect he is shown as community catechist. Priests may come and go but he is always
here with reassuring fidelity.

Here it is evident that the Church is the people of God. The Church building may be decrepit
with windows missing, roughly finished and with hard, backless benches but the people unite
in unquestioning faith. I find myself wondering how different it is from many first world
countries where people have found all kinds of reasons to abandon their places among the
people of God. Lasting marriages are built on simple fidelity in spite of personal failings. So
too the people of God have many failings but why do so many no longer simply forgive and
forget and continue to be strong in their belief?

In this society one can rediscover the simple joys of living because so little can be taken for
granted. I find myself rejoicing at simple things – at the sound of thunder or the flash of
lightning, on hearing falling rain or knowing mangoes or papaya, or tomatoes are in season.
Such is the efficiency of first world production and distribution; very little food is strictly
seasonal in modern supermarkets. If one is prepared to pay, it is possible to buy almost
anything, anytime. But when one only gets fruit and vegetables when they ripen in the local
gardens, life brings its own rhythm of simple joys. When I manage to buy carrots in the local
market, I return home with a sense of exultant achievement!

We have no town power. So I rejoice when the generator starts easily. We are gratified when
we can buy diesel or petrol, as we can now, but could not two weeks ago. I am gladdened
when a re-filled gas bottle is returned from Juba so we don’t have to cook over charcoal. It is
a triumph when one can buy potatoes and eggs. A cauliflower is a gift from heaven and even
cabbage is a special treat. But are we suffering? No I think we enjoy the cycles of availability
and the variety of seasonal living. I don’t have to invent a life of artificial satisfactions. Life
itself creates a rhythm and brings satisfaction in simple ways, through simple events.

A possible outcome if we have all the things we want all the time is that we forget to
celebrate simple gifts and look for something else to celebrate. And maybe another outcome
is that some lose sight of the value of simple faith and develop an outlook that is too critical
or cynical. Why did God make me? It is so easy to substitute other things, before the
‘knowing, loving and serving of God’, when everything is available all the time. Sometimes
one has to be without to appreciate what we take for granted.

Here the people appreciate any kind of food and clean water when it is available. Life
revolves around kids, and more kids, and kids nursing other kids. So it seems. But there is a
simple joy in all of this. The only toys one sees here are bike wheels rolled along with a stick.
The no-name clothing is often not much more than rags. Yes, there is too much illness
flowing from lack of good hygiene but generally there is simple happiness and strength to be
found in the fidelity of the people. No society is perfect. This one certainly needs more
facilities and services; but to have too little is not necessarily a worse state than to have too
much and to want even more.

- Br Bill

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82. Simple but Strong