A new beginning: arrival to Old Fangak

12 January 2017 – (By Krzysztof Zębik) – In our missionary life we have to be always ready for changes. I feel sometimes like Jesus who says in the Gospel, “foxes have holes and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head” (Mt 8:20). As missionaries, today we are present in one place but we don’t know where we will be tomorrow. It is very easy to get used to certain things like our community or our work. One day we can even feel that we know our work and what we do. We are trying to be experts in that. However, we as evangelisers have to be opened for constant changes in our life, always opened to what God prepares for us.

 

Time came for me to leave my homeland Poland, the magazine and all people I knew and move on to my new destination: Old Fangak, in South Sudan. I think departures are always difficult moments for all of us and especially for our families. It is a time of changes and many questions. I was asking myself: how can I convince my family that South Sudan is nice, quiet and that I will be safe there? I was struggling with the news about war in South Sudan which where feeding our media and trying to convince my family that it is not as bad as they say. In reality even myself I didn’t know how the situation in the country would develop and if I would manage to reach my destination. At the end I was grateful that God solved all my questions and prepared the way to reach Old Fangak. I can say that the way was a bit muddy at the beginning and very muddy at the end.

The first mud was created by the bureaucracy of the country and check in and out on the way to Old Fangak. Some were looking at me in Bor as the one who wants to support rebels and most questions were about my camera and computer. All they could say was the word: permission. Permission to carry the camera, the laptop, to travel around South Sudan… I was afraid, at a certain moment, that they will ask me the permission for breathing the air of the country. However, Lord is always great and He solves all problems that we meet. I didn’t fear anything, I put my life in His hands saying, You wanted me to be here, so solve the problem. I’m waiting. Truly, I didn’t wait long. After few hours I was in Old Fangak, safe and with all my belongings in a small patch of dry land in the long flooded airstrip.

 

At that point the second mud started which was created by the rain and the flood that covered large parts of Old Fangak, destroying many houses and pushing people to the higher lands. I arrived few days before the visit of our Vicar General and Provincial, therefore, people were busy preparing for their arrival. There were many preparations for the event. Catechists after their training course remained and waited for the visit. Other people came on foot from far distant villages and had to cross large swampy areas.

It was not easy to reach our place: our visitors were forced to land in Toch, a high land village, because by then our airstrip was completely flooded. They had to travel for about three hours by boat together with our goods. The youth and the people started marching around, singing and beating drums from midday onwards. They were getting ready to welcome the important guests. Hours passed, one after the other. I asked myself: how can they sing for hours without losing their voices? The sun set and everyone went back to the church. Fr. Christian remained at the river, feeding all the mosquitoes and waiting for the guests. At around 7.30 p.m. they finally arrived. They were warmly received by our Christian community in the church; then we finally had our visitors at home. Providentially they arrived with all the goods among which there were also the two beds and mattresses where they would have slept on. Fr. Christian had to give up his room to find place among the tools of the workshop whereas Fr. Gregor lied among the books of his veranda.

 

During the visit we had time to stay together and share about our missionary joys and preoccupations. The visit started officially with the Sunday Mass on the following day. In the afternoon we gathered again in the front of the church where there was a special welcome celebration. It was a moment of dances, plays and songs. At the end Fr. Jeremias received a chicken, a goat, a calabash for food and a gourd for milk. As we didn’t manage to book a seat on the flight for the chicken and the goat, they remained with us and enriched our diet.

The following day was reserved mostly for the issues regarding our Comboni community. It is always good to receive some encouragement and support for what we are doing in our mission. There was time to have our personal meetings with Fr. Jeremias and to meet together as community. When presenting the situation of our congregation and our province we heard about the usual preoccupations: personnel and issues of handing over our parishes. How can we go ahead serving people better when we are few? We are aware that our time is hard and our congregation needs more prayers for vocations. This occasion was also a time of changes of personnel. Fr. Daniele was very grateful for the work of Fr. Christian, his passion, commitment and dedication for the Nuer people. There were also warm words to welcome me into the new community of Old Fangak.

During the meeting with the catechists and the leaders, they expressed their joy and happiness. They had also the chance to list their expectations from our congregation. Apart from a Secondary School, a grinding mill and a long fence for the garden, there were also requests for sisters and have back one brother in the mission. Fr. Jeremias took note of their requests but did not promise anything especially in this uncertain time. We have to work for peace in the country, Fr. Jeremias answered.

This country is longing for peace. Many people know only the life in the refugee camps, displaced from one side to another. When will the leaders stop to destroy their own country and their own people? We remain without answer. But peace is possible. There is hope. We are building peace when we seat together, when we share, when we speak. There is peace where there is understanding, cooperation, and good will. To build peace in our community we sat together and we concluded the day with the cards in our hands: chatting, laughing and playing scala quaranta. Peace is possible.

 

We couldn’t let our guests leave before showing them our neighbourhood. Wearing gumboots became compulsory. We visited some compounds where people showed us how they have to struggle to protect their houses from the flood. Some houses had already to be abandoned. Then we passed through the muddy market. We had to walk slowly to avoid slips and bad falls. It would be for people, who were looking at us, fun for all the day – “muddy kawaja”. On our way back, we met also some children who amazed us. They were playing at mini football. Players were shaped with clay, each one with his own number on their back. There was a ball and the goal posts too. Two children were on their knees: one attacking and the other defending his goal holding a stick with a piece of ply wood at its top. Creativity, first class.

I could see that even though in the midst of the flood, the war and hunger people’s face show joy and happiness. Besides these bad things there is still hope. There is always a new day. In these days I learned a lot from the people of Old Fangak. Many of us, if we would be in that situation we would complain every day crying to God, why have you abandoned me? We would see everything negative, filling our mind with violence, fear and anger. Food is bad, the roof is leaking, the bed is too short, flies are too many, etc. These people take every day as a gift from God. Even if they have to scup out the water from their hut all the day long, they do it with a smile. Nobody told us: look how we are suffering. We all know the situation of South Sudan. We live in a difficult time. Therefore, we should bring a smile to those who are suffering now. A smile of peace, a smile of hope, a smile of love.

Fr. Krzysztof Zębik, mccj