‘SAVE AFRICA BY AFRICA’ – A MISSIONARY TESTIMONY
“Save Africa by Africa“. This was the motto of Saint Daniel Comboni that echoes through time and beyond borders; as a result, many responded and crossed over oceans and borders to carry on the work the founder of the Comboni missionaries, St. Daniel Comboni, had began and believed in. God calls us with our qualities and weaknesses and entrusts us with the noble task of bearing witness to Christ, the protagonist of the mission.
I am Fr. Ghislain Amoussou, of Beninese nationality, a Comboni Missionary of the Heart of Jesus (MCCJ). I was assigned to South Sudan, precisely to the community of Wau, from the 1st of July 2015. I arrived in South Sudan with many uncertainties, probably linked to the fact of tempering with a new and unknown reality.
After nearly two years spent here in Wau, where I work, my experience can be summarized in a sentence: self-emptiness and growth in God’s love and faithfulness.
Growing in our relationship with God implies two dimensions: a vertical and horizontal one. The first dimension calls on my personal relationship with Him, whereas the second one refers to my relationship with Him through his people. This growth passes through a quiet but also a stormy weather. Only a strong trust in the Lord strengthens us in climbing mountains and overcoming any kind of trial.
It took me almost a year to find my feet in my new milieu. First of all, there was a need of being aware that the context is different, and stop comparing with my previous mission. Not having access to various services at different levels of the society was frustrating; I was very critical. I felt like nothing was moving around here. As time went by, it became a normal reality, and now does not worry me at all. I have learnt to live in a simpler way, holding to priorities only.
Other challenges I faced were at pastoral level: the notion of time and the dichotomy between the cultural values and the ones proposed by the Gospel. Slowly but surely, I entered into the dynamic of an environment that was new to me and had the following conclusion: the meaning of my presence here was not about changing people and most importantly that God loves them despite everything.
Fr. Ghislain Comlan celebrating mass in Wau, South Sudan
Being part of a context characterized by skirmishes, atrocities and remaining indifferent to all this would be inhuman. I felt a visceral pain vis-à-vis this whole situation, hard to situate with accuracy its origin. Human life is so cheap, worth less than that of a cow or a goat. The concerts and harmony of gunshots have become the ‘daily bread’ for the population. Sometimes I do entertain myself trying to find out which gun is ‘singing’ the soprano, the alto, the tenor and the bass; but it is sad, that an abnormal reality has become ‘normal’; preventing people from thinking life otherwise. Wau, in this moment offers a somber picture of thousands of people, displaced in their own state in order to save their lives.
Poor communication, famine, skyrocketing of prices in the local market, depreciation of the South Sudanese currency, clothing, lack of proper health facilities, lack of infrastructures, killings, men slaughtering are just some of the permanent challenges we are facing daily in Wau.
Where is this spiral of revenge leading the population of South Sudan destroying itself from within? There is no need of wasting time looking for the culprit. Coming together, putting aside differences and seeking for what unites, can be the paving of the way for a durable and sustainable peace and harmony.
Despite the difficult situation Wau is facing, I can still see God’s hands at work, protecting his people. I am still optimistic that the Almighty will never forsake his people. “Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne. Though she may forget, I will not forget you” (Isaiah 49:15). Through the tireless efforts of men and women dedicated to their brothers and sisters in need, consolation is given to these brothers and sisters living far below poverty threshold.
In this unpleasing situation I grow in trust in the Lord even more. Drawing strength from Christ, my response to all these challenges is to sow love into everyone I meet, as well as empowering them through various ways to rise and raise their heads high as worthy sons and daughters of the one heavenly Father.
“I will die, but my work shall live” (D. Comboni). Proud of putting my footsteps into his, I am energized enough to help my brothers and sisters who need me to rise. There is no doubt about God’s closeness to us, especially in this moment.
May our thirst for peace and stability be quenched by the power of the Almighty God, for as Saint Irenaeus said, “Gloria Dei est vivens homo”.
Fr. Ghislain Comlan, mccj